Caroliners' revival put to the test in clash with Valley

HONGKONG champions South China will be bidding for their fourth straight victory in the First Division when they meet lowly Happy Valley at Mongkok Stadium tonight.

South China, third in the table with 13 points, 11 behind leaders Eastern but with a game in hand, have beaten British Forces, Ernest Borel and Kitchee without conceding a goal in their last three league games.

And their Northern Ireland international goalkeeper, Allen McKnight, believes victory over Valley is vital if they are to stand a chance of catching Eastern.

''We're on a good little run at the moment and we should be all right against Happy Valley if we have the right attitude,'' said the 29-year-old former West Ham United and Celtic 'keeper.

''Unfortunately our destiny is not in our hands now because we're a bit behind but we still have Eastern to play again, on February 14.

''Even if we upset them it still needs some other sides to take a few points off them.'' South China picked up only four points from their first four league matches but have taken the maximum nine from their last three.

In a troubled season, though, their overseas casualties have been high, with Brian McDermott, Trevor Morgan and Steve Neville all leaving despite season-long contracts and Frank McAvennie and Max Christie having brief stints before moving on. The Caroliners now have only three overseas players - McKnight, Australian central defender George Haniotis and Bosnian striker Anto Grabo.

The departures of Morgan and Neville after South China's 4-0 defeat by Eastern in the Camelpaint Challenge Shield final on December 20 have calmed things down at the club, according to McKnight. ''It seems to be a bit of a weight lifted off us because of all the carry-on before it,'' he said.

''One day someone would say something and the next it would be contradicted. Now there is nothing floating around and the players are more relaxed and enjoying it without the same pressure.'' South China coach Raymond Ng Wai-man will continue with his new formation today. Skipper Chan Ping-on will play as the anchorman in a five-strong midfield, with Chiu Chung-man the furthest forward supporting lone striker Grabo.

Right-winger Loh Wai-chi is injured, so Chu Yue-tai will play wide midfield.

Happy Valley are next to bottom of the 10-team table but beat British Forces 7-0 last Monday.