Jiangsu Suning turned in a typical early season performance, decisively unplayable one moment, careless and edgy the next, but ultimately prevailed 2-1 against an Adelaide United side that is yet to find its footing in this year’s AFC competition.
The win built on last week’s win away to Jeju United and sends the Nanjing-based team top of Group H, but Choi Yong-soo will undoubtedly demand his side improves its in-game management and concentration because, despite largely restricting the Australian outfit’s chances, defensive lapses in the final 10 minutes nearly cost Jiangsu the win.
AFC Champions League Group H
Jiangsu Suning 2
Alex Teixeira 14, 72
Adelaide United 1
Eli Babalj 93
In fact, were it not for Hong Jeong-ho’s last ditch tackle in the final seconds of injury time, Adelaide would have boarded their long flight home with a plucky and somewhat undeserved point.
Jiangsu opened the scoring in the 14th minute with a goal that combined flair and fluke; Ramires received the ball 25 yards out, spun and squirmed away from a couple of challenges before firing off a tame, centrally placed shot. Alex Teixeira, playing in a central striking role, acrobatically avoided his compatriot’s effort and, in so doing, caused Adelaide’s goalkeeper to hiccup the ball. The Brazilian was not about to oblige one gaff with another and tucked the ball home simply.
Despite Jiangsu’s furious opening tempo, the first ten minutes had been a fairly even affair with both teams looking to exert influence in their own ways; Jiangsu through measured midfield passing between Ramires, Xie Pengfei, and Alex Teixeria, who regularly dropped deep, and Adelaide through quick breaks along the flanks.
The goal was a shot of confidence to the home side, and their pressing, which had been high and hard since the opening whistle, became increasingly relentless and Ramires nearly gifted Teixeira a second of the evening only minutes later. The former Chelsea player robbed the ball from a dawdling Kim Jae-sung, in manner so predictable it was almost telepathic, and put Teixeira clear on goal, whose gracefully arced shot missed the post by a yard.
The pace of the game lulled with Jiangsu unable to maintain their intensity and Adelaide playing with a level of professional cynicism and conservatism that explains their current travails near the bottom of the A-League. It was only in the final ten minutes of the first half that Guillermo Amor’s side began to stabilize with Nikola Mileusnic’s pace on the right-wing a sign of danger further down the line.
The second half saw Yang Xiaotian return to the field with his head thickly bandaged, which, though a testament to the bruising first 45 minutes of action, made his increasingly erratic defending on the left-hand side all the more noticeable.
Adelaide took a while to warm up to the second period and might have been utterly out of the contest by the 55th minute. In a period bursting with energy, Jiangsu’s likely lads, Teixeira and Ramires, interchanged on several occasions, which resulted in two shots and an Adelaide intervention that forced a corner.
To reassert Adelaide’s first half rampages on the right hand side, Amor brought on the fresh legs of Ben Garuccio at right back to complement Mileusnic and the tactic nearly worked as Adelaide finally established something of a rhythm and a consistent game plan.
Mileusnic was predictably the chief provider and yet when, in the 66th minute, the ball fell to the 23-year-old in the area, he was unable to become the finisher. His substitution minutes later must have been a relief to head-strapped Yang who had struggled to contain the winger throughout.
But Jiangsu’s back five breathed a collective sigh of relief in the 70th minute when Tarek Elrich’s calm finish was ruled out offside.
The near miss seemed to compel Teixeira, who had been a slight injury doubt before the game, to take matters onto his own twinkle toed feet. Taking a long ball into his stride, the former Shakhtar man broke with purpose down the left, dazzled a flat-footed Dylan McGowan, and calmly slotted a finish between the goalkeeper’s legs.
Choi’s introduction of youthful summer acquisition Gao Tianyi and stalwart midfielder Wu Xi seemed to emphasize Teixeira’s emphatic killing of the game, but Jiangsu’s attacking intent continued and thus left openings for Adelaide to exploit.
The visitors’ goal came when, in the 92nd minute, Yang directed his ire at losing both tackle and linesman’s call by kicking the corner flag. He received a yellow card for his flamboyant petulance and, from the resulting throw, Tarek Elrich used the ludicrous time and space afforded him to deliver a sumptuous cross onto the head of Eli Babalj.
Jiangsu hung on for the win, but in retrospect there certainly seems more truth to Choi’s prematch statement that “there are no weak teams in the Asian Champions League. I told my players not to be arrogant or anxious,” than might have been initially believed.
While arrogance might be an overstatement, if the team from Nanjing continues to see out games with the level of apathy known to elderly park strollers, they are unlikely to escape with all three points in the future.