There were more twists and turns in round 26 as League One hurtles towards its exciting conclusion. The top two of Dalian Aerbin and Yanbian Changbaishan played out a draw in front of the largest crowd of the season as Hebei CFFC took advantage by claiming an unconvincing win to climb into the promotion places. Beijing BG kept themselves in contention with an easy win over their city rivals, but Harbin Yiteng and Hohhot Zhongyou both severely damaged their promotion chances with surprising losses to Tianjin Songjiang and Qingdao Hainiu, respectively. And with the bottom two losing, several clubs took a step closer to safety, with only Hunan Billows looking likely to be caught by either Jiangxi Liansheng or Beijing Institute of Technology.
Dalian Aerbin 1-1 Yanbian Changbaishan
Two first half goals meant the top two finished all square in a match played out in front of 42,591 fans. Ha Tae-goon gave Yanbian the lead in the 17th minute when he bagged his 20th goal of the season, but centre back Wang Wanpeng levelled things up just four minute later when he headed in a Cui Ming’an free kick.
Neither side was able to break the deadlock in the second half and the teams settled for a draw which was a huge disappointment to the majority of League One’s largest crowd of the season. As well as helping to end Dalian’s seven game winning streak, Ha’s early goal also ended Dalian’s clean sheet marathon at 791 minutes.
The last time the hosts had conceded a goal was in the 41st minute of a round 17 loss to Beijing BG and allowing Ha to score so early was a major blow. Dalian did show great resilience to bounce back within four minute, but their failure to find a winner means they now slip to third behind Hebei CFFC based on an inferior head-to-head record.
The result will do just fine for Yanbian who were cheered on by a sizable contingent of away fans that had created the need for special trains to be laid on between Yanji and Dalian. The league leaders needed to recover from their shocking home defeat to Tianjin Songjiang last weekend and could secure promotion as early as next weekend should they win against Beijing BG and either Hebei or Dalian lose.
Despite slipping into third, Dalian can still boast a nine game unbeaten run, but can afford few more dropped points as the promotion race goes to the wire. The attendance for this match demonstrates the kind of renaissance Dalian football has undergone since Yifang invested in Aerbin in the summer, but this result is a major setback in the club’s mission to earn an immediate return to the Super League.
Qingdao Jonoon 0-1 Hebei CFFC
A well struck 69th minute free kick from Edu allowed Hebei to overcome an unconvincing performance and climb into the promotion places based on their superior head-to-head record against Dalian Aerbin. Edu’s 20-yard set piece was the highlight of an uncharacteristically physical League One game that was also an altogether scrappy affair.
Hebei seemed to suffer in the absence of suspended creative midfielder Nenad Milijas as his replacement Wang Yang struggled in the role just behind the two strikers. Wang Quan did better when pushed up into that position in the second half, but he had to be replaced in the 65th minute after taking a battering at the hands of Jonoon’s players.
Indeed, Jonoon’s roughhousing eventually led to a red card when Brazilian attacker Deivdy Reiss was sent off for a brutal 80th minute studs-up tackle into the thigh of Hebei midfielder Luo Senwen. Seemingly oblivious to the red stud marks clearly visible on Luo’s left leg, Jonoon protested the decision vigorously, with substitute Wang Jun particularly upset.
Around 6 minutes later, Wang was lucky not to see a red of his own when he mercilessly kicked poor old Luo’s legs out from under him in an apparent effort to finish off what Deivdy Reiss had started. On this occasion, the former Dalian Aerbin midfielder was only shown a yellow and he was joined in the book by Hebei counterpart Liao Junjian who protested the referee’s leniency a little too enthusiastically.
Overall, Hebei had marginally the better of the game, but could have been a goal down in first half stoppage time if not for goalkeeper Yang Cheng. First, Yang was able to push Sha Yibo’s header onto the post and then, shortly after, the former Shandong Luneng stopper blocked bravely at the feet of youngster Yin Guangjun who had taken a little to long to pull the trigger after a Deidy Reiss cross.
Aside from Edu’s strike, Hebei’s best chance came nine minutes after the break when Wang Quan’s well weighted through ball gave Ibba Laajab a one-on-one duel with Jonoon goalkeeper Liu Zhenli which the Norwegian striker lost. Otherwise, Milijas’s absence was most keenly felt on set pieces. Jonoon’s physical style gave Hebei plenty of these but, with the obvious exception of Edu’s free kick which was the only one from a shooting position, deliveries were poor.
