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League One Round 22 Preview: Showdown between Dalian and Hebei; Yanbian face tough task in Harbin

With just nine games left and seven teams still in contention for promotion, the 2015 League One season continues to throw up vital and intriguing matches as it heads towards its conclusion. The big game of the week is in Dalian where Aerbin host Hebei CFFC, but there is also a key clash in Harbin where Yanbian Changbaishan’s undefeated season is in real danger against Yiteng. Elsewhere, Beijing BG and Hohhot Zhongyou have very winnable home games, but Qingdao Jonoon could fall further behind as they travel to Wuhan to take on Zall.

Dalian Aerbin vs Hebei CFFC

It’s fourth versus fifth as Dalian play host to Hebei in a match-up which could play a huge role in the promotion race. Both sides sit two points behind second placed Beijing BG and, with the capital city side hosting basement dwellers Jiangxi Liansheng this weekend, failure to win here could see either club fall off the pace.

Dalian's Bruno Meneghel rediscovered his shooting boots last weekend

Dalian’s Bruno Meneghel rediscovered his shooting boots last weekend

Aerbin are the form team coming into the game with three straight wins and four games without conceding a goal, but Hebei have already ended one Dalian streak this season when they dealt the northeastern side their first defeat of the year back in round 7. That was in Hebei, though, and Radomir Antic’s men have not travelled well recently – picking up just two points from their last four on the road in a run that has seen them twice lose by three goal margins and only manage a draw against ten-man Harbin Yiteng.

Each side will be without a suspended midfielder – Dalian’s Zhu Xiaogang and Hebei’s Lu Yang both picked up their fourth yellow cards of the season last weekend – but the key to the game how influential each side’s Brazilian attacker is. Dalian’s Bruno Meneghel ended a four game goal scoring drought when he grabbed his thirteenth of the season last weekend, while Hebei’s big summer signing Edu is yet to really find his stride despite a hat-trick against Qingdao Hainiu three weeks ago.

This game is likely to be much closer than Hebei’s recent unsuccessful trips to Yanbian and Hohhot but, if Meneghel is back to form, Dalian’s recent defensive record suggests they may just be able to edge their promotion rivals. Prediction 2-1

Harbin Yiteng vs Yanbian Changbaishan

Unless Yanbian have the title sown up with a few games to spare and start phoning in performances at the end of the season, this game may well prove the biggest obstacle between them and an unbeaten year. The boys from the Korean Autonomous Prefecture still face trips to take on Hohhot Zhongyou, Dalian Aerbin, Wuhan Zall and Qingdao Jonoon, but none of these is as daunting as travelling up to Heilongjiang.

Along with Yanbian, Harbin are the only League One side who remain undefeated at home in 2015 and, aside from this week’s opponents, they are the best supported team in the division. Indeed, Harbin have only lost one game in the entirety of their 2015 league campaign, but the reason they sit in third, eleven points adrift of Yanbian, is the number of draws they pick up.

Yanbian players have had a lot to celebrate in recent weeks

Yanbian players have had a lot to celebrate in recent weeks

Harbin have drawn twelve of their twenty-one matches this year, including a 1-1 in Yanbian, and that has proved a major hindrance in their campaign for an immediate return to the Super League. Earlier in the season, Yanbian were drawing plenty of games them themselves, but they have now won nine of their last eleven thanks to the league’s best defence and an attack that has kicked into overdrive in recent weeks.

Yanbian attackers Ha Tae-goon and Steve have managed 31 goals between them this season, which is the same number achieved by the whole of the Harbin team. Harbin’s attempts at reigning in Yanbian’s forwards won’t be helped by the suspension of centre back Wang Dalong, but it will be interesting to see whether the visitors play a little more conservatively with a large, hostile crowd and hard working opposition to contend with.

A win would be massive for Harbin’s promotion aspirations while seriously denting Yanbian’s momentum on their relentless march to the title. That might be a little too much to ask, though, and the more than 20,000 fans that are almost certain to attend the game may have to settle for their side claiming a thirteenth draw of the season. Prediction 1-1

Beijing BG vs Jiangxi Liansheng

These two sides played out a thrilling 3-3 draw earlier in the season, but it would be major shock if BG don’t consolidate their hold on second with a win here. They host League One’s bottom club having won five out of their last seven and it is increasingly looking like head coach Aleksander Stanojevic has found the right formula after some inconsistencies earlier in the year.

Jiangxi scored a big win over Tianjin Songjiang two weeks ago, but returned to losing ways last weekend at home to Dalian Aerbin. It’s worth noting that their summer signing Leo Itaperuna has already scored against BG’s city rivals Guo’an this season, when he struck for Suwon Bluewings in the AFC Champions’ League. Unfortunately, the Brazilian striker is yet to find the net in four appearances for Liansheng and it looks like he may have to wait at least another week to do so. Prediction 2-0

Hohhot Zhongyou vs Shenzhen FC

Hohhot players celebrate their fifth win in seven games last weekend

Hohhot players celebrate their sixth win in eight games last weekend

With either Dalian Aerbin or Hebei CFFC guaranteed to drop points this weekend, Hohhot have an excellent chance to continue their climb up the table. Shenzhen may have won the reverse fixture 3-2 earlier in the season, but these two clubs come into this game in very different form.

