Shanghai East Asia remain in pole position at the top of China League One after an occassionally tense 3-1 home victory over Harbin Yiteng. With other results going their way, East Asia are now five points clear of second place Tianjin Songjiang who dropped points for the first time in six matches.
Fans of East Asia didn’t have to wait long for the first goal to arrive and some were still coming into the stadium when Luis Carlos Cabezas calmly controlled Li Yunqiu’s throw-in on the edge of the Harbin penalty box and blasted the ball hard and low past Han Fangteng from about twenty yards out. The Columbian, who had looked sluggish in front of his home fans of late, clearly delighted the crowd with his strike although Harbin’s coach Duan Xin will be furious about the time and space his defenders allowed the striker in the build up to the opening goal.
Thanks to the early burst of adrenaline, the hosts pushed forward with increasing confidence and probably should have added a second goal midway through the first half when Wu Lei misdirected his header from Chen Zijie’s pinpoint cross from the right-wing.
Yet the goal was always on its way and when it arrived on the stroke of halftime, it was once again the result of Harbin’s laxness. Driving forward down the left, an unchallenged Wang Jiajie had the time to whip a ball into the box whereupon it was met by Wu, who deftly brought the ball under control, took it into the area and briskly shot past Han for the second goal of the game.
Yet having looked so dominant in the first half, suddenly East Asia found themselves being backed against the ropes. With Duan having evidently given his charges a roasting in the dressing room at halftime, Harbin were the quickest out the blocks and soon pulled one back after Lu Yongdi’s crisp finish capped a fine team move.
Suddenly East Asia had a revived opposition coming flying at them with nothing to lose and the subsequent twenty minutes of play were nervy for the home side, who had Yan Junling’s sharp reflexes to thank for stopping Lu from bringing the game level after the midfielder’s powerful long-range effort was narrowly tipped wide.
Amidst the tense back-and-forth nature of the second half, East Asia were slowly getting control of the game but it was a slow and steady operation so long as the mischievous Lu was being allowed to dictate Harbin’s advances down the middle of the field.
Ransford Addo was at the forefront of an increasingly critical rearguard action for East Asia and as the visitors continued to commit bodies forward, more often than not, it was the Ghanian centre back who was collecting the ball and calmly distributing it further up the pitch to his midfield playmakers.
Things did indeed come full circle with the full-time whistle approaching. Having repelled several tenuous forays into the Harbin penalty box, Zhan Yilin on as a recent substitute, was allowed to spot the excellent run of Wu into the box and the former’s excellent chip from just outside the area was headed firmly into the net for the third and final goal for the home side.
In the end, it was a gutsy win that underlined the growing confidence of the young East Asia team but also the importance of Wu to getting his side over the finishing line. However, other outfits in the division will be taking notes on how edgy the team looked when put under pressure and East Asia’s coaching staff will need to install a greater sense of composure now that sterner tests are on the horizon.
In other results, Tianjin Songjiang drew 1-1 at home to Wuhan Zull whilst Hunan Xiangtao chalked up the same score against Beijing Institute of Technology. This meant that East Asia were able to extent their lead now that the three teams below them on the league had dropped points, whilst Shenzhen Ruby dug out a narrow 2-1 victory over struggling Fujian Smart Hero to help them move up to sixth place.