Another wild and unpredictable League One season is drawing to an end and the penultimate round of fixtures provided plenty of drama. A stoppage time winner in Guiyang means a three-way tie at the top of the table going into the final week of the season and old Super League stalwarts Qingdao Jonoon were relegated in Beijing for the second time in four seasons.
Guizhou Zhicheng 2-1 Tianjin Quanjian
In a tense game, Hong Kong international Festus Baise was Zhicheng’s hero as he overcame his diminutive stature to leap above the Quanjian defence and squeeze a stoppage time header just inside the post to send the crowd at the Guizhou New Provincial Stadium into delirium. With the score poised at 1-1, Baise’s heroics could prove absolutely vital to Zhicheng’s promotion as it kept them ahead of third placed Qingdao Huanghai going into the final game of the season. The 36-year-old’s efforts also denied Quanjian the luxury of earning promotion with a week to spare as they failed to achieve the draw needed to guarantee Super League football in 2017.
Things seemed to be going according to plan for Fabio Cannavaro’s expensively assembled team when they emerged from a tight first half with a 1-0 lead thanks to a 38th minute goal from League One top scorer Luis Fabiano. The veteran former Brazil international showed great strength to hold off the challenges of Lin Longchang and Wang Fan to fire in his 21st strike of the season.
But, just as they have done all season, Li Bing’s men refused to give up and dominated a tensely contested second half. With 15 minutes remaining, the pressure proved too much for Quanjian’s under-22 international centre back Liu Yiming as he got caught under Iban Cuadrado’s long ball, allowing Pang Zhiquan to fire home at close range.
The intense nature of the match was laid bare a couple of minutes later when Zhicheng’s Fan Yunlong and Quanjian’s Zhang Xiuwei were both given their marching orders for kicking out at each other after a tussle of legs and it was Zhicheng who coped better with being a man down as they continued to pile on the pressure. As the four minute period of stoppage time began to run down, Zhang Mengqi floated a fine cross into the crowded penalty area and saw Baise leap up to meet the ball in an unforgettable moment.
Substitutes, coaches and journalists flooded the pitch in celebration as flares were lit in the passionate crowd. Things got even more out of control at the final whistle when supporters stormed the pitch to celebrate with their heroes. From watching the conclusion of the match you’d be forgiven for thinking that Guizhou had already guaranteed their very unlikely promotion, but the job is not done yet as they have to win in Xinjiang next week to ensure their ascension into the top tier of Chinese football.
However, the celebrations were more than justified as Guizhou showed remarkable fight to overcome their opponents and put themselves in the driving seat when the season reaches its climax next weekend. The side that finished thirteenth last season just need to match Qingdao Huanghai’s result on the last day to guarantee promotion, while Quanjian will also earn a trip to the CSL for doing the same things.
Qingdao Huanghai 4-1 Beijing Renhe
While Guizhou and Quanjian fought it out in Guiyang, Huanghai were strolling to victory in Qingdao thanks to a very accomodating Beijing Renhe side whose own promotion hopes had gone up in smoke after a defeat in their former home province of Guizhou two rounds previously. With Huanghai needing at least a draw to stay in the promotion hunt, Renhe manager Wang Baoshan did the integrity of the competition no favours by fielding a reserve side and the host duly punished them with a first half demolition job.
Huanghai were 3-0 up by the interval after Spanish centre back Marti Crespi converted a penalty given for handball against Rao Weihui and Dorde Rakic struck twice to take his season tally up to twelve. Yuri Fonseca extended the lead even further late in the second half and Shen Tianfeng’s consolation provided little solace for Renhe’s overmatched reserves.
Until the late drama in Guizhou, this result meant that Huanghai stood two points ahead of Zhicheng coming into the final game of the season, but now they are part of a three way tie for top spot along with Guizhou and Quanjian who also have 56 points. With head-to-head records being the first way of dividing teams with equal points, Quanjian currently sit atop the three way pile by virtue of the 3-0 and 5-1 pastings they handed out to Huanghai earlier in the year.
To complicate matters, though, Guizhou’s head-to-head reacord with each of their individual rivals is even, meaning that in the event of two-way tie between them and Huanghai or Quanjian, placings will be decided by performance in the reserve league, of all things. The good news for the Guiyang faithful is that their side currently sit second in the reserve table meaning they have the advantage should they be involved in a two way tie with either Huanghai or Quanjian.
Beijing BG 1-1 Qingdao Jonoon
At the other end of the table, there was still one relegation spot to be settled coming into this weekend and Jonoon had to win in Beijing in order to avoid filling it. Having underachieved for the second season in a row to fall well short of promotion, BG came into this game with nothing to play for and Jonoon would have hoped they were running into an unmotivated side. In the event, though, BG looked up for gaining a victory in their final home game of the season and took a 17th minute lead thanks to a header from Leke James.
