On a sticky and humid evening at Hongkou Football Stadium Shanghai Shenhua offered up a suitably lethargic performance against Liaoning last night, but managed to avoid a fourth consecutive defeat.
Not only was it was a match lacking in entertainment value, it was a game which Shenhua should have won easily. But as their supporters have witnessed time and time again, this is a side with a chronic inability to kill off weaker opponents. For the fourth game in succession, Shenhua picked up less points than they should have done.
The first half was largely dull and unworthy of comment. Feng Renliang had a great volley in the opening stages, which sailed narrowly over the bar. Nothing else much happened, and after the assistant referee signaled 3 minutes of added time, everyone’s minds turned to the thought of wondering outside for a beer and hoping for a better game of football in the second half. Then, Luis Salmeron did what Shenhua players don’t do anywhere near often enough, and chased down a loose ball. The Liaoning defender tried to shield it and let it run out for a goal kick, but Salmeron is a big lad and he somehow managed to win a corner for the home side.
A fairly crappy looking corner was fired in, and fullback Wu Xi neatly controlled the ball first with his foot, then cushioned onto his thigh, before turning and firing a low shot into the bottom corner of the net. It was a great goal from a player who just celebrated his first call-up to the Chinese National squad. The referee blew his whistle for half time shortly after the celebrations ended and Shenhua went in one-up.
Shenhua came out looking like a different team in the second half. A fantastic curving cross to the back post from Cao Yunding was met by the head of the normally deadly Salmeron – but he fluffed his header when it looked easier to score. He also went close not long afterwards with another header from a corner, as a hat load of chances came Shenhua’s way but none ended up in the opponents net.
But, it was with a sense of impending inevitability that Liaoning broke up the field, with what must have been their only attack of the half by that point. A through ball should have been intercepted by Shenhua midfielder Yu Tao, who for some reason was playing in defence. He slipped, allowing Liaoning forward Yang Xu the chance to move closer to goal. Yang managed to get around Dai Lin, before placing a low shot at Wang Dalei’s near post. It was a weak shot which somehow managed to elude the Shenhua custodian – being kind, perhaps he had expected a shot across goal? But its more likely he momentarily turned into a useless statue.
From that point on, Shenhua went to pieces and Liaoning had a great chance to win it when Yang connected with a great cross, but he couldn’t keep his header down.
Shenhua’s new signing Eisner Iván Loboa, from Columbian second tier side Deportivo Pasto made his debut, coming on in the 80th minute. He is described as a defensive midfielder / fullback by Wikipedia, but is listed as a forward on the Shenhua squad page. That is worrying. Nevertheless, his main contribution was to be cynically taken out of play when in a very dangerous position by Aussie defender Dean Heffernan, who was sent off for his trouble in the final minute. Soon after it finished 1-1, a result which was met with derision by some of the Shenhua supporters.
The season now goes into a mini-break of two weeks, as Chinese Super League teams prepare to welcome big name European reserve sides for various meaningless friendlies.
Ground: Hongkou Football Stadium, Hongkou District, Shanghai
Capacity: 35,000 (26,000 for football)
Honours: Chinese top-tier league champions: 1995
Chinese top-tier league runners-up: 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008
Chinese FA Cup winners: 1998
Chinese FA Cup runners up: 1995, 1997, 2015