Hebei may not have been impressive, but the result is all that counts and, with a visit to Xinjiang being their only remaining game against a team outside the bottom five, they should probably be considered favourites to make the top flight as the only side apart from Yanbian Changbaishan with their fate entirely in their own hands. Preparation for this game may have been effected by manager Li Tie’s trip to England for a conference earlier in the week, but the former Everton player was back in the dugout in time to oversee his side’s fourth win during his five games in charge.
For Jonoon, the match marks their third consecutive 1-0 loss and the sixth time that they’ve been defeated without scoring a goal in their last eight games. With promotion no longer a possibility, all that the club has left to play for is pride, but that could also be lost if they continue this decline and slip out of the top half of the table.
Tianjin Songjiang 1-0 Harbin Yiteng
A Zhang Shuo strike midway through the first half gave Songjiang a second 1-0 upset win in as many weeks and left Harbin’s promotion hopes on life support. In the 22nd minute, Zhang scored just his second goal for Songjiang since arriving on loan from Guangzhou R&F in the summer, and it proved to be enough as Harbin toiled in their efforts to find a breakthrough.
The victory, Songjiang’s first over Harbin in six attempts, has guaranteed their League One status for another year and has paved the way for the arrival of Vanderlai Luxemburgo who will take over as manager at the end of the season. Some of the former Brazil and Real Madrid boss’s assistants were in attendance for this game and the result will have been encouraging for the Brazilian who replaces Goran Tomic with the remit to get Songjiang and its new owners into the Super League.
It’s looking increasingly like Harbin will also have to wait until next season before they make another Super League push thanks to a run that has seen them pick up just one point in their last three games. They are now five points adrift of the promotion places with must-win games at home to Dalian Aerbin and Beijing BG over the next two rounds. However, even victory in all four of their remaining games will not be enough to ensure an immediate return to the Super League and they are now dependent on Hebei CFFC faltering in at least two of their remaining four fixtures.
Hohhot Zhongyou 0-2 Qingdao Hainiu
A surprising home loss means that Zhongyou can kiss their chance of back to back promotions goodbye. An 8th minute header from Gao Xiang was followed by a 59th minute Julio Guttierez strike, as Hainiu overcame an imploding Hohhot side that finished the game with ten men.
Zhongyou midfielder Li Shuai was sent off for a second booking in the 77th minute which was part of a wider fracas that delayed the game for nearly eight minutes. The dismissal of the 21-year-old Guizhou Renhe loanee ended any hopes of a Zhongyou fight back and continuing participation in the promotion race.
After going on a run that saw them take 22 points out of a possible 24, Hohhot have since earned just one point from three games and sit an unassailable seven points behind the top two. Regardless of how the season ends, the 2014 League Two runners-up have already achieved more than most expected of them in 2015, but this late season wobble will no doubt leave many Inner Mongolians bitterly disappointed.
Prior this game, Hohhot had managed to score at least twice in each of their previous seven matches but drew a blank on this occasion. William Paulista was absent and Lin Kun, who scored a brace against Harbin last weekend, was left on the bench in favour of Wang Yunlong. Wang had been on fire earlier in the season, but has since been hampered by injuries and was replaced by Lin after just 32 ineffective minutes.
For all of Zhongyou’s failings, credit should be given to Hainiu who have salvaged a season that looked in serious danger of going off the rails following the death of midfielder Goran Gogic and resignation of popular manager Su Maozhen. Seven points from their last three games have all but guaranteed Hainiu’s League One status, despite caretaker Sun Xinbo serving a concurrent touchline ban for his conduct during the club’s last defeat to Yanbian Changbaishan.
Beijing BG 4-1 Beijing Institute of Technology
A Carmelo Valencia hat-trick led BG to an important derby victory which keeps them in the thick of the promotion race. The Colombian opened the scoring in first half stoppage time when he headed in a Wan Wen’an cross and doubled his tally midway through the second half when he volleyed in from close range. The former Tianjin TEDA forward then guaranteed himself the match ball with another header 3 minutes later before Danko Lazovic completed the rout with a 90th minute free kick.
There was still time for Andres Marques to score a consolation penalty in stoppage time but the result, which puts BG four points behind second placed Hebei CFFC with a game in hand, had long been confirmed by then. Going into the game, BG were no doubt heavy favourites, but that had been the case before they succumbed to a shocking 3-0 loss at the hands of Shenzhen FC last weekend.
