League One returned after a three week absence, and there was only one story in town as Yanbian Changbaishan earned promotion to the Super League. It wasn’t easy, though as Wuhan Zall put up a fight in a 0-0 draw. Elsewhere, Hebei CFFC and Dalian Aerbin both won, meaning the former keeps the advantage in race for second. Beijing BG are still in contention after a win in Harbin where most attention was on what was going on off the pitch. At the bottom, Hunan Billows took a step closer to survival with a win over Beijing Institute of Technology, but Jiangxi Liansheng hammered Guizhou Zhicheng to keep themselves in the division for at least another week
Wuhan Zall 0-0 Yanbian Changbaishan
Yanbian secured the most unlikely of Super League promotions with an anti-climactic draw in Wuhan. The boys from Yanji came into the game knowing that a point would be enough to give them a return to the top flight after a fifteen year absence, and they achieved that despite a sub-par display.
Indeed, with all the controversy surrounding Dalian Aerbin’s game in Harbin during the last round (see below as well), it was refreshing to see Wuhan put out a full strength side and take the game to their visitors despite having nothing to play for. In recent weeks, the Hubei side have been focussing on youth development by including five players of 20-years-old or under in their starting line-ups, but this time out they only fielded two in a move which enhances the league’s integrity.
Much to the surprise of the home supporters in attendance, Wuhan were by far the superior side in the opening exchanges and would have gone in front in the 15th minute had Yanbian centre back Zhao Ming not produced an excellent block to deny Brice Jovial from close range. Less than 15 minutes later, Wuhan actually had the ball in the Yanbian but Yao Hanlin’s 18-yard effort was ruled out because Jovial was in an offside position.
That decision produced unsurprising accusations of dishonest officiating among the home support, but Jovial clearly interfered with goalkeeper Chi Wenyi’s efforts to make a save by jumping over the ball as it fizzed towards the net. That was a warning that this was not going to be an easy afternoon for Yanbian and impressive 20-year-old attacking midfielder Cheng Jin almost put the hosts ahead when he fired just wide on the stroke of half-time.
With the foreign trio of Ha Tae-goon, Jailton Paraiba and Steve struggling to capture the devastating form which destroyed Beijing BG just before the international break, Yanbian’s attack faltered badly. Steve, who had only just returned from participating in the second leg of Gambia’s World Cup qualifying play-off loss to Namibia, looked particularly out of sorts, and he was hooked just after the hour mark.
In the 65th minute, Cheng Jin once again came close to unlocking the Yanbian defence, but Yao Hanlin could only fire his through ball over the bar while under pressure from Chi Wenyi. From that point on, Wuhan seemed to lose their impetus with a stoppage time chance for Ha Tae-goon being the only other real opportunity to break the deadlock.
Ha grabbing a late winner would have been fitting reward for the hundreds of Yanbian fans who made the long and logisitcally difficult journey from Yanji, but it would have been very harsh on Wuhan. In fact, it’s fitting that a clean sheet, achieved in part thanks to an immense performance from Zhao Ming, should secure the promotion in a season where the club’s excellent back line has sometimes been overshadowed by their dynamic attack.
These articles have discussed Yanbian’s incredible achievements many times over the course of this season, but it really is worth repeating that what they have done has been unbelievable. The team that would have been in League Two had other clubs not defaulted in the winter has led the division for almost two thirds of the season.
In 2014, they were relegated with three games to go, and this season they have achieved promotion with two matches to spare. What’s more, they’ve done so by adding just five new players to their starting line-up.
Next on the agenda is the final home game of the season where a win over Hunan Billows will secure the League One title and officially mark the ultimate turnaround of wooden spoon holder to league champions. This is something absolutely nobody foresaw when Park Ta-hae’s men scraped a scrappy 1-0 win on a waterlogged pitch in Jiangxi back in March.
It may not have been sealed in style, but Yanbian’s promotion truly is a footballing fairy tale.
Xinjiang 0-2 Hebei CFFC
Hebei took advantage of the absence of League One top scorer Cristian Danalache to claim a vital victory in Urumqi. Serbian midfielder Nenad Milijas opened the scoring in the 40th minute and Brazilian striker Edu sealed the win with his tenth goal of the season.
Danalache missed the game through injury, and Xinjiang struggled without him as they fell to just their second home defeat of the season. On paper, this looks like Hebei’s toughest remaining game and they will be expected to take maximum points from matches against Guizhou Zhicheng and Shenzhen FC.
A current run of five straight wins without conceding a goal suggests they will achieve that and even if they only manage to draw one of those games, they will be guaranteed promotion. Should they do that, it will be a vindication of the decision to appoint Li Tie as manager in place of Radomir Antic as the former Guangzhou Evergrande assistant has now taken sixteen points from his six games in charge.
Dalian Aerbin 3-0 Qingdao Hainiu
Aerbin eased to victory over Hainiu to keep themselves within two points of second place Hebei CFFC. Big Swedish forward Mathias Ranegie headed Aerbin in front after 15 minutes and Bruno Meneghel doubled the tally from the penalty spot 7 minutes after the break. It was the Brazilian himself who had drawn the foul from Shi Zhe, and he was also set up the final goal which was scored by Sun Guowen after 80 minutes.
