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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.

 

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Flyingkiwi

    17/10/2015 at 11:12

    I’ve spent a bit of time this season thinking about the implication of Yanbian entering the CSL next year. I lived near Yanji a few years ago and know how isolated the place can be (Even from the provincial capital in Changchun). However; I was at the BG Vs Changbaishan match at Aoti a couple of months ago and was very surprised to see Yanbian’s large travelling contingent of fans. So, I spent this October holiday up in Yanji visiting friends and discovered that while the new HSR link has made the place much more accessible (Particularly to other Dongbei destinations) it’s still a bit hard to get to. Granted; Yanji has an airport and the stadium is very near the airport (It’s on the outskirts of town, as many stadiums in China are. But it’s quite accessible. There is a bus (No28) that terminates right next to the stadium and runs past the front of the airport on it’s way to the main station where you can pick up connections to the West HSR station, if needed). But I’m still not sure a trip to Yanji will be within the budget/time constraints of the average fan. Trains from Beijing (For instance) take a LONG time (It would, actually, be quicker to take an overnight Z train from Beijing to Harbin/Shenyang/Changchun and then transfer to a Yanji-bound C, G or D train), a flight is going to set you back between 1,500 and 2,300 RMB (You won’t get much change out of 1,000RMB taking the train, either).

    • Adam Ridler

      18/10/2015 at 08:39

      So do you mean it’s going to be hard for away fans to get there, or for Yanbian fans to go to away games? I guess both are true but it won’t neccesarily be such a big deal for the club. It’s always nice for teams to bring a large travelling contingent but in the CSL and CL1 the distances involved are so huge that any of the smaller sides would be lucky to bring any fans at all to an away game. The main goal is to get the stadium full of home supporters and to get them to keep coming. This certainly happened with Harbin Yiteng. After promotion to the CSL, the average home attendence more than doubled and the big crowds kept turning up even after relegation. As I mentioned in the article, football has enjoyed a huge boost here and that can only be a good thing, even if it meant suffering a drop from the top-flight. My guess is that Yanbian will suffer the same sort of fate, but it could ultimately end of benefitting them.

      • Flyingkiwi

        18/10/2015 at 19:19

        Yep! I’m looking at things from the perspective of the travelling fan.

        I’ve been to quite a few grounds over the last few seasons and, generally, the away supporters have been outnumbered by the security charged with keeping them away from the home crowd. This season; things have begun to change a bit. Shijiazhuang had a huge contingent at Guoan (Granted: it was a holiday weekend and SJZ to BJ doesn’t take that long) and Evergrande usually have a goodly number with them (A reasonable showing last night at Tianjin). But, Yanji is going to be a prize pain-in-the-arse for pretty much any away fan (Bar Changchun Yatai) to get to next year.

        That said; Yanbian did have a very big contingent of fans at Beijing BG this year (Probably about as many as BG themselves had) But one has to assume that a good proportion of the Yanbian “travelling” support came from students, etc currently in Beijing as I find it hard to believe that there are THAT many people rich enough to happily part with a good 2,000RMB for a couple of hours in Beijing up in northern Jilin.

        • Adam Ridler

          19/10/2015 at 15:08

          I guess Yanbian have become quite ‘fashionable’ to follow too. People love a good underdog story so a lot of those people in Beijing might have jumped on the bandwagon when they heard what an incredible year Changbaishan have had!

          • Flyingkiwi

            19/10/2015 at 17:55

            Possibly. But I was in amongst them (I always support Dongbei teams) and there were a lot of Korean speakers (And, I suppose, Yanbian is going to be the team of choice ex-pat Koreans in Beijing – of which there are rumoured to be a number).

  2. Cameron Wilson

    19/10/2015 at 10:04

    I think flying there will be the only realistic option for fans of clubs outside of Dongbei, the airport is well connected and I priced flights at around 1500 rmb return from Shanghai. From Beijing flying is probably the best way also, time is limited at weekends as well know. Although overnight trains can be fun in large groups.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yanji_Chaoyangchuan_Airport

    For those in near-ish cities, like Harbin or Changchun, sounds like it may indeed still be a bit of a chore to get there, wonder how this will affect the development derby culture with Changchun.

    I’m wondering if perhaps there’s a desire somewhere for Yanji not to be too-well connected to the rest of China…

    • Adam Ridler

      19/10/2015 at 15:10

      Have you been to Yanji? My partner’s cousin lived there, she didn’t exactly oversell the place…

    • Flyingkiwi

      19/10/2015 at 19:01

      There is a new HSR connection in Yanji now which means that Changchun is just a little over 2 hours away. When I lived out that way trains took a minimum 7 hours (Buses may have been faster but not a great deal and I hate buses anyway. It was, actually, a lot more convenient to go to Harbin than it was to go to Changchun as there were overnight trains between the two places) so I don’t think it’ll be hard to get from Changchun to Yanji (Quite a few Yiteng fans have Yatai as a second team and make the trip between Harbin and Changchun when Yiteng play on a saturday and Yatai on a sunday. I’ve done this myself) Yatai fans might have done the trip in reverse. Can’t say. If they did, they now have a second team option.

      The problem for people that use the HSR is that Yanji West (The HSR Station) is on the opposite side of town to the stadium and, if you’re going to pursue the public transport option (Which you can) it’s going to take you the best part of another hour and a half to get there as you’ll have to take a bus from Yanji West to the main station (4, 10 or 16 about 40 minutes) then change to the 28 to the stadium (A similar amount of time. A taxi will, likely, set you back 50RMB.

      If there was any real desire to keep Yanji isolated, it would have come from the people of Yanbian itself. It’s very Korean out that way. Korean is the language that you hear in the streets, Korean imports everywhere, lots of Korean tourists, too.

  3. Cameron Wilson

    20/10/2015 at 09:02

    That’s very interesting Kiwi. Thanks for sharing these valuable local insights.

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