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Ground hog day as Shenhua overcome Sainty in Yangtze delta derby - Wild East Football
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Ground hog day as Shenhua overcome Sainty in Yangtze delta derby

Shanghai Shenhua 2-1 Jiangsu Sainty

Chinese Super League round 25

Dady 48, Xu Liang 72;  Ji Xiang 32

Shanghai Shenhua made it four wins out of their last five games with another comeback victory, this time in a Yangtze Delta derby against out-of-form Jiangsu Sainty.

In a typically atmospheric regional clash, all three goals came from free-kicks as Ji Xiang’s beautiful curled dead ball in the first half was cancelled out from a Dady heading in a set-piece from the left and Xu Liang hitting the net from 25 yards with a shot hit through the wall.

Games between this rival pair have in recent seasons been full of odd co-incidences. Last season, Shenhua and Sainty drew 2-2 in Nanjing, with both the home side’s goals coming from the spot. This year, exactly the same happened at Sainty’s Olympic Stadium. And last night’s game continued the odd symmetry, as Xu Liang curled in a free-kick for Shenhua, just as he did back July against Sainty earlier this season. And again last night won a match at Hongkou after falling behind, just as they did during THAT game two years ago in one of Shenhua fans’ favourite matches in recent years.

In the opening stages, Sainty had a few early attacks but soon after Shenhua looked more dangerous with Song Boxuan causing problems on the left with his direct running. In the 22nd minute Gio Moreno got the better of Sainty keeper Guan Zhen, his header ran along the line and hit the bar before being cleared safe. In anycase, the Columbian was adjudged to have fouled the keeper, a decision Moreno clearly did not agree with nor did many of the Shenhua fans in the ground.

A few minutes later, Dai Lin, somewhat out of position midway in his opponent’s half, managed to dispossess his opponent, but wasted possession by continuing his habit of attempting a long-range shot. Dai being no striker, his effort flew harmlessly wide as usual.

In the 30th minute, it was Sainty’s turn to take a shot from far out after winning a free-kick some 25 yards out, and this time with more success. Ji Xing stepped up and curled the ball beautifully over the Shenhua wall and into Shenhua keeper Wang Dalei’s right hand post to put the visitors ahead.

That was about it for the first half, save for some more inaccurate long range shooting, this time from Gio Moreno. When the second half kicked off, Shenhua emerged with purpose. Minutes after the restart, Xu Liang attempted to curl a free-kick in from just outside the left corner of the Sainty box. His shot deflected wickedly off the wall and into the path of Dady who made no mistake in nodding the ball from a couple of yards out to equalize.

In the 58th minute, Sainty almost regained the lead when Romanian striker Christian Danalache nodded the ball with the back of his head towards goal, it struck the cross bar and was pounced upon by Wang Dalei a little fortuitously. Shenhua still had gas in their tank though, and Firas Al-khatib tested the keeper from way out with an accurate shot which was well saved. However, the winning goal would soon arrive. In the 70th minute, Xu Liang, starting his first game since being out for several months with an ACL injury, hit a free-kick through the wall which bounced once before landing just inside the keeper’s right hand post right in front of the north terrace who bounced up and down in delight. Xu Liang had done it again, scoring a free-kick against Sainty.

Sainty pushed hard for an equalizer in the closing stages, in the 80th minute Danalache almost scored when his angled shot rebounded back off the post close to the line before being cleared, and he went one better just a few minutes later when he headed a deep cross into the net only for the goal to be very narrowly, but correctly ruled out for offside. It wasn’t his night nor was it Sainty’s as the referee called time after an extended period of injury time to bring a close to a typically ding-dong Yangtze Delta derby.

The result finally killed any lingering relegation fears for Shenhua as they climbed to truly giddy season-high position of 5th, some 10 places and nine points above the relegation zone – not a bad state of a affairs for a team which started the season on minus-six points.

However, the same cannot be said for Sainty. Last year’s runners-up and over-achievers now find themselves in a sticky situation, just three points above the relegation zone – a position which would have seemed unthinkable just one year ago. With five games to go, its all to play for in the relegation dogfight and Sainty need to start winning fast if they wish to pull away from the bottom.

A leading international commentator on Chinese football frequently quoted by the world's top media. Offers piercing and resolutely honest insights into the bustling crossroads where football, society, economics and politics meet in contemporary China. Based in Shanghai since 2005, observer of the Chinese game since 2000.

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