South China coach Liu Chun-fai queried the decision not to award his side a penalty which might have changed the outcome of the FA Cup semi-final, first leg as the league leaders were held by rivals Kitchee to a 1-1 draw at Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground last night.
More than 1,500 fans braved a chilly night to watch what had been billed as the prelude to the two teams' top-of-the-table league encounter this coming Sunday, but last night's encounter was lacklustre.
The most exciting - and controversial - moment came in the second half, with the score locked at 1-1. South China's Jacky Sealy raced into the Kitchee box and appeared to have been fouled by Chu Siu-ki. Referee Tong Kui-sum, though, took no action, much to the chagrin of the South China camp.
"I was really surprised that a penalty was not given," South China coach Liu Chun-fai said after the match. "It was a clear foul on our player."
But Liu was not too disappointed with the result, saying the players had at least regained some of their confidence after losing two matches in a row to lower teams in the league.
"We controlled the midfield well and did not give our opponents any chance of playing their passing games. It was not easy as Kitchee are a quality side," he said. "There is still the second leg [at the end of the month] and we will be more aggressive then.
"But before that, we want to beat them in the league next Sunday as it will probably be the title decider."
South China are leading in the league standings, two points in front of Kitchee. With only three matches left, the winners will likely finish the season as the First Division champions.
South China went into the lead yesterday with only 12 minutes on the clock, thanks to a Kitchee defensive error when Cheng Lai-hing intercepted a poor back pass from Fernando Recio and rounded goalkeeper Guo Jianqiao to score.
Kitchee levelled 10 minutes into the second half. Lam Ka-wai's free kick from the right was met by Huang Yang, who scored from the far post.
"We were put under a great deal of pressure after conceding an early goal," said Kitchee full-back Lo Kwan-yee. "It was not easy to score an equaliser against South China and now both sides have an equal chance in the second leg."
The Hong Kong international, who was booked in the second half and will be suspended for Sunday's league encounter after accumulating five yellow cards, acknowledged the team had been affected by a hectic schedule.
"Some of the players are playing with minor injuries but we have to hang in there," he said.
Kitchee left immediately after last night's match for the airport as they head for Padang in Indonesia for an AFC Cup group E match on Wednesday before travelling back on Thursday to prepare for the crunch match against the Caroliners on Sunday.