Eccentric refereeing decisions robbed luckless Shanghai Shenhua of a first victory in two months as Tianjin grabbed a late winner to consign their opponents to a fifth consecutive defeat last night at TEDA Stadium.
Incredibly, it was only Tianjin’s second ever league victory over Shenhua since professional football began in China in 1994. According to the club’s official website, Shenhua had won 14, drawn 16 and only lost one of their previous encounters. Tianjin’s last victory was way back in 2002, but with Shenhua in the midst of their worst run ever, having now only taken one point from their last nine matches, the northern Chinese side were never going to get a better chance to improve their appalling record against their bogey team from the south.
And yet it all could have been so different. Shenhua played a solid game and were unlucky to lose. However, their back four by no means had it easy, and Wang Dalei almost cocked things up totally for the visitors when he headed the ball away from just outside his box, only for it to fall near his feet. Being a goalkeeper, he lost control and the ball ended up at the feet of the opposition, but Tianjin’s forward fired the ball over the unguarded net.
The first half was fairly uneventful, however, a flowing move saw Wu Xi cross the ball to the back post. Luis Salmeron met the ball with a looping header which ended up in the back of the Tianjin net. Incredibly, the goal was disallowed for offside. The video highlights, bizarrely, don’t show the offside decision, but from the comfort of your correspondent’s armchair during the match, the action replay showed Wu Xi, and ever other Shenhua player, to be nowhere near offside at all. This was the last thing Shenhua needed in the midst of a nine-game winless streak – the frustration on the face of Salmeron said it all.
The odd decisions continued in the second half when young Shenhua fullback Xiong Fei was red-carded after a tangle with Tianjin striker Yu Dabao. The replay shows both players were tugging and pulling jerseys, but Yu Dabao was the one who went down, so Xiong Fei had to head for an early bath due to a second yellow. It was another bitter blow for Shenhua to absorb. But, undeterred, Luis Salmeron had a great header tipped over the bar not long afterwards, before Tianjin’s Romanian forward Marius Bilaşco curled a great freekick against the Shenhua bar in the last ten minutes.
But just when it looked like Shenhua might come away with at least a point, Tianjin’s Cao Yang hit a low shot from the edge of the box, which eluded three Shenhua defenders and an unsighted Wang Dalei and hit the back of the net with just five minues remaining. And with that, the game was over as a contest, Shenhua were all out of luck and out of any points once again.
Earlier this summer, Shenhua lost three matches in a row for the first time in their history, before arresting the slide with a draw against Liaoning. However, they’ve now broken the record again as quickly as possible by losing five matches in a row. The Shanghai football media are talking of Shenhua being in the “real relegation zone”, whilst their form is indeed truly shocking, second-bottom Shenzhen are four places and seven points behind Shenhua, but only ten games to play, albeit with one in hand over the Shanghai side. So even if Shenhua never win again, which some fans must feel is quite likely, it would still take some serious turnarounds in form for Shenzhen and the other three sides separating Shenhua from the relegation places, for the Hongkou side to be in real danger.
Ironically, Shenhua’s young striker Dong Xuesheng is on loan to Shenzhen and scored a hat-trick as his new side beat Dalian 4-2 last night. Shenhua could really be shooting themselves in the foot if current trends continue.
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