A last-gasp goal from the head of Liaoning’s Yang Xu denied Shanghai Shenhua victory at Tiexu Stadium yesterday afternoon after Qiu Tianyi scored his first ever goal for the visitors.
In a scrappy and hard-fought game, both sides struggled to play any decent football at all on a shockingly bad surface, with long balls being the order of the day to avoid the bumpy and dry surface influencing passing moves.
Shenhua continued their never-ending game of musical chairs with their starting line-up, however tragic circumstances were behind the latest reshuffle – the death of centre-back Dai Lin’s father during the week. Understandably Dai didn’t make the trip to the north east, his place was taken by up-and-coming young defender, Qiu Tianyi. Dai Lin’s defensive partner Moises was also missing due to injury – Yu Tao deputised at the back once again. Youth player Fan Lingjiang became the latest try out at left back, fellow young reservist Wang Guanyi continued in midfield. Anelka and Griffiths were back and up front, Manset mercifully dropped to the bench.
Shenhua started brightly and Anelka came close to opening the scoring with a low drive from Joel Griffiths pass on six minutes. Liaoning didn’t take this lying down however and just a few minutes later their striker Yang Xu should have done much better than head the ball over the bar at the back post from an excellent cross. The teams were finding it hard going on the rubbish surface and comment-worthy action was hard to come by for the rest of the half – both sides went in 0-0 at the interval.
In the second 45, Anelka was looking a bit more involved than in recent games, and sent a great pass through for Bozic on the 47th minute, but he pulled his shot wide. Feng Renliang was next to try his luck in the 62nd minute, but his long range effort from Griffiths through ball was well-saved by Liaoning custodian Zhang Lu.
The breakthrough came in the 68th minute when Bozic whipped in a corner into the middle of the box which was met by the 192cm tall Qiu Tianyi. He glaced an excellent header to the lower right of the Liaoning goal, clipping the post slightly as it whistled into his hometown team’s net. And in a touching display of squad solidarity, the boys from Hongkou celebrated together by pointing skywards in honour of team-mate Dai Lin’s departed father.
Shenhua were now in control of the game, but Liaoning were looking dangerous. Argentinian midfielder Pablo Brandán managed to get a shot on target from a freekick just outside the right edge of the area, but Shenhua keeper Wang Dalei was equal to it.
The last 15 minutes or so of the game saw more incident than the rest of the game put together. Liaoning had a strong penalty claim in the 73rd minute when the ball struck Shenhua fullback Wu Xi’s arm at close range, but it appeared to be ball to hand not the other way around and the shot was going nowhere. Shenhua responded with a few quick counter attacks, but these came to nothing, and Wang Da Lei pulled off yet another great save with a block at close range which turned out to be offside in any case.
However, with the referee looking at his watch and injury time drawing to a close, Liaoning grabbed an equalizer with a neat header in the box, Zhang Jingyang got the better of Wu Xi on the left flank and put in an inviting cross for Yang Xu, who atoned for his earlier miss by powering an unstoppable header into the net. Final whistle, 1-1.
The visitors looked dejected at losing such a late goal, and Qiu Tianyi in particular looked well hacked-off during a post-match interview trackside. But Shenhua couldn’t really complain, they didn’t do enough to win and sat on their lead for the last third of the match instead of pushing forward for another.
That said, Shenhua appear to be taking baby steps towards being the Chinese Super League title-chasing team your correspondent predicted they would be at the start of this season. An away draw to Liaoning, who finished 3rd last season, is not a bad result on paper, and Shenhua were missing four first-team regulars – Song Boxuan, Cao Yunding, Dai Lin and Moises.
However, whatever way you dress it up, with the season just under a third of the way through, Shenhua just aren’t cutting it and attention now will inevitably turn to the summer transfer window to see what new faces will be called upon to turn things around in the second half of the season.
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