The penultimate weekend of the League One season is upon us and there’s still plenty to play for in the second tier. Yanbian Changbaishan can add the league title to their promotion with a win and Hebei CFFC could join them in the Super League if results go their way. At the bottom, both Jiangxi Liansheng and Beijing Institute of Technology could be relegated this weekend, but Hunan Billows are still in danger. Meanwhile, off the field, controversy surrounds League One top scorer Cristian Danalache after he withdrew from Xinjiang’s game with Hebei last weekend.
Guizhou Zhicheng vs Hebei CFFC
A superior head-to-head record means Hebei could achieve promotion should they win in Guiyang and Dalian Aerbin fail to beat Hohhot Zhongyou. The Qinhuangdao club are now on a run of five straight wins and will be strong favourites against a Zhicheng side that lost to bottom club Jiangxi Liansheng last weekend.
The home side have nothing to play for and there is no doubt that their performance will be heavily scrutinised given the recent controversies surrounding Dalian’s win over Harbin Yiteng and League One top scorer Cristian Danalache’s late withdrawal from Xinjiang’s match against Hebei last week (see Tianjin Songjiang vs Xinjiang preview below). Zhicheng were able to hold Hebei to a goalless earlier in the season and one hopes that they at least field a strong side and put up a fight against Li Tie’s men.
Even if Zhicheng are at their best, Hebei should have enough to overcome them and claim a victory. However, if they are held to a draw, they would still be promoted if Dalian lose in Hohhot. Prediction 0-2
Hohhot Zhongyou vs Dalian Aerbin
Dalian’s pursuit of second placed Hebei CFFC continues in Hohhot where Mikael Stahre’s men could be eliminated from promotion contention if they fail to win. Should Hebei CFFC be victorious against Guizhou Zhicheng, Aerbin will need three points in order to keep their Super League challenge going until the final weekend of the season.
Earlier in the year, a strike from Dori gave Hohhot a 1-0 win which sparked fury among Aerbin fans. That game triggered a run in which Zhongyou picked up 25 points from a possible 30 and became serious promotion contenders.
Since that excellent run of form came to an end, the Inner Mongolians have drawn three and lost two of their last five games, while failing to score in their last three. Given the funny business that may or may not have gone on when Dalian played in Harbin before the international break, Hohhot fans will no doubt have a keen eye on their players and will be quick to pounce on those that under-perform.
The truth is, though, that after a largely fantastic season that has been overshadowed by Yanbian Changbaishan’s exploits, Hohhot seem to have run out of steam and it’s not unreasonable to expect Dalian to pick up a win here without any extra-curricula help. That being said, Hohhot could push them close and a draw which hands Hebei promotion a week early should not be ruled out. Prediction 0-1
Yanbian Changbaishan vs Hunan Billows
There will be a celebratory atmosphere when Yanbian host Hunan fresh off finalising promotion last weekend. The Yanbian players received a hero’s welcome when they returned from Wuhan with a reported 10,000 fans taking to the street in celebration, and so there should be a fantastic atmosphere as almost 30,000 pack into the Yanji New Stadium for this one.
That doesn’t mean this game will merely be procession, though, as both sides still have something to play for. Yanbian have still not secured the League One title and will do so if they win or Hebei CFFC fail to beat Guizhou Zhicheng.
Meanwhile, Hunan’s superior head-to-head record over Beijing Institute of Technology means they can guarantee League One survival should they claim a win and become the ultimate party poopers. In fact, Hunan just have to match BIT’s result against Qingdao Jonoon, and so, with all kick-offs being simultaneous this week, it’s perfectly feasible that both sets of players will be celebrating at fall time.
It would be considered a massive surprise if this game ends in anything other than a Yanbian win, but the league leaders were outplayed by Wuhan Zall last weekend and there is always the danger of the players taking their foot off the gas. But, given that League One top scorer Cristian Danalache is unlikely to play again this season (see Tianjin Songjiang vs Xinjiang preview below), Yanbian’s South Korean striker Ha Tae-goon will be motivated by the prospect of making up the one goal deficit between him and the Romanian and claiming the Golden Boot for himself.
Yanbian have slipped up once at home this season when they fell to a surprising 1-0 defeat to Tianjin Songjiang. Complacency is a danger but, given that Hunan have only taken one point from twelve games against teams in the top seven this season, Yanbian fans should be celebrating a League One title on Saturday night. Prediction 3-0
Beijing Institute of Technology vs Qingdao Jonoon
After losing away to Hunan Billows last weekend, BIT know that they have to get at least a draw against Jonoon in order to have any hope of staying up. That victory gave Hunan a three point gap over their rivals and the all important superior head-to-head record which actually means BIT will be doomed should they fail to better Billows’ result.
There are reasons for the “Student Army” to be optimistic, however, particularly given that Jonoon have picked up just one point from their last five games and have looked like a team just waiting for the season to end for quite some time. There is also the fact that Hunan will be playing in Yanbian this week against a Changbaishan side looking to seal the league title in their final home game of the season.