Hebei’s victory in Xinjiang makes this somewhat of a mutilated victory, though, as the side from Qinhuangdao effectively boast a three point advantage over Aerbin thanks to their superior head-to-head record. Dalian have gone unbeaten over an eleven game period during which they’ve only conceded three goals, but they need Hebei to lose one or draw both of their remaining games in order to have any hope of leapfrogging them.
Hunan Billows 2-0 Beijing Institute of Technology
Hunan took a massive step towards safety with a vital win over BIT. Yang Ke assisted Yao Jiangshan’s 15th minute strike before scoring himself on the stroke of half-time.
The game had been moved to the city of Yiyang from Billows’ usual base of Changsha thanks to a marathon being hosted in the provincial capital, but it seems to have paid off as over 10,000 fans turned out for the six-pointer. As well as being Hunan’s third win in a row in the city of Yiyang it also gave them what is effectively a four point cushion over BIT thanks to their superior head-to-head record.
But with a trip to Yanbian and home game with Harbin Yiteng on the horizon, Hunan will need that breathing space. BIT still have hope as they host the woefully out of form Qingdao Jonoon next weekend, before rounding things out with a game in Jiangxi. Indeed, Jiangxi Liansheng can also still catch Billows if the win both of their remaining games and so Hunan can’t relax just yet.
Jiangxi Liansheng 4-2 Guizhou Zhicheng
Jiangxi kept their survival hopes alive with a comprehensive win over Zhicheng. Having seen Hunan Billows overcome Beijing Institute of Technology the day before, Jiangxi played like a side who knew they needed to win their three remaining matches in order to survive.
It took just five minutes for Leo Itaperuna to grab only his second goal for the club since arriving in the summer, and Ren Xin doubled the lead on 17 minutes. Wang Jianwen added a third in the 75th minute before Adi Rocha got his name on the score sheet five minutes later. Ouyang Xue and Li Yinjian grabbed late consolation goals for the visitors, but this did little to dampen the spirits of the almost 11,000 fans in attendance.
The result means little to Zhicheng who have done excellently this season to already ensure survival, but it’s vital for Jiangxi. A trip to the already safe Shenzhen FC awaits next week before BIT come to Jiujiang for the final game of the season. Given that Hunan still need to take two points off of Yanbian Changbaishan and Harbin Yiteng in order to be certain of safety, a great escape for last year’s League Two champions can’t be ruled out just yet.
Harbin Yiteng 0-1 Beijing BG
Cui Zhongkai struck a 63rd minute winner to keep BG’s remote promotion hopes alive. This game was played a day after Hebei CFFC and Dalian Aerbin’s victories and so the hosts officially had nothing to play for with their mathematical chances of promotion gone.
BG’s own promotion hopes remain remote and will be snuffed out should Hebei CFFC win either of their remaining two games. With a CFA Cup semi-final second leg against Shanghai Shenhua coming up this Wednesday, manager Aleksander Stanojevic left regular starter Danko Lazovic and Yan Xiangchuang on the bench in a sign that he has all but given up on making the Super League this season.
Yan came on late in the game to face the club he played for in the second half of last year, but it would have been a very different atmosphere to what he experienced last year. Devastated by the team’s dramatic defensive capitulation to Dalian Aerbin just before the international break, the club’s notoriously fanatical supporters deserted the club with an attendance of just 5,000 and a poignant protest by the club’s ultra’s.
There is a lot of evidence to suggest something fishy was going on against Dalian and those involved in the protest demonstrated their ire before walking out 20 minutes prematurely. Highlights of that Dalian match, which were unavailable when the round 27 wrap was published, are included here, so readers can judge for themselves whether the anger of Harbin fans is justified.
Either way, contrast with last year is stark as the club attracted a full house to their final home game in 2014 and displayed a touching “I love you” tribute to their side. Harbin manager Duan Xin failed to attend the post-match press conference due to an unspecified health issue, and one wonders what awaits when Yiteng host their final home match of the season against Wuhan next weekend.
Qingdao Jonoon 1-1 Shenzhen FC
Shenzhen got the draw they needed to guarantee survival, although Hunan Billows’ victory over Beijing Institute of Technology meant they would have been safe anyway. Cai Jingyuan gave the visitors the lead in the 30th minute, but Wang Wei levelled things up on the hour mark.
With survival assured, Shenzhen now look to a future that remains filled with financial uncertainty. The southern club have taken ten points from five games under new manager Li Haiqiang and part of the reason for their turnaround was an apparent upturn in their win bonuses. However, there are reports that the club still owes wages dating back to the summer and there remains some doubt over whether the team will take the field in 2016.
For their part, Jonoon said goodbye to former manager Tomaz Kavcic earlier in the week. The Slovenian had lost overall control of the team back in July, but remained in Qingdao until this week. Jonoon have only won once since Kavcic lost his power over the team and are now in danger of finishing in the bottom half of the table.
Tianjin Songjiang 0-0 Hohhot Zhongyou
There was absolutely nothing to play for as Songjiang and Hohhot battled to an unsurprising goalless draw. Songjiang’s Brazilian winger Mario Lucio might have won it in the second half when he earned himself a penalty, but his spot kick was saved by Han Fengtang.
Both sides used the game as an opportunity to test out several young players as the focus turns to next season.