Cheung strikes to down Caroliners

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 May, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 May, 2001, 12:00am

A Cheung Sai-ho 30-metre piledriver gave Happy Valley a precious 1-0 win over rivals South China in the Hong Kong First Division championship playoff last night, leaving the Caroliners in serious danger of finishing the season empty-handed.

Scottish striker Paul Ritchie pulled the ball back for the Happy Valley skipper and midfielder to fire home a low shot that whistled past South China goalkeeper Chung Ho-yin before just 1,288 spectators at Hong Kong Stadium.

The result left first phase champions Happy Valley in second spot on 18.5 points - 2.5 points ahead of second-placed Sun Hei while South China remain rooted at the bottom of the four-team table on 15 points - and their prospects of finishing the season with a trophy looking increasingly bleak.

South China team director Peter Leung said: 'We didn't play all that well and Cheung Sai-ho scored a world class goal which nobody could have stopped.

'We have a lot of catching up to do. We still can get something back this season, but it looks increasingly difficult.'

South China won last season's league and Senior Challenge Shield, but Cheung's strike just one minute into the second half has left the Caroliners with much to do if they want to salvage something from their season.

Cheung was happy to have made a major contribution to an otherwise scrappy game.

The Hong Kong international, who is expected to be named Hong Kong Footballer of the Year at next month's award ceremony, said: 'It's a good win for us. The match wasn't great, but the points counted in the end and I'm glad we still have a good chance of winning the league outright.

'We have been trying to win the league outright for two seasons and I think we have a chance now. We just have to stay focused. We have several very important matches to go so hopefully we can continue the momentum.'

After a dreadful first half, the game sprang into life with Cheung's splendid strike and the former league champions could have gone further ahead five minutes later when Ritchie picked up the ball on the right and advanced toward goal. Chung came off his line for the challenge, but Ritchie drew his shot right into the arms of the relieved South China keeper.

South China then saw a gilt-edged chance for an equaliser go begging when Leung Chi-kui missed from three yards out after receiving a weighted right-wing cross from Yau Kin-wai.

But Valley striker Aderbal Filho should have also done better in the 73rd minute. With only Chung to beat, the Brazilian shot too late, allowing defender Ma Ka-ki to save it on the line.

Five minutes before time, Happy Valley's Brazilian forward Junior made a hash of things when he shot right at Chung with the goal at his mercy.

South China take on Instant-Dict, their conquerors in last month's FA Cup final, in Thursday's game - their last chance of salvaging something from their disappointing season.