Eastern take giant step towards league title triumph

EASTERN put one hand on the Hongkong First Division championship trophy by beating nearest rivals Michelotti 2-1 at Mongkok Stadium last night.

After dropping their first points of the season in the 1-1 draw with defending champions South China last Sunday, the runaway leaders made no mistake against second-placed Michelotti.

Eastern's 10th win in 11 league games took them on to 31 points, nine ahead of Michelotti, who have played a game more. Third-placed Instant-Dict have 18 points from 10 games, meaning the race is virtually over with just under half the season remaining.

The three points were in the bag six minutes into the second half when Dale Tempest notched his 15th goal of the season to make it 2-0 to Eastern, following Ross Greer's seventh goal of the campaign in the 10th minute. The match was two minutes into injury time when Michelotti pulled a goal back from Lee Wai-wo, who became only the third player to score past Eastern goalkeeper Iain Hesford in 15 league and cup games this season.

Tempest showed his obvious delight at scoring because it was his first goal in open play since December 12 and only his second for his club this year, following his penalty against British Forces earlier this month.

Of his 15 goals, eight of them have been scored at Michelotti's expense - two in the first league encounter, five in a 7-0 rout in the quarter-finals of the Camelpaint Challenge Shield and one last night.

As for Michelotti, who were saved time and again by a brilliant display of goalkeeping by Chan Hing-wing, it was only their second defeat in the league, both at the hands of Eastern.

A relieved Tempest said: ''One of the problems we are having is that we are sitting there comfortably but not killing teams off like we did earlier in the season.

''But you must look at this result in the context of the league table. Michelotti were second and we've won 2-1 to open up a gap again.'' Tempest bagged 12 goals in the first six league and cup games this season and has added three more in the following nine to move four clear of his nearest rival in the scoring charts, teammate Paul Nixon.

''I've had a bit of a lean spell but as long as I'm still getting chances it's okay,'' said Tempest.

''The side is still winning and that's more important than my own tally. The funny thing is my goal came from the most difficult chance I had all match - and hopefully it's the start of another run.'' When Greer knocked the ball in from the left, Tempest met the cross with a ferocious left-foot volley on the turn that whistled past Chan and flew into the net.

Despite numerous chances before and after Tempest's strike, the only other time Chan was beaten was by Greer, scoring his fifth goal in the last five games.

Michelotti deployed central defender Richard Lant - a teammate of Greer's at South China last season - to cut out the aerial threat posed by Greer on the far post. Being the all-rounder he is, Greer popped up at the near post in the 10th minute, stole a yard on Lant and guided his low header inside the post.

With the disappointingly small crowd of just over 2,500 heading for the exits, Michelotti pinched one at the end when Lee headed home from close range to round off more good work from the Tony Sealy-Alan Walsh strike-force who finally got the support theyhad been looking for all match.