Honours even, tempers high
Furious Happy Valley players remonstrated with referee Fong Yau-fat at the end of yesterday's 1-1 draw with champions Xiangxue Sun Hei as the Hong Kong First Division got off to an explosive start.
Happy Valley, who finished runners-up to champions Sun Hei in the FA Cup, League Cup, Senior Challenge Shield and the league last season, were desperate to turn the tables on their arch-rivals. And emotions ran high after they felt hard done by Fong's officiating - particularly during the last five minutes of the entertaining draw at Hong Kong Stadium.
Sun Hei needed to come back from a 38th minute strike by Happy Valley's Clodoaldo de Oliveira to share the spoils with Cameroonian forward Julius Akosah finding the equaliser in the 53rd minute after taking advantage of a poor goal kick by Fan Chun-yip.
Only 2,747 spectators turned out for the first match of the season, and although the small crowd was treated to some fine football, the game was somewhat marred by an incident at the final whistle when Happy Valley players surrounded Fong to question his officiating.
Fong's linesmen had to restrain at least five players, who showed their dismay over Fong's decision not to award a free kick in the 84th minute and also blowing the final whistle just when Happy Valley were on the attack.
Happy Valley coach Wong Yiu-shun played down the incident, naturally satisfied his side had come away with a draw against the all-conquering side, who won all before them last season.
'It was a bit strange that he [Fong] didn't at least award a free kick outside the box in the last three or four minutes of the game. He gave one to the opposing side for something similar,' said Wong. Wong felt his side should have been awarded a free kick when Li Chun-yip was tripped just outside the penalty area by a Sun Hei defender - and this came moments after appeals for a penalty for handball fell on deaf ears. Instead, referee Fong dished out a yellow card to Lee Sze-ming for back-chat. 'We have a long season ahead of us. Our players are still missing match fitness and mentally they are still not there. It will take a couple of games before we reach a good, competitive level,' he said.
Happy Valley should be satisfied with the draw. They played second fiddle to Sun Hei for the whole of last season and yesterday's draw indicated that they were not about to be on the receiving end of another defeat.
Sun Hei coach Koo Luam Khen expects Happy Valley to be tough customers again this season. 'I am satisfied with the result. It's acceptable. It's only the first match of the season and there's still work to do.
'Happy Valley are definitely among the strongest teams in the league. They played with a lot of intensity, but we settled down and we were all over them in the second half. I think it was a fair result,' said the Malaysian.
'We had two clear chances to break the tie. Akosah should have scored when he had an open goal in front of him (85th minute). He used his back heel in his attempt and it was cleared off the line by Feng Jizhi,' he said. 'Overall, I am satisfied with the result. At least we got a point to start the season with.'