It took Jonoon less than three minutes to respond as Shikoze Udoji produced a fine solo effort to level the scores but, sadly for the travelling support, there was no follow-up and the visitors spent much of the game’s remainder in their own half as BG dominated proceedings. The hosts had several chances, the best of which saw Cui Zhongkai rattle a shot off the crossbar in the second half, but they failed to convert any of them.
With manager Yin Tiesheng making a series of baffling defensive-minded substitutions in the second half, it became clear that no salavation was coming and Jonoon were denied the chance to save themselves on the final day of the season where a win at home to Dalian Transcendence would have kept them up at their opponents’ expense.
As it is, Jonoon drop to the third tier of Chinese football just three years after falling from the first. Provided they don’t fold over the winter, Jonoon will become the first team in the professional era to fall from the top division to the third and this well be seen by many as just desserts for an organization that has been mired in controversy over the last few years.
Dalian Transcendence 0-0 Shenzhen FC
The result at the Beijing Olympic Stadium was no doubt greeted with relief in Dalian where Jailton Paraiba missed a first half penalty for Transcendence who wasted lots of chances on their way to 0-0 draw. With Clarence Seedorf’s Shenzhen side running on auto-pilot since it became clear they were going to miss out on promotion at the end of August, Transcendence were favourites coming into a game they could have regretted dropping two points in.
Had Jonoon won in Beijing, Transcendence would have had to face them in Qingdao next week knowing that defeat would condemn them to an immediate return to League Two. Instead, they can travel down the east coast in a relaxed mood under the control of caretaker manager Rusmir Cviko whose future remains in doubt. Shenzhen, meanwhile have picked up just ten points from their last twelve games and will be hoping to end a run of just one win in nine when they host Hohhot Zhongyou at home next week.
Hohhot Zhongyou 4-1 Xinjiang
Hohhot will be travelling to Shenzhen with nothing to play for having secured survival this week. But, unlike Transcendence, they didn’t have to rely on Jonoon to slip up as their emphatic win over Xinjiang meant they would have stayed up anywhere. Andre Senghor and Dori both scored braces as Hohhot romped into a 4-0 lead against a significantly weakened opponent.
Indeed, Xinjiang manager Li Jun fielded a reserve side featuring six Uighurs in the starting line-up as the club looks towards next season. They were no match for a motivated Hohhot who tore them apart early on and were 3-0 up by half-time. Dreadful defending by Song Xie and a mistake from the inexperienced Exmetjan Shohret contributed to Hohhot’s tally and Senghor added a fourth with a 74th minute header.
There was one positive for Xinjinag, though, as Xu Qing put in an excellent display at striker after replacing the injured Nan Xiaoheng in the first half. Nan was knocked out cold when he received an accidental knee to the face from Hohhot goalkeeper Han Fengtang but Xu came on to put on an excellent performance.
The 29-year-old has spent most of this season playing at right-back but showed all the abilities to link up play, hold up the ball, make smart runs and have composure in front of goal that Chinese forwards at all levels are supposed to lack. His late strike, where he rounded Han after making a perfectly timed run onto a Shohret pass, may only have been a consolation, but it capped a performance that was the only bright spot in an otherwise miserable afternoon for Xinjiang.
Zhejiang Yiteng 1-2 Wuhan Zall
Wuhan still needed a point to guarantee survival when they kicked off against Zhejiang in Shaoxing and they did even better by securing a fourth consecutive win. Rodrigo Paulista had given the hosts the lead just before the 20 minute mark when he reacted quickest to a looping ball in the Wuhan penalty area, but veterans Yao Hanlin and Luo Yi struck either side of half time to give Ciro Ferrara his seventh win since taking charge of the club in July.
The Italian had a rocky start to his tenure and underwent a run of four straight defeats, but he’s turned it around to take the team into the top half and put them in with a chance of top six finish going into the final game of the season at home to hapless local rivals Hunan. The loss leaves Zhejiang, whose defence was significantly weakened by suspensions, down in twelfth after a run of one win in seven.
Meizhou Hakka 4-2 Dalian Yifang
Meizhou were yet another team who were in slight danger of relegation coming into this round of fixtures, but those fears evaporated thanks to a 4-2 win over a Dalian Yifang side that will be looking to see the back of an awful season. Meizhou’s Ouyang Xue scored the first and last goals of the contest and fans at the Wuhua County Stadium were also treated to an equaliser from Nyasha Mushekwi, followed by two goals from Japa and a consolation effort from Mohamed Bangura.
The result puts Meizhou in the top ten, but makes little difference for Dalian who remain in fifth after a second straight season of missing out on promotion.
Hunan Billows 0-0 Shanghai Shenxin
Shenxin got the point they needed to survive when they travelled to Yiyang to face Hunan, but the failure of the league’s second best attack to find the net against the league’s worst defence came as a bit of a surprise. Hunan were relegated weeks ago and had struggled to a measly eleven points in 28 games – conceding 59 goals in the process – but managed to hold Shenxin despite playing over 40 minutes with ten men after Liu Yusheng’s sending off for a second booking.