League One Round 29 Wrap: Hebei on cusp of CSL, Yanbian win title and Jiangxi relegated in heartbreaking style
There was celebration and heartache in the penultimate weekend of the League One season. Hebei CFFC are just one point away from the Super League after a win in Guizhou. However, their recent run is not without controversy and Dalian Aerbin remain in the chase with victory in Hohhot. There was jubilation in Yanbian where a second half rout of Hunan Billows gave Changbaishan the title, but there was distress in Shenzhen where Jiangxi Liansheng conceded a last minute goal to confirm their relegation to League Two. Who joins them is still up in the air, though, as Beijing Institute of Technology secured a big win to give themselves hope of a final day escape.
Guizhou Zhicheng 0-2 Hebei CFFC
Hebei overcame a difficult first half to put themselves on the verge of promotion with a win in Guiyang. Second half goals from Edu and Du Wei gave Hebei all three points, which means they now only need a draw from their final game at home to Shenzhen in order to guarantee promotion.
The Qinhuangdao side didn’t have it all their own way, though, as Zhicheng had the better of the first 25 minutes. Indeed, Guizhou’s Yves Ekwalla Herman thought he had scored his nineteenth goal of the season when he rifled in a 12-yard effort in the 8th minute, but the referee’s whistle had already gone following a foul by Rodrigo.
The Cameroonian hitman was once again in the thick of the action in the 21st minute when he attempted a spectacular long range overhead kick which lacked the power to beat Hebei keeper Yang Cheng. Just a minute later, the former Qingdao Hainiu player smashed in a more conventional shot from distance which was just off target.
But, as the half wore on, Hebei improved and they were nearly rewarded when Nenad Milijas struck the bar with 25-year free kick in the 36th minute. The Serbian midfielder then went close with his head on the stroke of half-time, only to see the ball go wide meaning a scoreless first half.
Given all the controversy that surrounded Cristian Danalache’s late withdrawal from the Xinjiang team prior to their game with Hebei last weekend, it had been refreshing to see Zhicheng field a full strength side and start the game brightly. Danalache’s absence had added fuel to a fire of speculation that clubs facing Hebei over the last few weeks have been fielding weakened sides, and Zhicheng seemed to have bucked the trend.
However, Zhicheng’s replacement of Brazilian midfielder Rodrigo at half-time reignited the controversoal y and Hebei were in the lead within nine minutes of the interval. The goal came when Zhu Haiwei assisted Edu’s eleventh of the season.
From then on, things looked to be plain sailing for Hebei but, in the 70th minute, Yang Cheng was called upon to make a fantastic save to deny Huang Zhun’s low header. The former Shandong Luneng keeper’s save was first class but, just as it looked like there was still some fight left in the home side, they brought off Herman with fifteen minutes remaining.
Taking off your top scorer while 1-0 down seems like a strange move to say the least and, from that point on, Zhicheng barely threatened. Hebei sealed the win three minutes from time when centre back Du Wei reacted to a blocked Ibba Laajab shot following a corner.
However they’ve got there, the job is almost done for Hebei. Their superior head-to-head record over Dalian Aerbin means a point against Shenzhen will be enough, even if their northeastern rivals win at home to Tianjin Songjiang.
Hohhot Zhongyou 0-1 Dalian Aerbin
A 42nd minute Mathias Ranegie goal was enough to give Dalian victory and keep the promotion race going until the very last day of the season. The win was tempered, though, by news that Hebei CFFC had beaten Guizhou Zhicheng.
Dalian are now unbeaten in twelve matches, but they still look likely to fall short of their target of an immediate return to the Super League thanks to Hebei’s two point cushion and superior head-to-head record. That effectively means Dalian need a three point swing on the final day of the season where they will need to beat Tianjin Songjiang and hope Hebei lose at home to Shenzhen FC.
That looks highly unlikely given Hebei’s late season form, and so we could be faced with a far less dramatic day than the one which brought the 2014 League One season to an end.
For Hohhot, the result was a disappointing way to say goodbye to their fans in 2015 as they extend their winless run to six. It’s been a limp end to the season for the Inner Mongolians, although Qingdao Jonoon’s defeat to Beijing Institute of Technology means a guaranteed sixth place finish which is still a fantastic achievement for the newly promoted side.
