Irish Harps got their inaugural division one campaign off to the best possible start with a narrow 2-1 win against last season’s title contenders Wanchai Spartans down in TKO. Despite the setback of missing an early penalty, the boys in green took the lead as Richie Neylon sent a free kick in from wide that beat everybody. Liam Grant doubled the lead from a rolled back indirect free kick following a back-pass infringement. Sparts pushed to get back in the game and threatened from set pieces, eventually getting one back from Alex Santos after a well taken corner. However, a red card for a second yellow put paid to any chances of salvaging a point as the Irish held on.
Also, on Friday night, last season's points per game Champions USRC Gunners fielded a strong line up against an equally potent Club Tropicana. After a very even first 30 minutes, the deadlock was broken when Sean Taylor rifled into the roof of the net shortly after coming off the bench. Marcus McMillan doubled the advantage with a curling beauty from 20 yards against the run of play early in the second half. Tropics fought back with a Chris Ingham penalty, and should have equalized when the same striker saw his shot bounce back off the post. A scrappy Giacoma Gallina goal for USRC, shortly followed by a second for Ingham left a nervy few minutes for Gunners with the game in the balance at 3-2. At the death, debutant Matthew Logan put the nail in the coffin to see USRC home 4-2.
On Saturday, DBFC smashed Soho Spartans 5-1, though the score line was more a reflection of decent finishing than overall dominance, with Alex Tunesi getting the Soho goal. No longer good enough for the YYL, Matt Zoller showed he can still do a job in the LL with a hat-trick, with Enzo Pedro and Leonardo Predieri netting the other two for DB. Time will tell whether or not they can fulfill their Ma On Shan fixture next week as they await the result of a 60 hkd bank loan to cover the extra cost of referee expenses. J-Leaguers got the campaign off to a winning start thanks to two late goals from ex-pro Yusuke Igawa and Keiichi Miyata. Things could have been oh so different had the league secretary Manjeet Brar not fluffed his lines for Cors with the goal at his mercy with the score still at 0-0, but a bobble, the wind and the football being too light led to the opportunity being squandered. In the other Saturday game, Revo beat Stags 2-1 in a very close encounter. Krish Mohinani got the first for Revo after a driving run and quality finish, injuring himself in the process. Chris Field made it two shortly after, but player manager and recently married Tommy Bartles halved the deficit with a 25-yard piledriver to make it squeaky bum time for the final 15 minutes. Revo though managed to hold on for the win.
Last game of the weekend saw newly promoted KCC Cavs host Goodfellas on Monday night at Kings Park. Cavs started much the stronger and went one up through a nice Gabriel Ho finish from distance, but it could have been more with a shot cleared off the line among other spurned chances. Goodfellas grew into the game and scored two quick goals, the second a well-executed drive from the edge of the area. They extended their lead in the second half, but Cavs fought back to make it a nervy finish. Sam Millar with a brace, Vu Pham and Mathieu Demange did the damage for Fellas while Nikhil Narwani and Stefani Antonic’s goals were not enough to salvage a point for KCC.
San Pellegrino’s fired their way to the top of the LL Division 2 after Dan Martyn showed his class with a hat-trick of tidy finishes. In an evenly contested game, the hat-trick hero was the difference between the two teams and Austin Terry was also on the scoresheet in the 4-0 win. Wanchai Wolves sit second on goal difference thanks to a resounding 5-2 win against Samurai Blue. Shane Burdekin scored twice while Alistar Kanaan, Andy Ho and an OG saw the Wolves home comfortably, though it could have been a different story had the opposition CB not been forced off with an injury. Mir Zeshan got the Blues two goals. HK Scottish Eagles also started off with a three-goal margin victory as Sam Wolstenholme (any relation to Kenneth?), Howard Kelly and George Fenwick were all on target in scorching conditions at Tuen Mun. Old Speckled Men will be looking to cut out their defensive errors next week but complemented the Wolstenholme worldie which had opened the scoring. Legal Head also sit pretty on 3 points with a great win at last season's relegated side Mes, who were guilty of wasting too many first half chances and running out of steam towards the end. Anthony Saladas got their consolation, but they were no match for Deon Brophy’s double and Felipe Bonilla’s solitary strike for a final score of 3-1.
Lastly in div 2, an aging KCC Royals side took on a vibrant Krauts down on pitch 3 at KP on Monday evening. While they may not have youth on their side, they still possess quality and Luca Merlone showed that up top scoring twice. Nick Gherigk’s goal for Ze Germans ensured the contest was one apiece until the last ten minutes. Despite KCC CB Paul Magunigule having hammered out a rigorous Sai Kung pre-season, reportedly gaining 2 kg in the process, and his CB partner Dave Christmas rolling back the years, KCC were unable to prevent Krauts from netting two late goals two secure the win, the first from Adam Schmidt after confusion in the box from a corner, the second a tight offside call which Mortiz Krause did well to finish. Plenty of food for thought for Baz Brown and the boys to deliberate before their next outing against the Scottish Eagles.
In division three, there were runaway successes for Dong Feng Express and The Shooters while Bants and BOC’s both scrapped out narrow 2-1 wins. Dong Feng were far too good for league newbies Barbarians as Wang Wei Zhi and Liu Xiong bagged two apiece with Zhang Long, Huang Hao Le, Fang Wen, Cheng An Zhi and Wang Chun also finding the onion bag in a resounding 9-0 drubbing. Barbs boss congratulated the Express boys but vowed the Barbs will be improving soon. Let’s hope so. It was a similar story from Stray Dogs who admitted it was their first game together in a long time, but the aptly named Shooters banged in 5 without reply. Haruto Matsumoto led the way with a double and he was joined on the scoresheet by Yohei Nakao, Kodai Kawahara and Shinichi Yoshimoto in a game played in good spirits.
BOC came back from one nil down to beat HK Zi Jing 2-1 thanks to goals from James Day and Mohamed Lemistef. Despite conceding a penalty for handball which Cao Yu Xing slotted home, BOC fought back ‘throwing caution to the wind’ and duly equalized as Day smashed home from a deep corner. Another set piece saw BOC add the second as Lemistef nipped in to score with a header from a free kick, catching the Zi Jing keeper and defence napping. BOC gaffa was honest enough to admit that the oppo should have come away with a point but couldn’t convert with two guilt edge one on ones missed, thus ensuring a long overdue and enjoyable success, with celebrations lasting right up until midnight no doubt. Last but not least in the opening round of fixtures, Bants got the better of Dragon Valley with the odd goal in three. Prajwal Ramdas helped himself to a debut goal and Robin Jordan got the second to ensure four teams in Div 3 all sit on 3 points. Shane Hoare was the Valley scorer, but it wasn’t enough to prevent an opening day loss.