Shanghai Shenhua must have really angered the karma gods back on June 11 at Hongkou Stadium when they had the good fortune to come back from 2-0 down to beat Jiangsu Sainty 3-2 with a last minute winner. Since then, the fortunes of both clubs have been almost exact mirror opposites – Shenhua have lost almost all of their games, Sainty have been on a hot winning streak. A glance at the records confirms this, since round 10 in June, Shenhua have a P15, W2, D1, L12 record, which contrasts sharply with Jiangsu’s P16, W9, D3, L4.
And what a difference 15 games make. After round 10, Shenhua were third in the league and a championship contender. Jiangsu were languishing near the foot of the able in 13th. Now after Saturday night’s 3-2 victory for Jiangsu, their positions are almost reversed – the Nanjing side are in 5th and just 3 points off an Asian Champions League place, whereas Shenhua have crashed and burned, currently lying in a smouldering wreck in 12th place.
The match, dubbed the “Yangtze River Delta Derby” by the Chinese football press, saw Jiangsu complete their revenge on Shenhua with a fairly comprehensive victory, making the most of their chances whilst denying their opponents many opportunities. Shenhua lined up with Qiu Shenjiong in goals – never a good sign when the Chinese Super League’s most incompetant keeper is between the sticks for your side. He was tested in the 7th minute when Jiangsu struck the post. The ball was cleared to around the half way line, but Sainty won possession and a quick passing movement and through ball caught Shenhua’s back four napping and Cristian Dănălache made no mistake with a close range finish. Another bad start for Shenhua.
Jiangsu had a spring in their step following their taking of the lead, but in an action-packed opening 15 minutes, Shenhua midfielder Yu Tao almost scored a spectacular long distance goal. Sainty keeper Deng Xiaofei was equal to the task of keeping the ball out though. Shortly afterwards, Sainty hit the woodwork for the second time, Dănălache the man responsible for that, when he should have scored.
The second half saw Shenhua emerge with a sense of greater purpose. In the 53rd minute, Shenhua equalized with a marvellously-worked goal which saw playmaker Cao Yunding play one-twos with Yu Tao and then Luis Salmeron to score with a neat finish at the edge of the six yard box. Cao scored his first competitve goal for Shenhua last week against Yanbian in the cup, now he had gone one better to score his first league goal.
The visitors lead didn’t stay level for long though. Yet more sloppy defending from a returned clearance into the box left young Serbian striker Nikon Jevtic unmarked and he finished neatly to put Sainty back in front in the 70th minute. And just sixty seconds later, Jevitic, seemingly wearing some kind of sci-fi cloaking device which rendered him invisible to visiting defenders, was again left unmarked at the edge of the six yard box to finish a neat cutback from the byline and make it 3-1 to Jiangsu. It was all but game over. Eisner Iván Loboa grabbed his first Shenhua goal in the 78th minute from Luis Salmeron’s knock down, to give Shenhua a glimmer of hope of avoiding a 12th defeat in 15 games, but it was not to be and Jiangsu held out for their first ever victory over their hated derby rivals – 3-2 – the exact score which they were beaten by Shenhua earlier in the season.
Overall it was groundhog day for Shenhua, another bad defeat to a team which at the start of the season, they would have been expected to beat. The Hongkou side did not perform badly, and there were flashes of the old free-flowing attacking Shenhua of old, but the fact is that Shenhua have lost three league games on the trot.
The victory against Shaanxi a couple of weeks back has turned out to be a false dawn, questions are starting to be asked of new coach Dražen Besek, who despite inheriting a relatively weak squad, is still in command of a group of players who are capable of doing much better.