HAPPY Valley's hopes of recapturing their first league title since 1989 were left flickering as South China thrust to the top of the Marlboro First Division with a 2-0 victory at muggy Mongkok Stadium yesterday. Happy Valley's spell at the top ended after the Caroliners scored a goal in each half to give their title hopes a major boost. The Caroliners, who are hoping to land their first league title for three years, occupy the number one spot on goal difference from Happy Valley and have a vital two games in hand. South China also went three points clear of champions Eastern from the same number of games but it was panic stations for Happy Valley who suffered their third successive defeat following losses to Eastern in both the league and the Viceroy Cup. Despite Happy Valley's spiralling form, Valley chairman Nick Lee insisted they were not finished yet. 'We were very unlucky to lose our top goalkeeper and defender early on and that swung things in South China's favour in the end. We still have a few games to go in the league and anything can happen,' said Lee. Happy Valley had an impressive record before their recent reversal in fortunes and things went wrong for them after just four minutes yesterday when Russian 'keeper Victor Derbounov limped off with a pulled left hamstring. The big Russian's replacement was teenager Kan Wing-hong, who conceded the first goal just six minutes after entering the firing line. South China midfielder Loh Wai-chi, back from a three-game suspension, swung in a cross which 'keeper Kan parried into the path of Bosnian striker Anto Grabo who finished neatly with a low shot. Happy Valley received another blow when defender How Yiu-tak became the club's second casualty after a collision in the 25th minute. His replacement was the inexperienced Chau Chiu-hung, who was under pressure trying to keep a check on South China's fleet-footed Au Wai-lun and midfielder Leslie Santos. South China enjoyed most of the possession in the first half but Happy Valley did have chances to score with Pang Chi-tong coming closest when his shot flashed by a post five minutes before the interval. Pang was also left ruing a missed opportunity in an evenly-contested second half. He latched onto Wong Fuk-wing's pass but drilled his shot just wide of the target from close range. Russian import Sergei Volkov also had a chance to equalise in the 71st minute but failed to scoop the ball past Dutch 'keeper Werner Kooistra. Kan was forced to save Grabo's low drive in the 77th minute but the teenager could do nothing to stop South China's second goal two minutes from time. Au was the hero this time, pouncing on the rebound after Portuguese striker Pedro Xavier's effort had struck the upright. 'We were struggling in those conditions but we got the result we needed,' said South China coach Raymond Ng Wai-man. Happy Valley: (4-4-2): Victor Derbounov (Kan Wing-hong 4); Leung Sui-wing, Hau Yiu-tak (Chau Chiu-hung 25), Keung Wing-yiu, Kwok Yue-hung; Alan Reis, Sergei Volkov, Pang Chi-tong, Serguei Markine; Wong Chi-keung, Valeri Matiounine (Wong Fuk-wing 52) South China (4-4-2): Werner Kooistra; Robbie Ironside, Yau Kin-wai, Ku Kam-fai, Shum Kwok-pui; Wu Qunli, Leslie Santos, Loh Wai-chi, Dave Clarkson; Anto Grabo (Pedro Xavier 79), Au Wai-lun. Man of the Match: Au Wai-lun (South China).