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Changchun Yatai

Korean ethnic team Yanbian the unlikely flag bearers for north-east China football this year

With the dongbei sides struggling to make an impact in the Super League this season, it seems to have fallen to rank-outsiders Yanbian Changbaishan to bring glory to the region. Here we take a look back at how the five north-eastern clubs have performed this year, and what the end of season run-in holds for them.

SUPER LEAGUE

Changchun Yatai

The last couple of seasons have been rather forgettable for Yatai fans, with the team flirting with Super League relegation in 2013 and 2014. This season, while not overly exhilarating, has produced a far more respectable league performance with the team currently sitting in 8th place.

The season kicked off in familiar style, with three draws and a loss in the first four games. A 4-1 win away to Shenxin gave a glimmer of hope but this would turn out to be the only win Yatai would get in their initial nine matches. Three wins in three games buoyed spirits and Changchun went on to only lose five out eighteen matches. This restored confidence and Changchun were swept away from the depths of last season.

The pre-season arrival of striker Moreno has been a good piece of recruitment, with the number nine becoming the clubs top scorer with nine goals so far. New manager Marijo Tot has brought stability to the club, but can he be the man to return a once great team back to the heights of Chinese football? We’ll have to wait until next season to find out.

Liaoning Whowin

This season has seen Whowin struggle to grip onto the stability of the past few years and could ultimately end with them dropping out of the top-flight. With three games to go they are two points off the relegation zone and will battle it out with Guizhou to avoid finishing in 15th place.

A bright start to the season produced two wins and two draws before they were crushed by Evergrande 6-1 in Guangzhou. Confidence effectively melted away and the next eighteen games only brought two wins and eleven losses. The most recent four games have shown signs of improvement, including a fantastic 1-0 win at home against Guoan. They face a tough end to the season however, facing both Shanghai Shenhua and SIPG in their final two games.

Goals have been rare in 2015 with top-scorer Derick Ogbu only finding the net eight times. If he can produce something against the Shanghai sides, then Liaoning may survive to contend in Super League again next season.

LEAGUE ONE

Harbin Yiteng

This year saw the crowds from last season’s Super League campaign return to the Harbin ICE Stadium in force, confident of seeing Yiteng bounce straight back up to top-tier football. Ultimately it has turned out to be a frustrating campaign for supporters of the Ice City team with more than half the results fizzling out into uninspiring draws.

The start to the season was a mixed-bag. Harbin went twelve games unbeaten, before finally becoming undone in Beijing. However, eight of these matches resulted in draws and there was a feeling that the loss of sixteen points would be crucial later on. After the loss in the capital, Yiteng stormed through the next ten games, winning six and drawing four, crushing Yanbian 3-0 in the process. This propelled them into a strong promotion position and that pre-season confidence was back in the air. That would soon be dispelled with the next four games producing a measly two points, the most disappointing result being the 2-2 draw at home to promotion rivals Dalian. Calls of bribery and match-fixing rained down from the stands, with Yiteng’s promotion chances drowning out with them.

So with fourteen draws, another season in League One is all but confirmed. The impending departure of Ricardo Steer this winter will be a big loss, and Harbin will have some serious recruiting to do. Despite all this, football has enjoyed a massive boost in Heilongjiang, let’s just hope the crowds keep coming through the turnstiles.

Dalian Aerbin

Much like their North-Eastern counterparts Harbin Yiteng, the pre-season hope was that Dalian would bounce straight back up to the Super League after last season’s relegation. However, unlike Yiteng, Aerbin are on course to achieve just that. A fantastic year has put them in third place and only two points off Hebei CFFC with three games to go.

An explosive start saw the coastal team win 4-0 at home against Xinjiang and they went on to only lose once in the next nine games. The team that finally put them to the sword is the team that currently sits top of the League One table, Yanbian. Confidence was knocked a little and the campaign was thrown off course when they slipped to four defeats in a row during June and July. However, a 1-0 win in Hunan kicked off a fantastic series of results with Aerbin storming to seven wins in a row. Matches against promotion rivals Yanbian and Yiteng awaited but only produced two draws and the chance to nick second place was gone. The end of this season should produce a fascinating promotion fight. CFFC and Aerbin are both in contention for second place with Beijing BG not too far behind.

The performance of the Brazilian forward Bruno has in no doubt propelled Dalian upwards this year. Seventeen goals in twenty-five games is a fantastic achievement, and Aerbin fans will hope he can reach the twenty mark before the curtain closes on a fine season.

Yanbian Changbaishan

What an unbelievable season for the fans, players and anyone related to Yanbian Changbaishan. After finishing in the relegation zone last year, they were unexpectedly given a chance to remain in League One after Wuzhou failed to register for this season and the club was dissolved. Yanbian have seized their chance and then some. They have effectively strolled their way through this campaign and remained in top position for the majority of the season.

It seemed up to a point that Yanbian would complete an ‘invincible’ season, making it to August without losing. It was fellow promotion chasers Yiteng that finally undid them, beating them 3-0 in the Ice City. There have been some storming wins along the way; they destroyed Xinjiang 6-1 and more recently beat Beijing BG 5-0, both wins in front of the ecstatic home fans. So far they have racked up sixteen wins, nine draws and just two losses in the campaign.

This has no doubt been an immense team effort but two players in particular have stolen the show. Steve Trawally and Ha Tae-Goon have been in sensational form all season, scoring eighteen and twenty-two goals respectively. The Gambian and Korean have scored five hat-tricks between them and have constantly been a threat to any defender that has had the unfortunate task of stopping them.

So, unless something goes drastically wrong, it looks like Yanbian will be crowned as champions and introduced to the riches of the Super League. What a transformation for a team that were expected to start the season in League Two.

 

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