Kitchee ride their luck to escape with a draw against South China
South China pummel rivals' defence, but are left frustrated in clash between title contenders
The green, green grass of the So Kon Po pitch - much maligned in July during the Barclays Asia Trophy and the visit of Manchester United - was not fruitful soil for either team, but it was South China who could feel most hard done by after squandering a number of chances and being denied a penalty in stoppage time.
"We are lucky, definitely, to walk away with a draw," said Kitchee coach Alex Gomez. "My players were tired and I felt this is a good result considering the fact that we will be playing three games in a week including the two big games in the AFC Cup."
At least the 10-hour flight to Amman should not be painful for the players - the starting XI for Tuesday's second leg against Al Faisaly are flying business class, while the rest will be cramped in economy - who knew they had performed a great escape.
In the opening exchanges, South China striker Dhiego Martins came close twice, but on both occasions was denied by the quick reflexes of Kitchee goalie Guo Jianquo. Then in the space of about 10 minutes in the second half, their Brazilian midfielder Joel Padilha was left ruing three headers, which might have been goals. He was denied twice by the woodwork and one glanced just wide of the target.
The biggest frustration was left until the end when South China substitute Michael Luk Chi-ho felt aggrieved that referee Tong Kui-sum had not awarded a penalty after he was bumped off the ball as he was lining up a shot.
"That was a clear penalty. He was shouldered by a Kitchee player and I felt the referee should have pointed to the spot," said Caroliners coach Cheung Po-chun. "But that's the way it goes, sometimes you are lucky and you get a penalty."
South China are in fourth spot in the standings with four points, trailing leaders Kitchee by three. It has been a slow start for the defending champions with a win, a loss and a draw from their first three games.
"I'm happy at our performance today. We played far better than in our last two games and created a number of chances. But considering the amount of opportunities we got, I felt we deserved to win," Cheung said.
Gomez conceded as much. With two wins and a draw they head the standings, but he will be worried that his strike force of Jordi Tarres and Alex Akande failed to find the net. Tarres played the first half and was substituted by Akande as Gomez tried to give his strikers as much rest as possible before the AFC Cup tie. Akande came closest in the 75th minute, but his shot was easily saved by Caroliners' goalie Yapp Hung-fai.
"I hope we can bounce back. It is going to be hard as we have to score at least two goals. But we will give it our best shot," said Gomez. Kitchee lost the first leg 2-1.
In other games yesterday, BC Rangers and Sunray Cave FC Sun Hei drew 1-1 as did Royal Southern and Citizen.