Wayward passing, comedy defending, team-mates appearing completely unacquainted, a visibly less-than-full stadium, players played out of position, vividly contrasting first and second half performances, dropping points at home, no star names on the pitch.
Sounds very much like a description of a game from Shenhua’s annus horriblus 2011 but the above prologe infact refers to Shenhua’s 1-1 Yangtze Delta Derby draw against Jiangsu Sainty last night.
The home-side did not look anything like a club which captured world headlines over the close season with multi-million pound signings, and their first half performance in particular was woeful to the point of being worse than anything served up during 2011’s shocking winless run.
In fairness, the match was never going to be as good as the spectacle severed up with these two sides met last time, although two big stars were watching from the sidelines at Hongkou – Anelka and local lad Yao Ming.
The big story was of course the abscence of Anelka due to injury, right from the off made the evening somewhat anti-climatic on the terraces. On the pitch, Shenhua continued their habit of line-ups being a bit odd. What do you do if you have five foreign player slots and constantly leak goals? Why, you sign three foreign strikers and then play 5-4-1 of course! Griffthis lined up as the sole frontman – an obvious tactical error, to play one up front you either need to be very big or very fast, of which Griffthis is neither.
Also you need some serious attacking midfield talent to push forward, Cao Yunding fits that bill but he was stuck out on the right for much of the first half. In midfield, Zheng Kaimu, a new signing from Chongqing FC, made his debut alongside Mario Božić, and Moises was prefered at the back to Wang Lin. Song Boxuan filled the leftback position, whilst Yu Tao wore the captains armband once again and also played in midfield.
Jiangsu dominated the first 45 minutes to the point where they could have been several goals up. The men from Nanjing, as always backed by an impressive travelling support of around 700 fans, looked more like a multi-million side than Shenhua right from the start. Aleksandar Jevtić scored the opening goal after 11 minutes, when he got on the end of a lobbed pass into the box. The ball completely eluded the Shenhua defence and the Serbian beat Wang Dalei with a looping header.
From that point on, the rest of the half saw Jiangsu unlucky not to add to their tally and Shenhua on the back foot with barely a shot on goal. When the half-time whistle went, there were even some muffled boos as the Shenhua support reacted to their sides dreadful first half performance.
Shenhua however came out looking like a different team in the second half, Božić came very close with an excellent freekick, and Wu Xi was unlucky with a shot from the edge of the box after a mazy run, which was parried by the Jiangsu keeper Deng Xiaofei.
It was looking like Shenhua were going to score and they duly did in the 56th minute when a Jiang Kun corner was flicked on by Moises and met at the far post with a diving header from Shenhua’s Aussie star Joel Griffthis for a debut goal. It was a fine effort right infront of a packed north terrace filled by jumping up and down Lanmo. From then on in, the game piffled out into a 1-1 draw.
Despite Shenhua’s much improved second-half, the home side were perhaps slightly lucky to get a draw after such a terrible opening 45 minutes. It’s only the first game of the season so there isn’t a great deal we can say for now. Cao Yunding stuck out for Shenhua once he was restored to centre midfield, and Yu Tao was energetic. Božić looks good, Moises looked a bit shaky at times, Feng Renliang had flashes of his old magic and Griffthis did the best with the limited service he got. But overall it was a less than convincing start to the season, with luck Anelka will be fit for the trip to Beijing next Friday.
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