For the first time all season Jiangsu Sainty is being widely expected to defeat opponents. In the case of last Saturday evening when Jiangsu hosted Shenzhen Ruby, Jiangsu was expected to win convincingly against a team battling to climb out of the relegation zone. After a somewhat back and forth match Jiangsu was eventually able to overpower Shenzhen, posting a 3-0 victory that vaulted Jiangsu from 11th to 6th in the league standings.
In the opening stages of the match both teams had periods of solid control but neither were able to produce any good chances. Ten minutes in Shenzhen striker Chris Killen was shown a yellow card for a dive outside the box. This resulted in several of Killen’s teammates getting in the referees face, which is something most professional leagues wouldn’t stand for, but in the Chinese Super League they’re so far in the refs face that they’re practically giving mouth to mouth resuscitation.
In the 20th minute Killen gave the home crowd a scare when a through ball into the Jiangsu box got past the outstretched leg of defender Eleílson. Jiangsu goal keeper Deng Xiaofei came charging out to meet the ball and just barely arrived ahead of Killen.
After 30-minutes I started to worry if some of Jiangsu’s recent success had rubbed off on Shenzhen. The southerners had recently beat Shanghai 2-0 at home but the club has found little success on the road thus far this season, going 0-7-2 (W-L-D). With one third of the match completed Shenzhen had certainly had the better chances of the two sides.
All my worries would be put to rest in the 32nd minute as Ji Xiang scored for the second time this season giving Jiangsu the go ahead goal. In the lead up to the goal it was the usual suspects for Jiangsu, Aleksandar Jevtić and Cristian Dănălache, pressing the attack. While Dănălache was taking the ball deep into Shenzhen’s half Ji Xiang had found himself wide open to the left of Dănălache. Even with Jevtić pointing towards Ji Xiang, Dănălache chose to try and split two Shenzhen defenders which proved to be a rather poor choice as they poked the ball away from the Romanian striker. Luckily for Jiangsu Sun Ke was right there to pass the ball to a wide open Ji Xiang who let it rip into the back of the net. After taking the 1-0 lead Shenzhen was unable to get anything going and would head into the locker room looking rather deflated.
Halftime is usually rather uneventful, with most fans heading to the restroom or the concession stands. This particular halftime we were lucky enough to see a young man in the supporters section propose to his girlfriend. As most of you know I’m terrible at Chinese, but from what I could understand it was a successful proposal.
Just minutes into the second half Jiangsu would strike again. This time Dănălache used his entire 6-3 (1.93m) frame to poke the ball to an open Jevtić who in turn passed to Ji Xiang who’s shot was blocked by the Shenzhen keeper. The ensuing corner kick saw 6-4 (1.94m) Eleílson rise above a Shenzhen defender to head the ball in for his third goal of the season. Being the fan favorite he is Eleílson pumped his fists in the air in celebration causing the crowd to go into a ruckus.
Jiangsu poured the pressure on Shenzhen after the second goal. Around the 60-minute mark Shenzhen committed a back pass, admittedly something I’ve never seen before in a professional game. For those of you like me who’ve never witnessed a back pass the ref does not grant a penalty kick, but rather a free kick in the box. It’s rather amusing seeing the wall being placed just a matter of feet in front of the goal line, but it makes it almost impossible to get the ball up and over the wall. This chance was wasted as the ball was shot directly into the wall and bounced off harmlessly.
The wasted free kick inside the box did not faze Jiangsu as a few minutes later they increased their lead off a corner kick almost identical to the one earlier in the half. This time around it was Jiangsu’s other foreign defender, Komoliddin Tadjiev of Uzbekistan, who got his head on the ball. Unlike Eleílson who used his height to tower over the defender, Tadjiev ran into the box while the ball was on route and put himself in a great position to head the ball in virtually unmarked.
Jiangsu fans went into full celebration mode after the victory was all but assured. Some excited fans even started up the wave, which I’ll point out was claimed to have been invented in my hometown. While the fans were busy doing the wave in the stands Deng Xiaofei was busying keeping the clean sheet for Jiangsu with some great saves in the final 15-minutes including one off the line.
The win and three points vaulted Jiangsu up the standings. The shutout gives Jiangsu their fifth clean sheet in their last six home matches. Things could not be going any better for the club. If the team is able to hold this superb form an Asian Champions League spot is a very realistic opportunity.
On a final note, this match was one of the few that saw the visiting fan section completely empty. August 6th is Chinese lovers day, so what better way to show your love to your better half than by traveling 1,500 miles round trip and supporting your favorite club. If that’s not a romantic journey then I don’t know what is.