Without any visiting supporters from Henan making the trip, it was up to the players on the pitch to get revenge for the fans and they did a good job of it. In the prematch buildup, a few players admitted that giving the fans something for what they went through in Zhengzhou was definitely on their minds.
Henanese are well known across China as stereotypically being liars and petty crooks (sort of like Liverpudlians), and the 38,000 Guoans fans were in full voice, often pointing out these stereotypes in their songs. On the pitch, this was much like the Shenzhen match, there was never a doubt about who was the better side or what the result was going to be, Henan rarely was able to mount an attack and their striker Netto, fully adopting the local lying ways, dove every chance he got.
With Zhang Xinxin out for too many yellows, Zhou Ting showed his versatility, moving to the left side of the pitch while Yu Yang filled in on the right. Walter Martinez was also back in the lineup as a starter after not playing in the midweek Cup quarterfinal and he had a great performance. Martinez came close a few times before netting the first goal in the 20th minute after finding space and heading in a Wang Xiaolong cross. He almost scored again 10 minutes later on a beautiful scissors kick, but the shot was just wide.The second goal came off a bit of luck for Guoan, but on the night everything was going right for the Men in Green. It came on a Guoan corner, a Henan defender headed it down, but did so directly in the path of Joel Griffiths, who knocked it in for one of the easiest goals he’ll score this season. Both Martinez and Griffiths started the night with 8 goals, so when Martinez scored early, it seems Griff had to keep up the chase. The third was scored by Xu Liang, Griffiths crossed it and Xu Liang used positioning to knock down the ball and rip a shot that hit a Henan defender and went in. Xu decided to celebrate this one in front of the Guoan “ultras”, many of whom were in Zhengzhou in June.
I’ve talked a lot about Piao Cheng this season, he’s quickly become one of my favorite players, so know what follows is slightly biased. There was a bit of anger on the terraces toward him Saturday night, his passing (and shooting) at times was laughably bad and he tended to hold the ball a little too long. Guoan manager Jamie Pacheco did the right thing not pulling him off as the first substitution, instead leaving him on and hoping he’d work things out. Perhaps his timidness and timing being off can be credited to his injury earlier in the season, perhaps its because he’s still adjusting to the faster pace of the Chinese Super League over the China League, but whatever it is, he deserves some time. While we’re on the subject of players, Francois Sene seems criminally underrated by Guoan fans, he was my man of the match Saturday (and midweek versus Hangzhou) for making a fool of Netto at every chance.
Now it’s Shandong away midweek before another holiday/international break, Guoan’s win mean the Asian Champions League gap is now seven points, looking good, but not safe yet.