Going into round six of the Chinese Super League there were still two teams who had yet to taste defeat in the 2012 season. Last Monday night at Nanjing Olympic sports center these two clubs, Jiangsu Sainty and Liaoning Whowin, met on the pitch with the home side emerging victorious, 1-0. The win moves Jiangsu into third place in the league while the loss leaves Liaoning in fifth.
Injury had effected both teams starting lineups. Liaoning was without their leading scorer from last season Yu Hanchao, and Jiangsu was without their captain Lu Bofei. For the Nanjing club this would be the first time all season the starting lineup had been altered. Manager Dragan Okuka decided to give 22-year old Jiang Jiajun his first start in place of Lu.
This marquee matchup of the two remaining undefeated teams had a lot on the line. Jiangsu hadn’t lost at home in a year (to the date), while Liaoning was looking to make a statement with their first road victory of the season. The atmosphere in the stadium was fitting for such an important game. The announced attendance of 24,763 was the largest of the year for Jiangsu. A small group of Liaoning fans even made the trip, which I found impressive for a weekday game.
The first ten minutes of the match were back and forth with no solid chances for either team. In the 14th minute though Jiangsu would draw first blood as Ji Xiang scored his second goal of the season. Forward Sun Ke took the ball into the box where he was met with a sliding tackle by Liaoning midfielder Ding Jie. The tackle managed to dispossess Sun but the ball bounced over to an oncoming Ji who buried the ball in the back of the net, leaving Liaoning keeper Zhang Lu helpless. Sun was credited with the assist, his third on the season.
Following the opening goal Jiangsu absolutely dominated the game for the next 15-20 minutes. In the 18th minute a Cristian Dănălache goal was called back because of a high kick. Dănălache and Liaoning defender Kim Yoo-Jin both raised their legs to kick the ball, but Kim was the one limping around after the contact. From my view it looked like it the referee could have kept the whistle in his pocket, but he didn’t and the game remained 1-0.
A few minutes later Aleksandar Jevtić passed the ball over to Sun Ke who was wide open just outside the corner of the box. Sun’s shot on goal barely missed the far post. After the shot Jevtić appeared furious at Dănălache who had failed to follow up the shot and where he could have potentially tapped in the failed attempt.
It’s a wonder how Jiangsu wasn’t up three or four to nothing after 30-minutes. Somehow Liaoning withheld the pressure and almost ended scoring a goal against the run of play in the 31st minute when Ding Jie fired a shot from distance only for Jiangsu keeper Deng Xiaofei to make a diving save.
The first yellow card of the match came around the 38th minute when Jiangsu defender Ren Hang was booked for a tackle. I was a bit surprised at the referees decision seeing as Ren hadn’t been guilty of any previous violations while Liaoning on the other hand had been fouling Jiangsu players left and right. A few minutes later a Liaoning’s Ding Jie would also be shown a yellow. His foul seemed to be in retaliation to a no-call by the referee when his teammate Vlatko Grozdanoski went down a little easily inside the penalty box.
Dings yellow would prove to be a huge game changer as only five minutes into the second half he was shown a second yellow card and sent off. Ding apparently lost his cool as Cristian Dănălache and Ren Hang stripped him of the ball along the sideline and Ding wildly kicked out at Ren, causing the defender to fall and roll around on the pitch. While I’m confident Ren wasn’t too hurt on the play, Ding gave the referee no choice. It’s a incident I’m sure Ding would love to take back, but unfortunately his boneheaded play left Liaoning down a player for the final 40-minutes.
Interestingly enough Liaoning seemed to be reenergized by Ding’s sending off and finally started showing why they’re a force to be reckoned with. In the 61st minute a Liaoning corner kick was headed out of the box to a waiting Liaoning player who blasted a shot on goal forcing Deng Xiaofei to make another athletic save.
In the 66th minute it appeared that Jiangsu would finally double their lead when Cristian Dănălache passed the ball to a wide open Aleksandar Jevtić who only had one defender between him and the goal. Last season Jevtić would have scored a goal in this situation nine out of ten times, but so far this season the Serbian hasn’t been having the best of luck. Amazingly his shot went over the crossbar. It wouldn’t surprise me to see this play on some blooper highlight video on youtube someday, it was that bad. To be fair though Jevtić was having a much better game than last week against Tianjin. His distribution and possession was significantly better.
In the 78th minute defender Wang Bo was unable to continue due to injury and limped off the field. Unfortunately he limped off right in front of the largest Jiangsu supporter group. As insults and chants rained down on Wang he showed true professionalism by ignoring the Jiangsu fans and quietly made his way around the pitch. In a league with so many prima donnas and wannabe tough guys it was refreshing to see Wang keep his cool.
As the game wore on Jiangsu became rather flat while Liaoning continued to look more and more dangerous. Around the 80th minute a cross from a Liaoning player sailed a little high and bounced off the cross bar. That was about as close as Liaoning would get for the remainder of the game. When the game ended the Jiangsu players made a victory lap around the entire stadium applauding the fans.