Berry sure Instant equal to challenge
INSTANT-Dict will be hoping to make it third time lucky when they take on favourites Eastern in the final of the Emperor Exchange Challenge Shield at Mongkok Stadium this afternoon.
Instant are in their third season in Hong Kong football and have failed to win any of the eight major trophies up for grabs in their first two campaigns.
They came close on two occasions, however, losing to Sing Tao in the Challenge Shield final two years ago - after a replay - and to Ernest Borel in the Hong Kong FA Cup final later that season.
But their 30-year-old playmaker, former Sunderland midfielder Steve Berry, believes they have the right blend of players this time to capture their first major Hong Kong title.
''I played in both those finals two seasons ago and I think we have a much stronger side this season,'' said Berry.
''Everyone is obviously tipping Eastern because they are the holders and are unbeaten at the top of the league but we feel we have a very, very good chance if we play to our potential.
''We have not played Eastern yet this season but we know what we've got to do to beat them. If we play as well as we did against South China in the semi-final we won't be far away.'' Berry will be missing his regular partner in the centre of midfield, Sean Edwards, who is serving a one-match suspension for being sent off in the 2-0 semi-final victory over South China, last season's beaten Shield finalists.
His place will go to former Eastern player Yeung Kin-keung, a member of Hong Kong's squad for the World Cup qualifiers in Lebanon and South Korea earlier this year.
After losing 2-0 to Kui Tan in their first league game of the campaign, Instant put together a run of seven successive victories in league and Shield before being held to a 2-2 league draw by South China in their most recent game.
In Chan Sau-yin they have possibly the best Hong Kong Chinese goalkeeper in the First Division, while their back four of right-back Cheung Chi-tak, central defenders Yan Lik-kin and Roddy Manley and left-back Ng Chun-chung is well organised and hard to break down, having conceded only seven goals in nine matches.
Chan Chi-kwong and Lam Hing-lun are dangerous down the flanks, leaving Yeung to play just in front of the back four and Berry to support the strikeforce of Scotsmen Ian McParland and Graham Harvey.
McParland and Harvey have formed a productive partnership in their first season together in Hong Kong.
McParland has scored eight times and Harvey six, including three in the Shield, and Eastern will have to mark these two tightly as they complement each other in the air and on the ground.
Although Eastern will be without striker Paul Nixon, who has a thigh injury, Tony Sealy is keeping the momentum going alongside 12-goal leading scorer Dale Tempest, who has bagged nine in his last four games.
In their last four league and Shield games, Eastern have cracked in 21 goals, including six against Rangers in the Shield quarter-final and four against Sing Tao in the semi-final.
Fifteen of those 21 have come in the three games Nixon has missed as Sealy has fitted in to the ''Green Machine'' which won three of the four major titles last season.
In league and Shield matches this season, Eastern have beaten all-comers domestically with nine straight wins. Their only defeat was at the hands of J.League club Yomiuri Verdy in the second leg of their Asian Club Championship tie in Tokyo on October 27.