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League One Round 24 Preview: Hohhot vs Yanbian takes centre stage as promotion race continues

Hohhot Zhongyou vs Yanbian Changbaishan is round 24’s big match as the season’s two surprise packages go head-to-head. Elsewhere, Dalian Aerbin and Harbin Yiteng both look to have relatively straight forward tasks ahead of them, while Hebei CFFC and Qingdao Jonoon face difficult away trips. Hunan Billows take on Jiangxi Liansheng in a big game at the bottom and Beijing BG’s match is postponed and rescheduled for a pretty inconvenient time.

Hohhot Zhongyou vs Yanbian Changbaishan

The weekend’s marquee clash undoubtedly takes place in Hohhot where the red hot Zhongyou host league leaders Yanbian Changbaishan. Hohhot come into the game as the league’s in-form side having taken 22 from the last 24 points available.

Yanbian may have had their momentum temporarily slowed with a 3-0 defeat in Harbin two weeks ago, but last weekend’s victory over Qingdao Hainiu proves they are far from ready for a late season collapse. It could be argued, though, that beating Hainiu at home with the aid of a controversial penalty hardly banishes doubt cast by the loss in Harbin, and this game gives Yanbian the opportunity to prove they have what it takes to see their remarkable season out until the end.

Overachievers: Few expected Hohhot to perform as well as they have this season

Overachievers: Few expected Hohhot to perform as well as they have this season

Hohhot manager Wang Bo will no doubt have studied Yanbian’s defeat to Harbin closely, and will be hoping his men can repeat the feat in front of a crowd likely to be well over 30,000. Having been promoted from League Two last season while the team was based in Taiyuan, Zhongyou spent big on recruiting the foreign trio of William Paulista and Super League veterans Dori and Jonas Salley, but their domestic playing staff is still largely comprised of loanees or players one could describe as journeymen.

At the beginning of the season, Zhongyou looked best equipped of the three promoted sides (and, for that matter, Yanbian who were reinstated after being relegated from League One in 2014) to do well in the second tier, but sitting just two points adrift of the promotion places with seven games of the season left is a phenomenal achievement. Four of those seven games, including this one, come against the rest of the top five, though, and so the real test of Zhongyou’s promotion credentials starts now.

Zhongyou’s 4-1 win over Hebei four weeks ago demonstrated their ability to defeat one of the division’s top sides, just as Yanbian loss in Harbin proved they can be beaten. Zhongyou have a very real chance of pulling off a win here, but Yanbian may just sneak a draw. Prediction 1-1

Wuhan Zall vs Hebei CFFC

Li Tie will be looking for his first win as Hebei manager when he takes his side to Wuhan this weekend. The former Guangzhou Evergrande assistant manager had to settle for a scoreless draw in his first game in charge last weekend and his side need a win if they are going to maintain a serious promotion challenge.

Back Already: Former Zall manager Zheng Bin will be returning to Wuhan as assistant to Hebei boss Li Tie

Back Already: Former Zall manager Zheng Bin will be returning to Wuhan as assistant to Hebei boss Li Tie

Hebei’s recent patchy form has largely been down to an abysmal away run that’s seen them pick up just two points from five games and they face a difficult task in turning that around against a Wuhan side which hasn’t lost at home since the second week of the season. The good news for Hebei is that Wuhan have nothing more to play for this season, leading manager Zheng Xiong to drop many veterans in favour of untested young players.

Zheng Xiong’s predecessor, Zheng Bin, returns to the club he managed until the middle of July as Li Tie’s assistant, but he’s likely to see a very different Wuhan line-up to the one he fielded in a surprising 3-2 win in Hebei earlier in the season. This is a game Hebei could win but, given their recent troubles on the road and failure to get their attack consistently clicking, it’s one they probably won’t. Prediction 1-1

Dalian Aerbin vs Shenzhen FC

If one is looking for a home banker this weekend, this is probably it. Dalian, who have won five straight and haven’t conceded a goal for six games, host Shenzhen, who have won just one of their last fifteen. With Dalian on fire and back in the thick of the promotion race, Shenzhen look all but certain to taste defeat.

The one chink of light for the southern club is that Dalian striker Mathias Ranegie will be suspended for this clash after picking up four yellow cards. Although Dalian’s defence has been mighty impressive in the last six weeks, the attack has only managed to score seven goals over the same period and, if Shenzhen can keep Bruno Meneghel restrained, they may fancy their chances of shutting out their Super League chasing opponents.

