League One Round 23 Preview: BG face tough Hebei test after CFA Cup win and Yanbian have chance to bounce back
After making it to the semi-finals of the CFA Cup thanks to a penalty shoot-out, Beijing BG face a revamped Hebei CFFC in a game with huge promotion implications. Elsewhere, Yanbian Changbaishan have the chance to recover from last week’s shocking defeat with a comfortable home tie and their conquerors, Harbin Yiteng, host CFA Cup quarter-final losers Xinjiang.
Hebei CFFC vs Beijing BG
In what is without doubt the weekend’s biggest game, Hebei host BG knowing that a win could cut the gap between them and the promotion places. Significantly, this is Hebei’s first game under the leadership of Li Tie, who took over form the departing Radomir Antic earlier in the week and has already started to impose his own stamp on the club.
In Li’s first head coaching role after a successful spell as an assistant with Guangzhou Evergrande, he has appointed recently resigned Wuhan Zall head coach Zhang Bin as one of his assistants. Zheng was once an international teammate of Li’s, but the importance of the move lies in the fact that Hebei’s owner’s are giving the former Everton player the backing to impose his own vision on the club.
BG arrive in Qinhuangdao on the back of a morale boosting CFA Cup quarter-final penalty shoot-out victory over CSL side Guizhou Renhe. The capital city’s second team actually fielded a slightly weakened team against their divisionally superior opponents and still managed to come through thanks to a 0-0 draw, a shoot-out miss from Guizhou’s Brazilian forward Hyuri and a match winning spot kick from seldom played 36-year-old defender Wang Cun.
It’s a famous win for BG who repeat Qingdao Hainiu’s 2014 feat of becoming a League One side in the last four and have secured a two-legged semi-final tie with Shanghai Shenhua. With promotion surely a priority, it will be interesting to see how BG approach the contest given that the second leg falls between round 28 and the penultimate weekend of the League One season.
In the short term, Hebei will be seeking to take advantage of a team that has played one more game than them this season, even if almost half of BG’s regular starters weren’t on the field at kick-off on Wednesday. This is a tough game to call as Hebei’s new coaching set-up coupled with BG’s mid-week heroics make it hard to calculate how either side will perform this weekend.
What we do know is that, despite their recent slump in the table, Hebei have actually taken 13 points from their last five home games. Depending on how quickly the players adapt to Li Tie’s methods, it wouldn’t be beyond the pale for the home side to claim a narrow victory here that will reignite their promotion challenge. Prediction 2-1
Harbin Yiteng vs Xinjiang
After doing what nobody else in the division had managed by beating Yanbian Changbaishan last weekend, Harbin have what looks like a relatively easy ride against a Xinjiang side likely exhausted and demoralised by a combination of a tough travel schedule and poor results. After conceding ten goals in their last two league matches away to Yanbian Changbaishan and Hunan Billows, respectively, Xinjiang faced a long trip from Changsha to Urumqi for their midweek CFA Cup quarter-final clash with Jiangsu Sainty.
Unfortunately, that cup tie didn’t go according to plan for the underdogs as a terrible performance from reserve goalkeeper Gu Junjie contributed to their being 3-0 down within 37 minutes. The final score was 3-1 and, with another long trip from Urumqi to Harbin facing the team before this weekend’s game, they are clearly at a disadvantage.
In addition to that, Xinjiang currently have the worst away record in the division and will be travelling to take on a team unbeaten at home in 2015. Harbin will be missing two of their most prominent attacking players in the shape of Bu Xin and Ricardo Steel who are both suspended, but they will still have Juan Nunez who bagged two goals and an assist in his first start for the club last weekend against the league leaders.
As always, Xinjiang will depend on Cristian Danalache for goals, but the signs are bad as the big Romanian failed to score in the midweek cup game for the first time in nine matches. This is a game Xinjiang will probably be happy to write off and Harbin will be happy to comfortably, if not emphatically, win. Prediction 2-0
Yanbian Changbaishan vs Qingdao Hainiu
Yanbian come into this game facing a problem they previously haven’t had to deal with in 2015 – how to recover from a defeat. Last weekend, they were comfortably dispatched 3-0 in Harbin and it’s perfectly reasonable for people to raise question marks about how the team cope with an adversity they haven’t had to face this year.