BIT’s defence is by far and away the worst in the league, but Jonoon have only managed to score twice in their last five games. The capital city side will fancy their chances of overcoming their unmotivated opponents and keeping the relegation fight going until the final weekend of the season. Prediction 2-1
Shenzhen FC vs Jiangxi Liansheng
Nothing less than a win will do for Jiangxi as they need to pick up all three points in Shenzhen in order to avoid relegation. The League Two champions are four points adrift of safety, but a 3-1 loss to Hunan Billows back in August gives them an inferior head-to-head record and means a win is an absolute necessity to avoid an immediate return to the third tier.
The good news for Jiangxi is that Shenzhen’s survival was confirmed last weekend and so the club no longer have anything to play for. The bad news is that Shenzhen have taken ten points from their last four games and will be playing in front of a crowd expecting a solid performance in their final home game of the season.
Last weekend’s 4-2 win over Guizhou Zhicheng was massive for Jiangxi and the fact that Brazilian attackers Leo Itaperuna and Adi Rocha both got on the score sheet will give the Liansheng faithful some optimism. The pair had managed just two goals between them in Jiangxi’s previously ten games and head coach Sun Wei will be hoping they can find the target again this weekend.
In the last meeting between these sides, a 96th minute Adi Rocha strike earned Jiangxi a 3-3 draw. There may be less goals, but that result could be repeated this weekend, making Jiangxi’s stay in League One disappointingly short. Prediction 1-1
Qingdao Hainiu vs Beijing BG
BG still harbour remote hopes of promotion as they travel to take on a Hainiu side whose season is already over. As well as winning this game, the capital city side need Hebei CFFC to slip up against Guizhou Zhicheng if they are to remain in the promotion race for next weekend’s season climax.
BG will be playing less than 72 hours after a 3-0 spanking at home to Shanghai Shenhua in the second leg of a CFA Cup semi-final tie they lost 5-2 on aggregate. It’s not exactly ideal preparation for a game against a side they surprisingly lost 3-2 to earlier in the season, but BG will be expecting to claim all three points here.
Even if they do, though, it still looks likely to be a sad day for the former Beijing Baxy unless Zhicheng can do them a massive favour by springing a surprise against Hebei. Prediction 0-1
Tianjin Songjiang vs Xinjiang
Pride and a place in the top half are all that’s at stake in this one, as Xinjiang seek to recover from the fall out of Cristian Danalache’s sudden withdrawal from the starting line-up of last weekend’s game against Hebei CFFC. There were many eyebrows raised when the League One top scorer’s name was left off of the team sheet last weekend and subsequent details have emerged that make the whole affair a lot murkier.
According to Xinjiang manager Li Jun, the Romanian had been in his matchday plans before suddenly pulling out with an injury just a couple of hours before kick-off. Xinjiang fans were baffled by the absence of their star striker and shouted allegations of corruption during the match which Li has strenuously denied.
The manager, who has been in charge since the club was founded in Hubei in 2011, has said the decision had nothing to do with the club and was made by Danalache himself. He was at pains to point out that the club took the 33-year-old former Jiangsu Sainty striker to the hospital after the game to test if his injury was genuine.
Having found nothing wrong, Xinjiang have suspended Danalache and he is unlikely to ever play for them again. For his part, the 2012 Super League Golden Boot winner has taken to social media to say he has been carrying an injury for over a month and didn’t want to risk aggravating it now the club’s survival is assured.
Whatever the truth is, the whole thing is a messy affair which, along with the controversy in Harbin a few weeks ago, casts doubts over the integrity of the league.
On the pitch, Xinjiang have the worst away record in the league and will be missing the player who has scored 24 of their 38 goals this season. Therefore, Songjiang should pick up a victory in Goran Tomic’s final home game in charge of the club before he is replaced by Vanderlai Luxemburgo. Prediction 2-0
Harbin Yiteng vs Wuhan Zall
Many eyes will be on the crowd in this one as Harbin host Wuhan with nothing on the line. Given last weekend’s protest by Harbin supporters over possible match-fixing the gameweek before, it will be interesting to see whether we are treated to similar scenes or if fans simply stay away.
Over the past week, the news coming out of Wuhan has been of the footballing variety as the club has confirmed a partnership with San Lorenzo of Argentina. The deal will apparently see Wuhan’s youth players travel to Buenos Aries to train with the Argentinian club, while it looks as if Zall’s contingent of foreign players for next season will come from the 2014 Copa Libetadores winners.
Wuhan head coach Zheng Xiong has said that next season he wants his foreign stars to be comprised of purely attacking players. That would spell the end of centre back Randsford Addo’s time with the club and Zheng has already said that Spanish striker Rafa Jorda won’t play for the Zall next season.
This weekend, it remains to be seen whether Zheng reverts back to his policy of playing five players born in 1995, or stick with the largely veteran team which performed so well against Yanbian last weekend.. If it’s the latter, Wuhan should fancy their chances of turning over an out of form side distracted by off field issues. Prediction 1-2