The 2015 League One season came to an end this Sunday with things to decide at both ends of the table. Hebei CFFC’s win against Shenzhen FC saw them promoted and meant that Dalian Aerbin’s triumph over Tianjin Songjiang was in vain. At the bottom, two stoppage time goals saw Hunan Billows relegated and then saved in a dramatic ending that means Beijing Institute of Technology drop out of the division. Not much at stake elsewhere, but there was a shock as champions Yanbian Changbaishan were beaten in Qingdao and a Brazilian scored a hat-trick in Xinjiang.
Hebei CFFC 2-0 Shenzhen FC
Hebei put a week of serious accusations behind them to defeat Shenzhen and win promotion to the Super League. With the hosts just needing a draw to earn their spot in the top flight, a 42nd minute penalty from Edu and a stoppage time strike by substitute Zhang Lifeng meant that their ascension was guaranteed in style.
With promotion rivals Dalian Aerbin producing a report accusing Hebei of illegally influencing opponents in recent matches, there was a lot of pre-game speculation about Shenzhen’s starting line-up. One of the main charges levelled against Hebei has been that their opponents have been fielding weakened teams and there was concern that Shenzhen may do the same thing.
In the event, the visitor’s only significant absence was Babacar Gueye who has been involved in a wage dispute with the club, but his Senegalese compatriot and strike partner Andre Senghor took the field against a Hebei side who almost had a dream start. Norwegian striker Ibba Laajab had the ball in the Shenzhen net inside the first minute, but his strike was ruled out for a handball.
In the 14th minute, Nenad Milijas struck the post as he followed up an Edu free kick that had been saved by Niu Ben, and Edu should have done better with a close range header midway through the half that he placed too close to the goalkeeper. The Brazilian was given a chance to redeem himself a few minutes before the break, though, when Hebei were awarded a penalty.
The spot kick was given when an 18-yard Milijas shot struck Kim Young-hoo’s hand as the Korean attempted a lunging block. Edu made no mistake from the spot and the win was punctuated when Zhang Lifeng struck at the end of an uneventful second half.
Of course, there is controversy surrounding Hebei’s promotion but, until anything is proven, they should be congratulated on an excellent achievement. There is no doubt that the club has benefited from significant investment this year, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that the team finished fourteenth in last season’s League One while still known as Hebei Zhongji.
Nor should it be forgotten what an effect Li Tie has had on the club’s fortunes since taking over from Radomir Antic in August with eight games to go. Hebei were fifth then, but Li has guided them to second by picking up 22 points from a possible 24 without conceding a single goal along the way.
At least some part of that run coincides with Hebei’s supposed wrongdoing, but the former Guangzhou Evergrande assistant must be credited with leading a fantastic turnaround. There may still be more to this story but, for now, all we know is that Hebei are a club heading to the Super League in top form and with the financial backing to compete in the top flight.
Hunan Billows 2-1 Harbin Yiteng
There were wild scenes in Yiyang where a stoppage time header from Li Xiang saved Hunan from the drop less than two minutes after Harbin’s Li Xin looked to have condemned them with a late equaliser. With Beijing Institute of Technology winning in Jiangxi, Billows knew that in order to beat the drop they needed to defend the slender 1-0 lead given to them by a 13th minute Carlos Cabezas.
However, things looked to have taken a disastrous turn for the worse when Li Xin steered in a Bu Xin cross in the 92nd minute. Amazingly, though, Billows were able to save their League One status when late substitute Li Xiang headed in a cross from another replacement, Liu Xinyu.
Li’s goal sparked delirium among Billows’ fans, players and staff who have endured a miserable season despite investing heavily in the winter. The late winner also meant that Li had confirmed himself as the division’s top Chinese goal scorer with eight goals, while relegating the BIT side he played for last year.
Harbin’s fifth place finish was guaranteed before the game, but their late equaliser made it clear they hadn’t rolled over for their struggling opponents. Hunan pulled one out of the fire to give themselves a seventh season in the second tier next year and they will be hoping that it will be a lot more successful than this one.
Jiangxi Liansheng 1-2 Beijing Institute of Technology
There was heartbreak in Jiujiang where BIT were consigned to be relegated with their opponents despite winning. Two goals from Andres Marquez proved enough to overcome Jiangxi, but it mattered little thanks to Li Xiang’s late heroics in Hunan.
Marquez struck in the 25 minute and then converted a 63rd minute penalty after he had been fouled by goalkeeper Tang Jun. Those goals brought the Uruguayan’s tally up to an impressive nineteen for the season, although that figure now includes a pretty incredible ten penalties in 24 games.
Jiangxi’s Adi Rocha grabbed a penalty of his own following a handball 15 minutes from the end, but the division’s bottom club were denied a happy conclusion to their season as BIT held on. However, despite the win, BIT will look back to their defeat in Hunan two weeks ago as the result that doomed them.
