Crunch time as Eastern and Kitchee meet in winners-take-all league title showdown
Humiliated by Guangzhou Evergrande in the AFC Champions League recently, Chan Yuen-ting’s charges will be hoping to make things right on the domestic front as they take on the Caroliners at sold-out Mong Kok Stadium
With the mental and physical scars healing from their Asian encounter with Guangzhou Evergrande, Eastern have a chance to salvage their season in a winners-take-all showdown for the Hong Kong Premier League on Saturday.
The defending champions play Kitchee at a sold-out Mong Kok Stadium with only one point separating the two heavyweights after 19 games.
Despite being humiliated 13-0 on aggregate by Evergrande in the AFC Champions League, Eastern are unbeaten in the domestic league, heading the standings with 49 points, while Kitchee, champions in 2015, are second on 48.
Eastern (15 wins and four draws) need only a draw to become the third team to win the championship with an unbeaten record after South China (1978, 1986) and Seiko (1979).
Head coach Chan Yuen-ting, who became the first female to lead a men’s side to a top tier championship last season, said the pressure had been mounting with so much at stake in one match.
“It’s a tough situation as the result means everything rests on one match for the whole season,” she said. “We won’t go for a draw as everybody knows it will only make it difficult for us. Fortunately, there is no Champions League this week so we can focus on the game.
“The players have been recovering well after losing to Guangzhou Evergrande, mentally and physically, as they all know how important this game is. There is no way back and no matter what the result is, it won’t be a big surprise as the two teams are very closely matched.”
Eastern face a season without silverware if they lose. They were beaten 2-1 by Kitchee in the Senior Shield final and suffered a 1-0 defeat to South China in the FA Cup semi-final last week. In mid-week, Wofoo Tai Po lifted the Sapling Cup after beating Pegasus 2-1.
Kitchee also have a shot at FA Cup glory when they meet South China next weekend.
“Our target is very clear, to beat Eastern and win the championship,” said midfield powerhouse Huang Yang. “We don’t have to worry about a draw as it won’t work for us. Perhaps that will give us more impetus.”
Kitchee are in terrific form, having won nine matches since losing to Kwoon Chung Southern in the league on January 21.
Unlike Eastern, they don’t have to fight on two fronts after being beaten by Ulsan Hyundai of South Korea in the AFC Champions League play-off in early February.
Kitchee can also rely on the firing power of their naturalised players which has made them successful in domestic competitions.
In a close race for third place, Southern play Pegasus and South China take on KMB Yuen Long.
Football Club have already been relegated after finishing the season with six points from 20 games.