Wednesday 20 September 2017

Di Canio concern at 'killer pitch'

Emmanuel Adebayor and Sebastian Larsson battle on a waterlogged pitch in Hong Kong
Emmanuel Adebayor and Sebastian Larsson battle on a waterlogged pitch in Hong Kong

Mark Ogden

A group of leading Premier League managers have voiced fears that their players risk serious injury if they set foot this weekend on what Paolo Di Canio has branded a "killer pitch."

The Italian's Sunderland side are due to take on Manchester City in the final of the Barclays Asia Trophy in Hong Kong after Tottenham and South China meet in a play-off for third place.

However, incessant rain has made the surface at the Hong Kong Stadium treacherous and led to calls for the fixtures to be abandoned. Wednesday's fixtures at the venue were reduced to 40 minutes each way due to the conditions and further rain was forecast overnight.

Di Canio, Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas and City's Manuel Pellegrini have all expressed concerns about the conditions, as has Manchester United manager David Moyes, whose side are due to play a friendly on the pitch on Monday.

"I am worried about the safety of my players," Di Canio said. "It is a killer pitch in this weather with injuries, at this stage of the season especially. You can have a slip on a heavy pitch like that, or make not a natural movement, and it can cause a problem.

"I hope that we can do something and play the games. I hope the rain can stop and maybe we can have a good pitch."

Villas-Boas, who saw Jan Vertonghen suffer ankle ligament damage on the waterlogged pitch on Wednesday, admitted that he would rather not risk his players again by playing today.

"The conditions are extremely poor and we have already lost one player through injury," Villas-Boas said. "I would ideally like to avoid circumstances like this. They are going to be extremely poor conditions and the pitch will be even more difficult for the final. I would prefer not to go ahead, but we are professional and we have come out for this tournament."

Pellegrini, who admitted that City's training plans had been disrupted by the Hong Kong weather, added: "I don't know what will happen. It is up to the tournament organisers, but we must be optimists and hope we can play."

A final decision will be taken by referee Anthony Taylor and regular inspections of the surface will be made by Premier League officials in the build-up to the two games. The league has enlisted the expertise of Tottenham's head groundsman, Darren Baldwin, in an effort to make the pitch playable and they remain confident that the games will go ahead.

Moyes, whose side are due to arrive in Hong Kong today, said: "I do have concerns about the surface. But we will travel to Hong Kong and hope the conditions improve and the pitch is in a better state."

CONTRACT

Senior figures at United have even examined the contract for Monday's game against Kitchee FC to see what contingencies are in place for such a situation. However, with contractual obligations to meet, there is no question of a postponement unless the pitch deteriorates further.

This is not the first controversy to surround the Hong Kong Stadium this year. The Lions rugby squad played their first warm-up game at the end of May before their victorious Test series in Australia – with warm-up being the key phrase.

Temperatures inside the stadium, which sits in a sheltered, often windless valley, reached 30C (86F) with humidity of 90pc. Conditions were so challenging and potentially harmful that for the first time on a Lions tour there were four water time-outs. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Tottenham v South China,

Live, Sky Sports 1, 11.0

Sunderland v Manchester City,

Live, Sky Sports 1, 1.30

Irish Independent

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