That win gave Billows the all important head-to-head advantage which means BIT go down despite the two clubs finishing level on points. This weekend’s results mean that the Student Army’s improbable nine year stint in the second tier has come to an end and they will no doubt look back to their players’ participation in the World University Games as a turning point in their season.
The majority of the squad were called up to represent China in the July competition when the team were eleventh in the league. After returning from the competition, they picked up just one win in their next eleven games to put them in a very difficult position.
The capital city side did win three of their last four games to at least secure a fifteenth place finish which could still prove significant. In two of the last three seasons a “relegated” League One team has been given a reprieve because another club has gone out of business, and BIT will be first in line for a return should any of the 30 teams above them in the Chinese football pyramid default over the winter.
Dalian Aerbin 2-0 Tianjin Songjiang
Aerbin secured an ultimately futile 2-0 victory as Hebei CFFC’s win over Shenzhen meant the northeastern side missed out on an instant return to the Super League. Second half strikes from Niklas Backman and Bruno Meneghel gave Dalian their tenth win of an undefeated thirteen game run, but the club will now be relying on their off field efforts to try and top Hebei.
Earlier this week, Dalian accused Hebei of illegally influencing the outcome of matches and, should the evidence they supposedly have prove compelling enough, the Chinese Football Association could still take action which denies the Qinhuangdao side promotion. As it stands, though, Aerbin face a second year in League One that can be traced back to a four game losing streak in mid-season.
The club has been in excellent form since then with Meneghel, who scored his nineteenth of the season in the 90th minute of this game, being pivotal to that. Centre back Backman has also played a key role in the division’s stingiest defence and it’s fitting that he grabbed a second half in what may have been his final game for the club. The former Swedish international, who has captained Dalian for much of this season, is reportedly moving back to his old club AIK in the winter and, if that’s the case, he at least got to say goodbye with a goal.
With manager Mikael Stahre’s contract expiring, there is uncertainty surrounding Aerbin’s future and there could be major changes in the off season given that big investors Yifang wll be free to splash their cash in the transfer window. There is no doubt that is what Songjiang will be doing and the club is sure to attract plenty of media attention over the winter as owners Quanjian seek to throw their money around.
Qingdao Jonoon 1-0 Yanbian Changbaishan
There was a disappointing end to Yanbian’s fairy tale season as a second string side fell to just their third defeat of the season. League One top scorer Ha Tae-goon and midfielder Pei Yunwen were the only regular starters in manager Park Tae-ha’s line-up, and the team was punished by Deivdy Reiss’s 14th minute winner.
Jailton Paraiba and Steve were introduced in the second half, but they were unable turn the game around as Yanbian were denied a record breaking points total for a League One season. The result is made all the more surprising by the fact that Jonoon came into the game having won just once in their previous twelve games.
The win gave the Shandong club a seventh place finish and provides a positive end to what has been an otherwise disappointing season. The opposite is true of Yanbian, but few are likely to care as the focus of the club is now very much on next season’s Super League campaign – their first in the top flight for 15 years.
Beijing BG 3-0 Hohhot Zhongyou
BG eased to victory over a weakened Hohhot side in a meaningless game. A 21st minute Danko Lazovic penalty had given BG the lead and the game was effectively over 5 minutes later when Hohhot, missing suspended captain Jonas Salley, had midfielder Yin Lu sent off.
Carmelo Valencia doubled the lead in the 40th minute and young Taiwanese midfielder Wen Chih-hao completed the rout five minutes after half time. The result has no effect on either side’s final league position, although it does mean that BG were able to beat last season’s club record points tally.
After the game, BG manager Aleksander Stanojevic spoke about looking to achieve promotion next season in a way that suggests he expects to still be in charge. Hohhot’s ending to the season has been terrible – seven winless games and five without a goal – but they can still be happy with a sixth place finish in their first year in the second tier.
Xinjiang 4-2 Guizhou Zhicheng
Rafael steeped up in the absence of top goal scorer Cristian Danalache to score a game winning hat-trick for Xinjiang. The Brazilian struck in the 3rd, 19th and 41st minutes and Tong Xiaoxing added a fourth in the 51st.
The summer signing’s treble means he has doubled his season goal total and also gives Xinjiang a top half League One finish for the first time in their history. Zhicheng struck back in the 23rd and 88th minutes but, with the business of survival already taken care of, the Guiyang club have been on cruise control in their end of season run-in.
Xinjiang’s best ever season has been tainted by the controversy surrounding Danalache’s late withdrawal from the game against Hebei CFFC two weeks ago. With Dalian Aerbin trying to trigger an official investigation into the matter, it remains to be seen whether this will have any long term effect on the Urumqi based club.
Wuhan Zall 0-0 Qingdao Hainiu
There was little surprise as two clubs floundering in mid-table with nothing to play for produced a dismal goalless spectacle. Apart from some comically poor defending from Wuhan centre back Ai Zhibo and a composed performance from 20-year-old midfielder Long Wei, little of note happened at the Xinhua Road Stadium.
This game was between two of the division’s three lowest scoring teams and both sides will need to improve their attacks if they are to make progress next year.