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North Terrace Preview: Shanghai Shenhua v Qingdao Jonoon

Shanghai Shenhua enter an absolutely critical period of games as the CSL relegation battle springs into life this summer. Will Shenhua snap their poor run of form against one of the few teams in equally poor nick?

Last Time Out

In a quite remarkable contest up in Jinan, two professional football sides completely gave up on any semblance of defending and proceeded to enjoy a ding-dong end-to-end encounter which Shenhua were edged out of 3-2 by being even more incompetent than their hosts Shandong Luneng. Vagner Love undoubtedly gets the headlines for his two-goal CSL debut, but that shouldn’t take away from what was a dramatic but very sloppy and slapdash affair.

Qingdao Jonoon warmed up for this encounter by shipping five against Beijing Guoan in the CFA Cup — admittedly a competition Shenhua crashed out of at home against a semi-professional opponent — extending their streak to ten games without a win in regulation time in all competitions.

Causes for Optimism…

Largely Qingdao’s rotten streak of form, since there’s not a great deal for Shenhua to crow about right now. The Hongkou side started the season united by adversity and under a coach who rallied a talented first-choice 14-or-so players to become the CSL’s  comeback kings and make a mockery of pre-season predictions of struggle.

While we’re on the subject — Qingdao’s form has been truly rotten. Jonoon also confounded many pre-season predictions by briefly topping the table back in the heady days of spring. Recent weeks seem to indicate that the coastal side were actually just switching around the order of their traditional season — the few weeks of barely-credible results seem to simply be coming before the 80% of the season in which they’re hopeless, rather than at the end of it as has been their recent custom.

… and for Concern

A paper-thin first team squad and the annual Shenhua tradition of managerial merry-go-rounds and summer slumps mean that there’s plenty more to worry about for Shenhua fans than had been the case prior to the summer break. The pressure seems to be on the side at completely the wrong time — paralyzed by midfield injuries and manager Shen Xiangfu demonstrating that he clearly hasn’t forgotten how to relegate a side after his brief break from front-line management following the Henan Jianye debacle of last year, the Hongkou side now face three must-win games. Home matches against rank-rotten Qingdao and ranker, rottener Wuhan sandwich the short trip to Shanghai Stadium to take on their East Asia neighbours. Why are these games must-win? They’re followed by consecutive fixtures against last season’s top half, that’s why. The Shenhua – Changchun match in Round 29 is already looking like a potential loser-loses-all clash.

Watch Out For

He’ll quite possibly get a warm reception from a crowd who took to his workrate, but despite the dual merits of running around a lot and defecting from Beijing Guoan, Joel Griffiths rarely met expectations in a Shenhua shirt last season. While the journeyman Aussie was clearly not the only guilty party in the shambles of 2012, his almost-but-not-quite performances were a constant source of frustration for North Terrace Preview. Watch him regain that extra half-yard of pace to knock in a hat-trick and really rub salt in the wound in the way only a returning ex-player can.

The Verdict

What a difference a couple of weeks and some gutless management make — North Terrace Preview was fairly purring as Shenhua knocked the ball around with composure and got on top of Liaoning up in the north-east. Three late collapses and yet more fitness worries later (both in terms of potential absentees, and the fact that the side seems to collapse after 80 minutes now), Shenhua are a much nervier beast.

Saturday will not be pretty — it rarely is when two struggling sides meet — but this regular still just about fancies Shenhua to scrape together enough points to hang on to their CSL place this year, and Qingdao at home should be one of their easier opportunities to do so. Expect lots of scuffs and shanks over the 90 minutes before Shenhua somehow just about hold onto a 2-1 home win.

Reality Check

Shenhua according to North Terrace Preview:

P 20   W 7   D 7   L 6   GF 24   GA 27   GD -3   Pts 22

Shenhua according to the CSL table:

P 20  W 5   D 11   L 4   GF 23   GA 23   GD 0   Pts 20

Steve hosts the Chinese Football Podcast, having joined the WEF team as correspondent for Shanghai Shenhua, the side he has followed since moving to Shanghai in 2010. Exiled from the Victorian town-centre idyll of Feethams along with his childhood football team, Steve spent many an (un)happy year on Hongkou's North Terrace along with the Shenhua Element Crew and Blue Devils before relocating to Sydney from where he continues to follow the Chinese game from afar.

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