Shanghai Shenhua plumbed new depths on Saturday night by losing to a team which is bottom of the league and had not won at home all season. In a shocking result which dragged Shenhua back towards the relegation zone, the Hongkou stadium side lost 2-0 to Chengdu and had a player sent off for the second game in succession.
The result left Shenhua fans profoundly shocked. After registering their first victory in ten games against Shaanxi just over a week ago, the feeling was that Shenhua had turned the corner – no-one expected them to beat Guangzhou last Wednesday and the 2-0 defeat to the Cantonese big-spenders surely didn’t affect the morale of the team overly. With Chengdu bottom of the league and having only won two games out of 23, the Shenhua faithful thought it would be an easy three points. It seems likely the squad had the same attitude – but Chengdu punished this complacency.
The game itself got off to a bad start for Shenhua when a cross into the box found Chengdu’s Wang Kai in the box. Despite being surrounded by defenders, his head was first to the ball, and Shenhua were one down after just seven minutes. Not a good start. The early goal put pressure on Shenhua, and that’s something they usually respond badly to. However, bad luck again reared its ugly head for the visiting side, when promising defender Qiu Tianyi, recently back in action after being out with a broken arm, appeared to impede Chengdu’s foreign number 20 striker. The referee judged Qiu to be the last man, so off he went. However the video highlights show that, if anything, Chengdu’s striker fell over by himself, or was accidentally caught when Qiu fell.
Things then went from bad to worse for Shenhua when Chengdu midfielder Li Gang got hold of the ball in a seemingly harmless position in the middle of the Shenhua half. However, he teed the ball up and let fly from over 35 yards with a shot that flew past Wang Dalei’s right hand post into the net. It was a magnificent goal, the likes of which surely cannot have been scored often this season by Chengdu given their basement position. However, sadly for Shenhua, they were on the recieving end of this sublime moment.
From then on in, with shell-shocked Shenhua a man down and two goals to the bad, the match was pretty much over as a contest. The two teams huffed and puffed for the rest of the game but little of note took place aside from a two-footed tacke from Juan Angulo on Chengdu’s Maltese-Australian midfielder John Hutchison. Angulo and Hutchison each were yellow carded following a mini-fracas after the incident. However, this wasn’t enough for Hutchison who took matters into his own hands a little later, and got his own back on Angulo with a two-footed tackle of his own in the 83rd minute. He was almost walking off the pitch without waiting for the referee to send him off.
Both teams were reduced to ten men but there wasn’t enough time for Shenhua to make any inroads into Chengdu’s lead and it finished 2-0. In what has been a very very dissapointing, even shocking season for Shenhua, this result was easily the worst so far, and that is saying something given the number of bad defeats Shenhua have suffered this season so far.
The result really calls so many things into question at Hongkou, the win against Shaanxi last week looks like a fluke, indeed, it may have saved Shenhua from relegation. With five games left, Shenhua are seven points clear of the relegation zone. Only the ineptitude of other teams is keeping Shenhua out of trouble. Shenhua face a real battle however to get their confience back after this devastating result, and for the fans, the end of this miserable season can’t come quickly enough.
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