Tempers flare as champs lose again

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 April, 2008, 12:00am

Ugly scenes marred yesterday's top-of-the-table clash with three red cards brandished as second-placed Citizen closed the gap on champions and leaders South China with a 2-1 win.

Tensions boiled over in the closing stages of the hard-fought Coolpoint Ventilation First Division clash at Mong Kok Stadium as South China pressed for an equaliser. First the Caroliners' Cristiano Pereira was given a straight red card in the 88th minute for a rough tackle on Alexandro da Silva.

Then in stoppage time, a group of South China players surrounded Da Silva as he lay in the South China penalty box claiming to be injured. A mass brawl broke out and after the dust settled, Da Silva received a red card for retaliation and South China's Bai He was also sent off.

Referee Wong Chi-tang handed out eight other yellow cards.

South China convenor Steven Lo Kit-shing said the referee had failed to control the players when the brawl first broke out, but was quick to point out that his side were disappointing.

'The players seem to have lost their form after winning the League Cup last month, especially some of our expatriates,' he said. 'The defeat wasn't too bad in that it will create more interest in the run-up to the title.''

However, Lo remained confident that South China would be the team to lift the trophy at the end of the season.

'We are still in the driving seat with the slight advantage we have gained and the match against Workable next week will now be important,' he said.

South China are on 29 points with four matches left, while Citizen are just one point adrift and have three matches to play.

'We will take it match by match and if we can win the League at the end of the day, we will be very happy,' said Citizen boss Pui Kwan-kei.

'But I still think South China are the better side and have the better chance to win the title.'

Having suffered two successive defeats in a week after losing to Happy Valley in the league and Kedah of Malaysia in the AFC Cup, South China continued to struggle to find the form that has made them formidable in the campaign.

Although they took the lead with Detinho's penalty in the 38th minute, they never looked impressive.

Ronan Falcao levelled in the 67th minute, also through a penalty. Marcio da Silva then put Citizen ahead in the 78th minute, controlling a header from Sham Kwok-fai before beating goalkeeper, Zhang Chunhui.