Hohhot have won six of their last eight to become promotion contenders, while Shenzhen have won only one of their last thirteen and remain just above the relegation zone thanks to the ineptitude of those below them. The one recent bright spot for Shenzhen has been the form of Senegalese striker Andre Senghor who has netted five in his last four games. But that is unlikely to be enough to overcome the long journey north and a team on a fantastic run. Prediction 3-1

Wuhan Zall vs Qingdao Jonoon

The two sides relegated from 2013’s Super League face off with neither one’s prospects of a return to the top tier looking particularly bright. Zall are eight points adrift of second place Beijing BG, while three consecutive defeats without scoring a goal has seen Jonoon tumble from second down to seventh.

The visitors sit four points above Wuhan, but the Hubei side have showed signs of improvement under new head coach Zheng Xiong, taking seven points from his four games in charge. Wuhan have never beaten Jonoon in five attempts but, based on recent from, they have an excellent opportunity to do so here. Prediction 1-0

Qingdao Hainiu vs Beijing Institute of Technology

This game sees the league’s worst defence travel to take on its second worst attack as BIT strive to end a run of four straight defeats and climb out of the relegation zone. That run of consecutive losses coincides with the return of most of the squad from representing China at the World University Games but, with over a month elapsed since then, the team needs to put that excuse behind them and start picking up points.

BIT will be very happy that Andres Marquez has returned from suspension

BIT will be very happy that Andres Marquez has returned from suspension

The good news for BIT is that top scorer Andres Marquez returned from a six game suspension last weekend and immediately got back on the score sheet. With his new strike partner and Uruguayan compatriot Maureen Franco yet to find the net since signing for BIT over a month ago, Marquez’s return could make a huge difference.

Franco arrived to fill the foreign player hole left by Julio Guttierez who departed for Hainiu in the summer. However, with that only being a loan deal, the midfielder will be unable to play in this one as Hainiu seek to claim a first win in eight games.

With neither side in great form coming in, this is a hard game to call, but the return of Marquez could prove important. Hainiu have drawn five of their last seven winless games and BIT may have to settle with ending their losing streak by claiming a single point rather than all three. Prediction 1-1

Tianjin Songjiang vs Guizhou Zhicheng

This is a match between two sides who both sit an uncomfortable five points above the relegation zone and have not been in great recent form. Songjiang have lost three of their last four games, while Zhicheng have managed just two draws over the same period.

Zhicheng face the prospect of being without top scorer Yves Ekwalla Herman, whose registration with the club has been contested as invalid by his former agent. The CFA is considering the case and the fate of the Cameroonian, who has scored seven goals in the last six games, remains unknown. Meanwhile, Zhicheng will certainly be without suspended winger Iminjan Ilhamjan who will miss two game after seeing his second red card of the season last weekend.

A lot here depends on whether Herman plays, but Songjiang should just about be favourites to claim a slender victory in this one.

Obviously, following last night’s massive explosion in Tianjin there is a possibility that this game, scheduled for Saturday evening, won’t go ahead. Songjiang’s Tuanbo Stadium is over 20 kilometres away from the site of the blast, but the crisis is not yet over and the need for all the city’s resources to be focused on dealing with the aftermath of the disaster may lead to a postponement that would be entirely understandable. Prediction 1-0

Hunan Billows vs Xinjiang

When a team that hasn’t won at home since the beginning of April hosts a team that hasn’t won away since March, a draw would seem like the obvious result. However, despite Xinjiang’s woes outside of Urumqi, they still boast League One’s top goal scorer Cristian Danalache whose twenty goals this season means he has scored three more than Hunan’s entire team.

Indeed, Hunan have the league’s poorest attack and it will be weakened further by the suspension of Colombian striker Carlos Cabezas. The only good news for new Hunan is that top scorer Li Xiang managed to score for the first time in ten matches during last weekend’s 2-1 home defeat to Wuhan.

That’s a faint glimmer, though, as Danalache’s ten league goals in his last six games is as many as Hunan have managed in their last twelve. Of course, Xinjiang were hammered 6-1 last weekend, but that was by Yanbian who are an entirely different proposition to Hunan. New Billows head coach Zikica Taevski may be looking at consecutive home defeats in his first two games in charge. Prediction 0-1

Based in China for five years, Jamie has been exploring tiny little third tier Hubei cities without football teams or decent internet connections, but is now a regular at China League One side Wuhan Zall. A keen football afficionado, he regularly takes in the Chinese Super League, enjoying matches in Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Nanjing. Jamie is also a keen observer of the fortunes of the Chinese National side.

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