It's do or die for Kitchee and Caroliners
There will be only one survivor after tonight's BMA First Division clash between champions Kitchee and South China at Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground.
Neither side can afford to lose, with TSW Pegasus mounting a determined challenge for their first league title.
Although Kitchee lead the table with 32 points, Pegasus are only one point behind and have a game in hand. For the Caroliners, it's 'do or die' as they have 27 points and a loss would mean their league campaign will likely be over as there are only a handful of matches left.
The league championship is South China's only hope of gaining a place in next year's regional AFC Cup after surprise package Sunray Cave Sun Hei grabbed one of the two berths with their Senior Shield success.
Kitchee are on a high after winning their last seven matches, including two AFC Cup ties against Asian counterparts, and coach Josep Gombau believes their superb form can help them triumph again tonight.
'We are in good form as our recent performances show,' he said. 'This is a big match. Both sides have to win but we are confident. Our defending is much better now thanks to the arrival of former Fulham player Zesh Rehman, and that's one of the reasons for our impressive run.'
Kitchee rested five regulars in their starting 11 for their 1-0 win over Citizen in the FA Cup first round last Sunday, but will certainly bring goalkeeper Wang Zhenpeng, midfielders Lo Kwan-yee, Lam Ka-wai and Huang Yang, and forward Liang Zicheng back against South China.
The Caroliners will still be missing playmaker Joao Pereira, who tore knee ligaments in the Shield final against Sun Hei last month. Brazilian forward Martins de Souza, who was injured in the same match, has resumed training, although he is likely to start on the bench, leaving Giovane de Silva and Cheng Lai-hin up front.
Perhaps affected by the team's poor run this season, South China coach Jan Kocian left assistant Chan Ho-yin in the media gaze yesterday.
'This is a do-or-die match,' said Chan. 'We have to win all our remaining five matches. If that happens, we still have a chance.'
Kitchee beat South China 4-1 after extra time in the League Cup semi-finals two weeks ago, and winger Lee Wai-lim said that defeat was still fresh in the mind. 'We were in a good position but just failed to capitalise on the chances that came out way,' he said. 'We have to stay focused and avoid simple mistakes if we want to win.'