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Magnificent Seven: Jiang Ning's goals give R&F the win

Guangzhou R&F 3 – 2 Dalian Aerbin

China Super League Round 11

Jiang Ning 35′ 63’, Zhang Shuo ’56; Yu Hanchao’41, Peter Utaka’86

Winter signing Jiang Ning scored his first two goals for Guangzhou R&F on Saturday to hand them a victory over Dalian Aerbin. The visitors, though, rallied at 3-1 down and an injury time header from Li Xuepeng almost earned them a share of the spoils.

This was a match between two teams who have been failing to live up to the expectations placed on them after good showings in their first CSL campaigns last year and who both currently have temporary managers. In his first CSL game as caretaker manager, Li Bing recalled Jiang Ning to the starting eleven, gave Feng Zhuoyi his CSL debut and made Xu Bo the third centre back to captain the Cantonese side this year. Li Ming, meanwhile, has been in charge at Dalian since the start of the season and with French striker Guillaume Hoarau injured it was no surprise to see Peter Utaka, Rochemback and Seydou Keita start.

Tickets for the game were in such demand that the touts had resorted to going down to the platform at the metro station to greet people as they came off the train and hawk their tickets for 10 yuan. As usual people turned up late and missed Feng almost scoring on his debut with a half volley that Dalian keeper Zhang Chong tipped over the bar.

Both sides had chances in an open first half, with Keita going closest for Aerbin when his shot landed on the roof of the net.  Jiang Ning, though, went one better for R&F and scored the opener. Lu Lin raced through and a fortunate deflection off Liu Yu meant the ball fell kindly for Jiang to score his first goal for the Cantonese side. Yakubu then had two great chances to extend the advantage but couldn’t capitalise with either his head or his right foot.

However, in between chances, the R&F defence had narrowly survived a goalmouth scramble, but then switched off at a freekick as poor positioning from Shi Xiaotian in goal allowed Yu Hanchao to head in the equaliser at the back post.

The referee’s inconsistent decisions earned the anger of both sets of players and fans (there were about 30 Aerbin fans) and this almost boiled over on the stroke of half time. A crunching tackle went unpunished when R&F were on the attack and the referee then immediately whistled for half-time amidst a chorus of abuse direct at him—which started in Cantonese and switched to Mandarin just to make sure he understood.

It was 1-1 at the break but had Lu Lin found the good crosses his frequent forward runs deserved then R&F could’ve had the lead. They weren’t helped either by Yakubu, who may not have fully recovered from his injury, but definitely struggled to get above jogging pace. It looked as if he were conserving his energy for something, in contrast to Aerbin’s Nigerian striker Utaka who gave his all for his side. Sadly for Yakubu, this effort not to expend energy was in vain as he was replaced by Zhang Shuo at the interval.

Zhang was quickly involved in the game and played his part in R&F’s next two goals. He scored the first after latching onto Davi’s through ball, cutting inside and tucking the ball past Zhang Chong in the Dalian goal. The third followed soon after as Zhang Shuo’s pressure forced Zhang Chong to punch rather than catch Li Wenbo’s cross and Jiang Ning was waiting on the edge of the box to control and hammer home his second of the day.

Dalian responded by further increasing the tempo with Rochemback, Keita and in particular the strong and skilfu, Utaka causing problems as R&F were pressed back. However, somebody, often captain Xu Bo, was always there to make a block or interception and save the day until Utaka finally scored from a corner.  This ensured a nervous final few minutes for the hosts, but the thin blue line held firm as Li Xuepeng’s injury time header crept just wide.

Dalian will hope to get back to winning ways when they host struggling Tianjin TEDA next week, whilst R&F travel to Changchun. If Lu Lin and Jiang Ning maintain their good form it is a winnable fixture, but the defence will have to be stiffened if the Cantonese side are to finish the first third of the season on a high.

Donald began following Guangzhou R&F having moved to China in the same year that R&F moved to Guangzhou. The club's first foreign season ticket holder, Donald was able to watch three seasons at Yuexiushan before returning to the UK.

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