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Xihu Insider: Chen Po-Liang to the rescue against Hohhot but can Hangzhou Greentown make it two from two against Xinjiang?

After Hong Myung-Bo’ substitutes turn the tide against opening weekend opponents Hohhot Zhongyou, this week Xihu Insider looks at what Matthew Spiranovic’s untimely injury means for Greentown and previews the arrival of round two’s opponents Xinjiang Tianshan Snow Leopards.

Greentown secure an unconvincing three points

The 61st minute introduction of Chen Po-Liang spurred Hangzhou Greentown into coming back from a goal down to secure a 3-2 victory over Hohhot Zhongyou in a feisty, rain-soaked round one of China League One 2017.

Dori fires Hohhot ahead

After setting up in an overly defensive 5-4-1, a Greentown side containing six U23’s (including five U20’s), struggled to fashion any real chances during a dull first half and had Zou Dehai to thank for producing a crucial one-on-one save from Nizamdin following Tong Lei’s glaring mistake at the back.

The game sparked into life in the 63rd minute when Hohhot’s Mou Shantou found frontman Dori who volleyed home to cue wild celebrations amongst the away side. The lead did not last long however, as Gabionetta’s hard work down the left allowed Liu Yi to send in a deft cross which was glanced home by substitute Chen in the 70th minute. Galvanised by the Taiwanese captain’s equaliser, Mao Kaiyuan’s handball allowed Anselmo Ramon to score from the spot before super sub Chen crossed for Cheng Jin to slot home on his Greentown league debut. A late moment of madness amongst the Greentown defence resulted in an injury time second for Hohhot but by then, Greentown had done enough to secure the win.

Were three points deserved? Barely. While a draw would have been a result more reflective of the balance of the game, neither side offered much before Dori jump started the game into life. For Greentown, Wu Wei (not to be confused with his recently retired namesake) did a decent job of dictating the play on his debut but Hangzhou’s defensive set up left Gabionetta as the only effective attacking outlet before Chen arrived to save the day.

While Greentown still need to greatly improve and eliminate basic defensive errors to have any hope of competing with the better CL1 sides, credit is due to the young side who sealed three points in the face of an extremely cynical Hohhot side.

Late pre-season injury leaves Spiranovic sidelined indefinitely

Greentown were dealt a serious setback last week as centre back and captain, Matthew Spiranovic suffered a serious injury late in pre-season. Revealed by manager Hong Myung-Bo in his press conference ahead of the game with Hohhot and confirmed by the Australian national head coach Ange Postecoglou, the news was a major blow to Greentown’s hopes for this season.

Spiranovic (centre) lines up for Australia

Having marshalled Greentown’s defence to one of CSL’s better defensive records last year, Spiranovic was widely expected to leave Zhejiang following his side’s relegation, with his national coach indicating a stay in China League One could be detrimental to his national team prospects. Nevertheless, after a winter in which he surely would have not been short of suitors, Greentown held onto their man. However with a World Cup approaching and this a season where failure to secure promotion would surely seal the defender’s departure, should Spiranovic’s absence prove lengthy, there is a chance that Hangzhou fans might just have seen the last of their captain in a Greentown shirt.

In his absence it was 23 year old Sun Zheng’ao who deputised both as Chen Xiao’s centre back partner and surprisingly, captain on the night. Making only his seventh career appearance, Sun put in a solid performance and went largely unnoticed which for a centre back, is no bad thing. While Sun looks solid enough to step up, Sprianovic’s absence will likely cost Greentown points across the season and in a side that has historically struggled to score goals, how Sun fills the Australian’s shoes will go a long way to determining Greentown’s 2017 fortunes.

Xinjiang Tianshan Snow Leopards come to Huanglong looking for their first points of 2017

Still personally unable to decide whether being called Snow Leopards is insanely cool or somewhat corny, early season nomads Xinjiang arrive in Hangzhou following a 1-0 defeat to Shaoxing’s Zhejiang Yiteng.

Captained by centre back Cai Xi, the winter saw Xinjiang bolster their attacking options through the signings of Yves Hermann Ekwalla after 28 goals in two seasons at Guizhou and Babacar Gueye following his release from Shenzhen. Ekwalla’s woeful penalty attempt last week against Yiteng aside, Xinjiang have the potential to create a lot of problems for Greentown’s defence and Chen Xiao will need to be on the top of his game to ensure the youngsters around him keep their heads.

The home fans will be hoping for more of the Greentown of last week’s second half rather than the first. This should start with the inclusion of Chen Po-Liang who having scored for the reserves to add to his cameo against Hohhot, must take the field from the start. Despite being personally critical of him over the past year or so, when on form, the midfielder has the ability to make a huge difference at this level and is likely to be a straight swap for youngster Gao Huaze.

Greentown should be looking to take the initiative against a side who have lost their last eight games across 2016 and 2017 and although it’s hard to see them keeping a clean sheet, Greentown’s attacking strength should see them run out at least 2-1 winners.

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