Six weeks into the season and Jiangsu Sainty had a measly single point from five matches. To make matters worse the team had only managed to score one goal during this period. These factors lead to the dismissal of head coach Ján Kocian after having managed the team for a mere six matches (five league games and one CFA cup match). Serbian Dragan Okuka was selected as the interim head coach. Fans were eager to see how the team would react to the new coach.
Sunday night was the first match under Okuka as Jiangsu played host to Changchun. The crowd at the stadium was larger than previous weeks and full of energy. The fact that this was the first night game of the season didn’t hurt. The players seemed to be positively affected be the late start as well with the early goings of the game being unusually active.
Jiangsu had a wonderful opportunity 9-minutes into the game as captain Lu Bofei curled in a beautiful free kick from about 30-35 yards out. The biggest man on the pitch, Jiangsu center back Eleílson, was somehow left unmarked and from five yards out headed the ball wide left. With only the keeper between him and the goal it was a wonder how he missed the shot. The Changchun keeper made contact with Eleílson and the Brazilian laid on the ground for several minutes. The stretcher was brought out, but I’d say his pride was hurt more than anything for putting the shot wide.
Déjà vu would strike 10-minutes later as Ren Hang put a great cross into the box only for Bofei to head it over the crossbar. The Jiangsu faithful were growing restless with these wasted chances.
Throughout the first half both teams were able to maintain solid possession and advance into the opponents final third. Although it was an entertaining half neither keeper was truly tested until the 42nd minute when Changchun striker Zhang Wenzhao shot a bullet into the upper right-hand corner of the Jiangsu goal forcing keeper Guan Zhen to make an exceptional save. The teams would go into the half 0-0, but the way the first half had gone one of the teams was bound to break the deadlock in the second half.
It appeared that the energy exerted in the first half had taken a toll on the players as both teams were a little sluggish at the beginning of the second half. The first real chance came about 20-minutes in when Changchun won a free kick just outside the box. Du Zhenyu elected to take a try on goal but Guan Zhen pushed it over the cross bar for a corner. On the ensuing corner kick Brazilian striker Nei had a Changchun goal called back for being offside. I haven’t seen a reply of the call but the offside’s must have been by the smallest of margins because the box was loaded with bodies. The stadium breathed a collective sigh of relief once the linesmen’s flag went up, knowing the game was still in the hands of the home team.
Shortly thereafter Jiangsu earned a free kick a few yards out from the corner. The spot made it essentially a corner kick. Midfielder Ji Xiang was the one to take the kick, but he blasted the ball so far above everybody it landed a yard or two short of the opposite side line and quickly rolled out of bounds. The fans couldn’t help but laugh at how horrible the free kick was. Xiang looked embarrassed as he apologized to his teammates but he would make up for this blunder later in the match.
Australian Bruce Djite came on for Cristian Dănălache in the 64th minute. This substitution would prove to be a wise one by new coach Okuka as Djite had a vital impact on the game. In the 75th minute Djite took off down the sideline. He quickly attracted two defenders who corralled him into the corner. Djite did well to kick the ball off a Changchun player and earn a corner. On the ensuing kick Ji Xiang was standing in the box between two Changchun players but managed to rise up and head the corner kick into the goal. Not to take anything away from the textbook header by Xiang, but the defending by Changchun was terrible as several of them were caught ball watching, leaving Xing free to elevate and drive home the header.
The stadium went into a hysteria. Players hugging players, coaches hugging coaches, random fans hugging each other. It was the first lead of the season for Jiangsu and the players looked determine to hold on to it. Changchun couldn’t create any decent chances until the final minute of stoppage time when they earned yet another free kick a yard outside the box. I could barely watch as the kick was taken in the fifth minute of stoppage time but it went directly into the wall and bounced off harmlessly to end the game.
The first match under Dragan Okuka could only be described as a success. One would think the players would use this win as motivation in the coming weeks, but for now football fans in Jiangsu can sleep easy knowing we finally got rid of the goose egg sitting in the win column.