Shenzhen FC 2-2 Jiangxi Liansheng
There was heartbreak for Jiangxi Liansheng as an equaliser from Kim Young-hoo in the very last minute of stoppage time condemned them to relegation. With Hunan Billows being battered 4-0 by Yanbian Changbaishan, Jiangxi knew that a win here would give them a fighting chance of survival on the final day of the season.
And it looked like they had achieved that when two Adi Rocha strikes in the 27th and 30th minutes put them 2-1 up after Cai Jingyuan’s 21st minute opener. Adi Rocha could have completed his hat-trick and sealed the win in the 85th minute, but he was denied by Shenzhen keeper Niu Ben, allowing Kim to pop up late in stoppage time to send Jiangxi back down to League Two after just one season in the second tier.
In many ways, it was a fitting that Jiangxi should be relegated in such a fashion as it reflects a season in which they have been competitive but have too often come up just short of the result they need. The draw will be difficult to take for the healthy contingent of travelling fans who made the trip to Shenzhen, and is made worse by the fact the hosts were significantly weakened in the absence of Senegalese strikers Babacar Gueye and Andre Senghor.
Senghor was suspended for accumulating four yellow cards, but Gueye was missing for “personal reasons” which have been strongly implied to mean unpaid wages. In the post-match press conference, Shenzhen head coach Li Haiqiang, who is now unbeaten in five of his six games in charge, wouldn’t comment on Gueye’s absence or the general air of uncertainty surrounding the future of the club.
There are doubts in some quarters over whether Shenzhen will take the field in 2016, but at least their League One status is secure for now. That’s more than can be said for a Jiangxi side that have not been overwhelmed, but have just not proved quite good enough for life in League One.
Yanbian Changbaishan 4-0 Hunan Billows
After a goalless first half, this match turned into a second half title procession thanks to hat-trick from Ha Tae-goon. The South Korean striker netted in the 51st, 64th and 82nd minutes to hand Yanbian the League One title with one game to spare.
With promotion already secured last weekend, the pressure was off the hosts as a party atmosphere engulfed the stadium. Hunan, who are still fighting for their League One lives, looked like they may prove to be real spoilers by holding firm in the first 45 minutes, but Ha gave Yanbian the breakthrough six minutes after the interval.
Jailton Paraiba added a second in the 54th minute and Yanbian’s third was scored by Ha from the penalty spot. That goal was the former Suwon Bluewings forward’s 25th of the season and put him one ahead of Xinjiang’s Cristian Danalache at the top of the League One scoring charts. Given that Danalache won’t play again this season, it is all but guaranteed that Ha will win the Golden Boot and he put the icing on the cake when he completed his hat-trick eight minutes from time.
There was further good news for Yanbian after the game when South Korean manager Park Tae-ha announced he intends to remain with the club next season. There had been some doubt surrounding the future of the former South Korean national team assistant manager, but he will continue the remarkable job he has done in turning Yanbian from League One basement dwellers to champions in just one season.
The only dampener on proceedings was the CFA’s baffling decision not to arrange an official title presentation for after the game. One can only presume that the logistical difficulties involved in travelling to Yanji discouraged the arrangement of a ceremony given that Yanbian’s title win wasn’t guaranteed.
Hunan would love a problem like that, though, as this defeat means they must now match Beijing Institute of Technology’s result on the final day of the season to avoid dropping down to the third tier. Billows host fifth placed Harbin Yiteng while BIT travel to the now relegated Jiangxi Liansheng on what is no doubt going to be a very tense day for both sides.
Beijing Institute of Technology 3-1 Qingdao Jonoon
BIT gave themselves a fighting chance of survival with a controversial 3-1 win over Jonoon. A Hu Ming strike and a contentious Andres Marquez penalty gave BIT an early two goal lead, but Jonoon then had two efforts ruled out for offside before the sides exchanged late goals.
Hu found the net in the 7th minute after Jonoon goalkeeper Mou Pengfei sloppily spilled a long range Maureen Franco effort into his path. Hu reacted to take his season tally to seven, which makes him League One’s joint top Chinese goalscorer along with Hunan Billows’ Li Xiang.