That remains a tall order, though, and Dalian’s defence may once again hold out to give the side a narrow victory. Prediction 1-0

Qingdao Hainiu vs Harbin Yiteng

Firing On All Cylinders: Harbin have been in excellent form in recent weeks

Firing On All Cylinders: Harbin have been in excellent form in recent weeks

Harbin are obvious favourites to defeat a Hainiu side that hasn’t won in nine games, but the second placed side shouldn’t take victory in Shandong entirely for granted. Hainiu have drawn six of those nine winless matches, including all four of the ones they played at home, and so Harbin may be in danger of dropping points and their spot in the promotion places.

That being said, Harbin have won four on the bounce and have learned to win at just the right time, having drawn far too many games earlier in the season. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Hainiu could get something from this game, but Harbin should be able to ride their momentum into picking up another three points. Prediction 0-2

Hunan Billows vs Jiangxi Liansheng

In a game with huge implications at the bottom of the table, Jiangxi could pull within one point of their opponents with a win here. That will be easier said than done, though, for a team that has triumphed just once in their last ten games and their task will be made more difficult by the fact that Hunan seem to have figured out how to score under new head coach Zikica Tasevski.

Billows have scored seven goals in the three games since the Macedonian was promoted from the assistant manager’s position, having managed to find the net just sixteen times in their previous twenty encounters. The downside is that they have conceded at least twice in each of those matches, so we may see a few goals in this one.

With just three wins all year, things just don’t seem to be clicking for Jiangxi this season, and it’s hard to see them picking up a result here. Prediction 2-1

Tianjin Songjiang vs Beijing Institute of Technology

Goran Tomic celebrates Mario Lucio's (10) goal in the reverse fixture against BIT - his first in charge of Songjiang

Goran Tomic celebrates Mario Lucio’s (10) goal in the reverse fixture against BIT – his first in charge of Songjiang

Songjiang could all but confirm their League One status for next season with a victory over a BIT side that has picked up just six points in their last fourteen games. Back in May, these two sides played out an entertaining 3-3 in what was Songjiang manager Goran Tomic’s first game in charge, but the Croatian will be expecting victory this time around.

Songjiang’s only worry will be in front of goal where they’ve managed to draw a blank in three of their last four games, and fans will be hoping that striker Franck Nouble can take advantage of the league’s worst defence to break a scoring drought of six matches. Even if he doesn’t, Songjiang ought to have enough about them to overcome their struggling opponents. Prediction 2-1

Xinjiang vs Qingdao Jonoon

For the second time in less than two weeks, League One top scorer Cristian Danalache takes on one of his former clubs as Jonoon roll into Urumqi. It will be Xinjiang’s first home league game in four weeks and they will be happy to be back in the Autonomous Region following a three match trip that has seen them pick up no points and concede thirteen goals.

However, while Xinjiang have the worst away record in the division, they have been defeated just once in Urumqi this year where Danalache has scored fourteen goals in just ten games. The Romanian’s season total of 21 is more than double what he managed with Jonoon last season and he has bagged nearly two-thirds of all Xinjiang’s goals this year.

Keeping Danalache off the score sheet may not be easy, but Jonoon will fancy their chances of netting a few themselves against the division’s second worst defence. After ending a five game winless run last weekend, the Shandong side’s confidence will be high and they will fancy there chances of picking up a win to remain on the periphery of the promotion chase.

The big question is whether Xinjiang’s recent woeful performance can be accounted for by a punishing travel schedule or a loss of interest among the players now that their mid-table spot is all but confirmed. The outcome of this Saturday’s match may give us the answer. Prediction 1-2

Beijing BG VS Guizhou Zhicheng – Postponed until September 23rd

This game has been postponed due to rehearsals for September 3rd’s military parade, or the World Athletic Championships being held in Beijing, or both. As well as meaning BG are likely to slip behind their promotion rivals in the short term, the rescheduling of the game for Wednesday September 23rd does them few favours.

It comes just three days before a huge match away to Yanbian Changbaishan and a week before their CFA Cup semi-final first leg at Shanghai Shenhua. With BG playing host to city rival Beijing Institute of Technology the Saturday before the rescheduled fixture, their match with Shenhua will be their fourth in eleven days.

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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