A limited Henan side escaped with a point, while a more coherent Shanghai Shenhua could consider themselves unlucky to draw another blank at home.
CHINESE SUPER LEAGUE ROUND 4
Shanghai Shenhua 0
Henan Jianye 0
An uneasy truce seems to be rising between the Hongkou faithful and new club owners Greenland, as the latter promise in writing to return the Shenhua name to the side ‘as soon as circumstances permit‘. Sporadic protest kept the issue at the forefront of proceedings, but the home fans put on a more solid show of support for their team – perhaps in the realisation that this one-dimensional outfit are going to need all the help they can get this season. The CSL’s soap-opera club even added a twist to the tale in the immediate aftermath of the match, announcing that former coach Sergio Batista will be returning to the fold.
With that in mind, the game was perhaps a fitting epitaph to the Shen Xiangfu era, with both sides relentlessly conservative and defences on top throughout. Supply lines to outnumbered forwards struggled as a result – neither team possessing the pace nor craft needed to break down such massed ranks. An uneventful first half saw little in the way of clear-cut opportunities, with Shenhua looking to Xu Liang set pieces and the odd flash of brilliance from Gio Moreno, while Henan were reliant more on an over-active referee’s whistle and speculative shots from distance.
Chances were more widespread in the second half, with Shenhua increasingly urgent in search of a winning goal – and looking eminently more dangerous once Firas Al-Khatib replaced a misfiring Ruiz. There’s a lot to be said for intelligence in the CSL – a league that rewards anticipation and speed of thought disproportionately well, as they are qualities in such short supply – and Firas is undoubtedly a very smart footballer, ever aware of all around him. His use of angles in tight spaces stood in marked contrast to the man he replaced – Ruiz increasingly looking like a blunt object yet to find the right application of force.
Both sides had opportunities to snatch victory – Gio Moreno failing to capitalise on lax passing in the Henan backline, and the away side counter-attacking quickly from a corner, only to see an effort from Rafael Marques drop agonisingly wide.
The game’s standout moment saw Moreno attempt to atone for his earlier error with a spectacular overhead kick, only to draw an equally outstanding save from Zhou Yajun in the Henan goal. Set pieces at either end continued to provide the most likely route to a breakthrough, but one was not forthcoming – as the minutes wound down, Shenhua were the side pushing for victory, with subtlety abandoned and centre-back Paulo Andre thrown up front to contest a Henan rearguard rarely troubled in the air all night. The away side looked content to settle for their third draw in a row, aided by a curious refereeing performance intent on breaking up play at every opportunity.
The real headlines, though, were made after the game – Hongkou will hope for improvement with Sergio Batista back in charge, a man generally acknowledged as getting the best out of a limited bunch in seasons past. Shen Xiangfu won’t be missed by either set of fans – Henan will remember him as the manager who took them down into League One, while Shenhua have seen their side fail to score from open play in the season’s opening four fixtures – a statistic that looked unlikely to change on Saturday, whether playing for 90mins or 900. The home fans at least saw commitment from the players to match their own for once – after listless performances against Hangzhou and Beijing, this was at least a step in the right direction.
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