Just three minutes later, BIT were awarded a penalty when Franco’s long throw dropped on to the arm of Jonoon defender Sha Yibo. It was harsh given that it looked like a case of ball-to-hand, but Marquez didn’t care as he stepped up to score his seventeenth goal and ninth penalty of the season. In fact, the Uruguayan has converted four more spot kicks than anyone else in the division this season, which is remarkable given that he missed six games in the summer through suspension.
Despite seeming largely disinterested in recent games, Jonoon fought back after the half-time break and had two goals ruled out for offside within the first twenty minutes of the second period. This caused fury among Jonoon’s players and staff, which was compounded when BIT goalkeeper Liu Tianxin pulled off an excellent 70th minute save to keep out a deflected Wang Wei header.
Wang Wei was able to find the net four minutes later, but the visitors were caught out in stoppage time as Marquez laid the ball off to Wang Chao to seal the victory at the end of a rapid counter attack. The victory brings BIT level on points with Hunan as we go into the final game of the season.
Their head-to-head record is inferior to Billows’, meaning they have to get a better result away to the now relegated Jiangxi Liansheng than Hunan do at home to Harbin Yiteng. It’s a simple equation that should make for an exciting and nervy climax to the year.
Qingdao Hainiu 0-2 Beijing BG
BG did everything they could to stay in the promotion race, but results elsewhere mean the big spending club face another season in the second tier. A 54th minute strike from Xu Dong was followed by a late Carmelo Valencia strike, which ultimately meant nothing as Hebei CFFC defeated Guizhou Zhicheng to officially knock BG out of contention.
The win gives BG some measure of revenge for the surprising 3-2 home defeat they suffered at the hands of Hainiu back in June, but that will be little comfort for the club at the end of a week that has also seen them knocked out of the CFA Cup at the semi-final stage. For Hainiu, it’s a disappointing result in their final home game of the season, but one that really means little for a side that’s had nothing to play for in over a month.
Tianjin Songjiang 1-1 Xinjiang
Not a lot to play for here as a pair of Brazilians got on the score sheet to give both sides a share of the points. Songjiang’s Mario Lucio opened the scoring in the 14th minute, but Xinjiang’s veteran Brazilian centre back Vicente levelled things up on the half hour mark.
On pitch matters were inconsequential, though, as this game was dominated by two off field stories. It was Songjiang manager Goran Tomic’s last home game in charge and Xinjiang were without top scorer Cristian Danalache who is suspended by the club following his late withdrawal from last weekend’s game against Hebei CFFC.
Tomic took over Songjiang nine games into the season, and has steered them to safety following a disastrous start. Only the top five teams in the league have picked up more points than Songjiang during the Croatian’s tenure at the helm, but big spending new owners Quanjian Natural Medicine sought a suitably well known manager which they have found in the shape of Vanderali Luxemburgo.
But, while Tomic can leave Songjiang with his head held high, Danalache exits Xinjiang under a cloud. The Romanian striker, who has just been overtaken by Yanbian’s Ha Tae-goon as League One top scorer, had been undergoing something of a career renaissance at Xinjiang, but the club alleges that he faked an injury in order to avoid playing Hebei in a story we probably haven’t heard the last of.
Harbin Yiteng 1-0 Wuhan Zall
A beautiful 25th minute strike from Ji Xiaoxun was the difference between the sides in a game where there was nothing at stake. The 22-year-old’s first goal of the season was a delicately curled effort from the edge of the area which gave Harbin a win in the their final home game of the season.
There were no protests among Harbin fans this week, but the attendance was notably lower than the 20,000 which had regularly turned out to support the side until their controversial 2-2 draw with Dalian Aerbin last month. The boys from the Ice City are now guaranteed a fifth place finish, while Wuhan have to win at home to Qingdao Hainiu next week to have any hope of placing in the top half.
Author: Jamie McIlroy
Based in China for five years, Jamie has been exploring tiny little third tier Hubei cities without football teams or decent internet connections, but is now a regular at China League One side Wuhan Zall.
A keen football afficionado, he regularly takes in the Chinese Super League, enjoying matches in Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Nanjing.
Jamie is also a keen observer of the fortunes of the Chinese National side.