Eastern's winning run ended by Caroliners

EASTERN'S winning run, stretching back to the start of the league season, was brought to a halt when fierce rivals South China held them to a 1-1 draw in a fast and furious clash at Mongkok Stadium yesterday.

On St Valentine's Day, referee Ng Yim-kin handed out eight cards - one red and seven yellow - as the ill-feeling built up over two previous encounters this season continually boiled over.

Eastern left-back Lee Wai-man was dismissed in the 28th minute after a skirmish with South China right-winger Loh Wai-chi, who was cautioned.

And six more players - three from each side - followed them into the referee's book as the crowd of just under 7,000 generated an electric atmosphere.

Both sides were entitled to claim a moral victory.

South China, having been humiliated 5-0 and 4-0 in the earlier matches this season, not only became the first side to score against Eastern in the league but also the first team to deny them victory after 13 successive league and cup wins.

Eastern could also feel happy with a point, having fallen behind to a 17th-minute goal from Loh and then being reduced to 10 men with more than an hour to play.

Having been let off the hook by a South China side at first unable and then unwilling to extend their lead, Eastern equalised with an 82nd-minute goal from former South China winger Ross Greer, who arrived at the far post to finish off a low cross from the hard-working Paul Nixon.

The result put Eastern on 28 points from 10 matches, six ahead of second-placed Michelotti, who have played a game more, and 11 clear of champions of South China.

Said Eastern team manager Peter Leung: ''We are satisfied with a draw because it still leaves us in a very strong position.

''I think we could lose three matches and still win the championship.'' The unbeaten league record of Eastern goalkeeper Iain Hesford stood at 13 hours and 46 minutes when he was finally forced to pick the ball out of the net. Loh, running on to a through-ball by right-back Pang Kam-chuen, finished in style by chipping into the far corner.

South China should have made the game safe five minutes into the second half. Again Pang was the supplier, picking out the well-timed run of Anto Grabo. The Bosnian marksman did everything right in drawing the defence and squaring the ball for midfielder Chu Yue-tai, who shot over an open goal from only 12 yards out.

South China coach Raymond Ng Wai-man was far from happy with a draw.

''In the first half we played well but in the second our players would not leave their own half. Those were not my instructions and I am very angry we let them back into the game,'' he said.

South China, meanwhile, are lining up a new striker for their Viceroy Cup campaign - six-foot five-inch Mark Sale, from Birmingham City. He has been recommended by their former striker and assistant coach, Trevor Morgan.

Kitchee, with leading scorer John Clare out for two months with a knee injury, are also planning to bring in three new attacking players from Britain.

They are also to change their coach, demoting Ken Ma Hing-keung, and increase their budget from the pre-season figure of $4 million.

Club president Fred Ng Chi-keung will announce Ma's replacement in the next two days.