McAvennie awaits call to rejoin South China

SOUTH China are trying to lure Scottish striker Frank McAvennie back to the territory to spearhead their Viceroy Cup campaign.

And the former West Ham United star, now back in the Scottish Premier League with Celtic, said last night he would be very interested in a second stint with the Caroliners.

After South China's 2-0 victory over Sing Tao in a Hongkong First Division match at Mongkok Stadium yesterday, team boss Steven Lo said they were stepping up their attempts to sign one, possibly two, new overseas players in time for the Viceroy Cup - by far the most prestigious of the three knockout competitions in Hongkong football.

''Money is no object,'' said Lo. ''The team has improved a lot in recent weeks but we need some more power up front.

''We were very happy with McAvennie when he was here before and we will try to get him back, although it will not be easy.'' Glasgow-born McAvennie, 32, spent a month with South China but was able to play only one senior game - a Camelpaint Challenge Shield quarter-final tie against Kitchee on November 5.

Although McAvennie did not produce the fireworks expected of him, missing three clear chances, his presence helped produce a capacity crowd and he inspired his team to fight back for a 1-1 draw before winning through to the semi-finals in a penalty shootout.

With Hongkong hosting the second FIFA indoor world championship in November, the league closed down for three weeks and McAvennie returned to Britain, where he rejoined Glasgow giants Celtic.

Speaking from Glasgow last night, McAvennie said: ''I am under contract with Celtic until March 1 and I will know this week what is happening about a longer deal.

''At this stage I must keep my options open and I would be very interested in a move back to Hongkong. I enjoyed my time out there and would like to have played more matches for South China.

''I'll have to see how things go this week.'' With each club allowed to field five overseas players, South China have only three - goalkeeper Allen McKnight, who missed yesterday's game with a toe injury, central defender George Haniotis and striker Anto Grabo.

McAvennie is one of a further five foreign players to have been on their books during a season in which they have lost the Shield final to Eastern and look like handing over their league championship to the same team.

McAvennie, who was paid $100,000 for his one-month stay, remains the top target for Lo. If the deal falls through, Lo has expressed interest in signing two Brazilian players from Sao Paulo.

South China, who meet Sing Tao in the Viceroy Cup quarter-finals on March 19, moved into third place yesterday with a comfortable league win over the side, who failed to test reserve goalkeeper Leung Cheuk-cheung.

The confident Caroliners took the lead in the 40th minute with a cracking solo effort from Chiu Chung-man, who controlled Loh Wai-chi's pass, flicked it back over the head of Sing Tao sweeper Jason Hall and crashed a glorious right-foot volley past Peter Guthrie.

Sing Tao, unable to work the openings to threaten Leung in the South China goal, conceded their second 15 minutes from time.

Again Loh was the provider, bursting down Sing Tao's left flank and crossing low for Lee Fuk-wing to shoot home unmarked at the far post.

Goalscorers Chiu and Lee are two of the home-grown players to have progressed in leaps and bounds since South China's Christmas clear-out and McAvennie could provide just the right support for the hard-working Grabo up front.