The good news for the Yanbian faithful is that this week’s visitors are Qingdao Hainiu who haven’t won for eight weeks and are the joint lowest scorers in the league. Last weekend’s 2-2 home draw with a previously hopeless Beijing Institute of Technology says it all about Hainiu’s struggles following the death of Goran Gogic and the resignation of head coach Su Maozhen.
Last weekend’s defeat may have come as a shock to Yanbian but, with top scorer Ha Tae-goon back following an illness, anything less than victory this week would genuinely give the chasing pack hope that the leaders could be knocked off their perch. Unfortunately for those in pursuit, Hainiu provide the perfect opposition for a team in recovery and Yanbian ought to be restored to the familiar position of comfortable winners. Prediction 3-0
Beijing Institute of Technology vs Hohhot Zhongyou
Hohhot travel south to the capital as a team on fire after winning their last four straight and picking up 19 points from the last 21 available. Indeed, after Yanbian Changbaishan’s defeat to Harbin Yiteng last weekend, nobody in League One has a better record over the past seven games than the Inner Mongolians.
Interestingly, that run has included a 4-1 demolition of divisional heavyweights Hebei CFFC, as well as late wins over strugglers Guizhou Zhicheng and Shenzhen FC. What this shows us is that BIT, who halted a four game losing streak with a draw away to Qingdao Hainiu last weekend, might have a shot at ruffling their opponents feathers, but will need to find something extra to see out the win. Given that they have the league’s worst defence, which will also be missing the suspended centre back Jing Xuan, that may be too tall an order. Prediction 1-3
Guizhou Zhicheng vs Dalian Aerbin
Considering the fact that they have won four on the bounce and have gone five games without conceding a goal, all the smart money would be on an away victory in this fixture. Zhicheng are five without a win and Dalian once again look like real promotion contenders after appearing to be dead and buried just over a month ago.
However, it’s important not to forget that Zhicheng have been one of the most unpredictable teams in the league this season and caused Dalian to drop their first home points of the season when they fought out a dramatic 3-3 draw in round 8. It would be hard to picture a similar scoreline here but, with all of Dalian’s recent victories coming by narrow scorelines and Zhicheng’s Yves Ekwalla Herman being an ever present goal threat, Dalian may be looking at their first dropped points in over a month. Prediction 1-1
Shenzhen FC vs Tianjin Songjiang
There’s a lot at stake in this match-up as Songjiang have the opportunity to all but secure their League One status with a win, while Shenzhen could take a giant step away from the relegation zone if they claim three points. Back in round 8, Shenzhen went to Tianjin and won 1-0 in what was Songjiang’s last game before Goran Tomic took over as head coach at the club.
Since then, only six teams have accumulated more points than the 20 Songjiang have managed and Shenzhen have gained just eight points and one win during the same period. It’s also worth noting that, despite attendances consistently topping 10,000, Shenzhen have only won once at home all season. All that being said, Songjiang have struggled for consistency recently, and it’s perfectly possible that the in-form Andre Senghor could inspire the home side to a narrow victory. Prediction 2-1
Jiangxi Liansheng vs Wuhan Zall
It’s a central China derby as Wuhan travel to Liansheng’s new home of Jiujiang to try and rectify a season that looks destined to end in mid-table obscurity. Qingdao Jonoon’s late penalty equaliser last weekend officially put paid to any hope Zall might have of achieving promotion and, so, for the visitors this game is more about local pride than anything else.
For Jiangxi, though, this match-up is all about survival as they try to climb off the bottom of the table for the first time in eight weeks. Earlier in the season, a very late Randsford Addo equaliser earned Zall a point in Wuhan in a result that sums up Jiangxi’s season of constantly just missing out on the result they need. This game may not have the late drama, but one can seen Jiangxi dropping yet more points in a match they might otherwise have won. Prediction 2-2
Qingdao Jonoon vs Hunan Billows
Jonoon’s draw in Wuhan last weekend left them six points adrift of second place Beijing BG and so a win against Hunan is a must if they are going to stay in promotion contention. The Shandong side did win the away fixture 1-0 earlier in the season, but that means little as they have taken just as many points away as they have at home this season and Hunan’s record on the road this year is actually better than theirs in Changsha.
The key coming into this fixture is to what extent can least weekend’s four goal haul motivate Hunan into another stellar performance. Considering that Jonoon are winless in five, it may just give them enough impetus to claim a precious away point on the road to survival. Prediction 1-1
Author: Jamie McIlroy
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.