The champagne was ordered and a huge party was planned, but newly crowned league champions South China lost their appetite for celebration after being humbled 3-2 by Southern in the RedMR First Division yesterday.
With two-time champions Kitchee having surrendered the crown on Friday night after a 1-1 draw against Sun Pegasus, South China were looking for the icing on the cake at Aberdeen Sports Ground yesterday. Their mood, however, soured as Southern played the role of party-poopers.
With five minutes left and South China trailing 3-2, the club sent out a message to reporters that there would be no celebration if the score stayed the same.
Team convenor Steven Lo Kit-sing, who left the stadium before the final whistle, apparently in disgust, said later that a decision had been made to field some of the club's fringe players, but they disappointed.
"After knowing we had won the championship, we decided to give some of our fringe players the chance to prove themselves," Lo said. "But they let the club and the fans down."
South China captain Lee Chi-ho, who has played every match for his club so far this season, was sent off in the closing stages for a second booking and will now miss the FA Cup semi-final against Kitchee next week, yet another dampener to what should have been a joyous day.
Lo said the club had a budget of HK$20 million this season and would probably spend a similar amount next term, when they would beef up their squad for the challenges they would face in the regional AFC Cup.
"It's too early to decide who will stay and who will go next season," Lo said. "But those who have failed to perform, including the foreign players, will have to leave, as we need a stronger squad both to defend our league title and mount a serious challenge in the AFC Cup.
"We know it will be tough to find good-quality local players, because the choice is limited."
Second-half substitute Chow Ka-wah settled matters for the hosts when the score was locked at 2-2. His low drive from the left in the 68th minute beat goalkeeper Tin Man-ho, who was making only his second appearance for South China this season.
Meanwhile, Sunray Cave Sun Hei secured an important victory in their relegation battle, beating fellow strugglers Wofoo Tai Po 3-2 at Mong Kok Stadium, with Leung Tze-chun scoring the winner in stoppage time. With only one round of matches to go, five teams are still fighting to stay in the top flight next season.
Sun Hei and Citizen are on 17 points, Tai Po and Sun Pegasus on 18 and Yokohama on 19. One of the five will be relegated.