Last Wednesday night Jiangsu Sainty played host to Shandong Luneng in Nanjing Olympic Sports Stadium. The match had a lot on the line for both teams. A win for the visitors would further cement their third place position and help them gain ground on the top teams Beijing and Guangzhou. If the home side were to win it would push them further up the league standings and continue an impressive home win streak dating back to May 15th.
In the hours leading up to the match the sky was filled with lightning. For a while I was worried that the match might have to be postponed due to the storm, but by kickoff the light show had died down. While the action in the sky had stopped the action on the pitch didn’t take long to get going. In just the third minute a nice pass from Jiangsu’s Aleksandar Jevtić set up fellow striker Cristian Dănălache and with only the goal keeper to beat the Romanian sent the ball just wide.
Just a minute later Jiangsu had another fine chance as defender Eleílson used his height to get his head on the end of a free kick but it ended up going straight into the keepers gloves. Around the 10-minute mark Shandong would have its best chance of the half when midfielder Roda Antar fired away from distance. The shot had pace but it’s placement failed to make Jiangsu keeper Deng Xiao Fei exert much effort to bring down the ball.
As is common in the sport we all love so much, there were some highly questionable calls made by the referee, most of which went against Shandong. After about 30-minutes of having every 50-50 call go against his team Shandong head coach Rajko Magić had had about enough and gave the fourth official an ear full. This brought the linesman and head referee over for a little chit chat that looked rather heated. Usually when this happens I expect to see somebody ejected but apparently cooler heads prevailed and Magić remained on the sideline.
With only one minute of added time at the end of the first half Jiangsu was awarded a free kick outside the box. Midfielder Ji Xiang drove the ball towards the lower corner of the goal where Shandong’s keeper was unable to control the ball and four Jiangsu players – Jevtić, Dănălache, Komoliddin Tadjiev, and Ren Hang – all converged on the loose ball. While it seemed that anyone of them could have nailed it home Ren Hang was the one who got to the ball first and gave Jiangsu the lead in the final seconds of the first half. The referee didn’t even allow a restart and both teams walked off the pitch after the goal, with Jiangsu looking elated and Shandong looking like quite the opposite.
Shandong must have had quite the half-time speech as they forced the hosts to play some serious defense at the start of the second half. They looked ready to level the score at any minute, although it would be Jiangsu who would increase their lead just six minutes after the restart. Going against the run of play Dănălache dished the ball off to Ji Xiang who then sent a pass directly across the goal to a wide open Jevtić who tapped it in for his fifth goal in the past six matches. It appeared that the Shandong keeper might have been able to stop the cross but a diving defender made him hesitate for a second, which proved to be a costly mistake.
Throughout the second half Shandong was able to generate a decent amounts of shots on goal but very few of them were on target. In the 85th minute it appeared Jiangsu had scored for a third time when Dănălache nutmegged the Shandong keeper, but the goal was called off for a extremely soft foul. Despite Jiangsu being up 2-0 in the final minutes of the match I was really annoyed that his goal was called back. The reply showed there was a little contact but I’d classify that as a dive by the defender rather than a foul by Dănălache.
Regardless of the goal being called off when the game came to a close the fans and players alike started a massive celebration. Normally the team walks over to the two supporters sections to thank them for, well, their support. Wednesday night the players walked around the entire stadium (save the visitors section), thanking all the fans for backing the team. It was another great night in what has been a magical summer for Jiangsu Sainty. I only hope the magic can stay alive for a couple more months as the team makes a push for a Champions League position.