This time, though, Valencia made sure his side came out victorious with a display of goal scoring prowess that he has regularly been criticised as lacking over the past two years. The quick and powerful 31-year-old burst onto the Chinese scene in 2013 when he scored sixteen goals during his first season with Tianjin TEDA.
Since then, though, he has become better known for wasting chances that his physical attributes have gotten him in a the position to score. He only managed seven goals in his second season at TEDA and there was a lot of speculation that BG coach Aleksander Stanojevic wanted to move him on in the summer after half a season in the capital.
As it stands, though, Valencia has now equalled Lazovic’s team leading tally of twelve goals and still has the opportunity to fire BG into the Super League. Of course, Valencia’s sudden goal flurry is at least partly attributable to an opponent who has the worst defence in the league and has now conceded fifteen goals in its last four games.
BIT have now won just one of their last eleven games and remain three points adrift of safety. A lack of confidence and a dreadful defence that has let in 59 goals in 2015, 13 more than any other team, make it difficult to imagine them getting out of trouble.
Hunan Billows 1-2 Guizhou Zhicheng
Zhicheng got the better of a flurry of late goals to grab a crucial win over Hunan in this relegation six pointer. Li Xiang gave the hosts the lead in the 73rd minute but his joy at putting his side in front, and becoming League One’s top Chinese scorer with seven goals, was cut short when Zhang Zhi equallised just a minute later. And things got worse for Hunan ten minutes after that when Yves Ekwalla Herman netted his seventeenth of the season to give Zhicheng a victory which all but guarantees their survival.
This was only Zhicheng’s second win in their last nine games, but it was enough to put what is an unassailable looking seven points between them and the struggling bottom two of Beijing Institute of Technology and Jiangxi Liansheng. The situation for Hunan is far more perilous as they remain just three points above the drop zone.
Billows were without suspended attacker Chen Zijie and manager Zikica Taveski also bemoaned the torrential rain which blighted the game and forced his side into playing basic long ball tactics. Whatever their excuses, Hunan need to respond quickly as they prepare to face Shenzhen FC and BIT over two games that will likely define their season.
Xinjiang 3-0 Jiangxi Liansheng
Cristian Danalache scored a hat-trick to extend his league leading tally to 24 goals, as Jiangxi failed to claim a result that would have dragged them off the bottom of the table. The Romanian striker struck in the 26th, 67th, and 87th minutes to tighten his stranglehold on the League One Golden Boot award and drag his side into the top half of the table.
The former Jiangsu Sainty striker had failed to score in any of his last three games, but more than made up for that with a three goal haul that makes Xinjiang mathematically safe from relegation. Along with Wuhan Zall, Xinjiang now officially have nothing to play for, but a top half finish and the best home record in the division are still within the grasp of a side that have only taken less points than league leaders Yanbian Changbaishan on their own turf this season.
Jiangxi would kill for those kind of low pressure aims as they remain bottom of the table and four points adrift of safety. All is not lost, though, as three of their remaining four fixtures are against other sides in the bottom five. However, they need more from Brazilian attackers Adi Rocha and Leo Itaperuna who have scored just eight league goals between them in 2015.
Shenzhen FC 2-1 Wuhan Zall
After pulling off a shocking 3-0 win at home to Beijing BG last weekend, Shenzhen took one more giant step towards survival by earning a come from behind victory against Wuhan. Second half goals from Geng Xiaoshun and Babacar Gueye undid Brice Jovial’s 16th minute opener to pull Shezhen a healthy six points clear of the relegation zone.
Jovial’s early goal may have brought back unpleasant memories of the 6-0 tonking Wuhan gave Shenzhen earlier in the season. But things have changed since then and defender Geng Xiaoshun gained some measure atonement for his shocking performance during that round 1a demolition when he levelled on the hour mark during a penalty box scramble. Babacar Gueye then grabbed the winner 15 minutes later in another sign that he is returning to form.
The win is Shenzhen head coach Li Haiqiang’s second in the three games since he took over from South Korean boss Lee Lim-saeng. There has also been a lot of talk about how the improving financial situation at the club has brought about a larger win bonus and better motivated players.
For Wuhan, the result is not of huge significance as head coach Zheng Xiong continues to focus on the youth development that he has made a priority since taking over in July. There were an admirable five players born in 1995 in Wuhan’s starting line-up and, with the club now mathematically unable to get relegated or promoted, results are of little consequence. There is, however, a danger of the club finishing outside the top half, or even the top ten, which would be a pretty poor end for a team that was in the Super League just two years ago.