If this Asian Champions League encounter against Jeju United was supposed to offer a morale boost to this stumbling Jiangsu Suning side, it fell well short of the mark with the home side once again ceding the lead and losing 1-2 in all too familiar fashion.
Granted, the Nanjing-based side had already qualified top of Group H and Choi Yong-soo named a starting lineup aimed at carefully balancing the rotation opportunities granted by the mathematical irrelevancy of the fixture with the importance of winning for the sake of his job security.
Asian Champions League
Jiangsu Suning 1
Jeju United 2
Magno Cruz 34
Chang-Min Lee 48
In Xie Pengfei, Li Ang, Zhang Xiaobin, and Gao Tianyi, Choi fielded four players under the age of 24 without removing the experience of Ramires, Alex Teixeira, and Ji Xiang. Nonetheless, the strong emphasis on counterattacking football seemed counter-intuitive given that the performance was always going to be judged more important than the result itself. It was only once the away side found its second goal and dropped dangerously deep that Jiangsu began to generate something akin to rhythm and string more than a couple of passes together.
However, Choi’s side cannot be faulted for its commitment and if Jeju were hoping for an easy ride, Jiangsu’s midfield ensured the match remained competitive with Ramires marshaling his young teammates in keeping defensive shape as the South Korean side hogged the ball for the best part of 60 minutes.
Contrary to Jeju’s dramatic and unpredictable ACL performances, the South Korean outfit sits second in the K-League Classic with a solitary loss from the opening seven games- it showed as the side passed the ball artfully and showed pace down both flanks. Much to the away side’s frustration moves frequently ended in speculative long range shots from Lee Chang-min or Fahn Hyun-Beom, a detail that would not prove fatal until after the interval.
The home side grew into the contest and first threatened when Yang Xiaotian bombed down the left and won a foul a meter from the byline. A smart free kick saw the ball rolled to the edge of the area but Zhang Xiaobin was unable to score from the resulting cross.
However, Jiangsu took the lead from their next foray forward as Ramires darted between flatfooted Jeju defenders to nod home a Teixeira corner. For a player not renowned for his aerial prowess it was certainly a well taken goal.
The lead lasted less than five minutes and Choi will certainly be disappointed by the way his side invited the away team to attack. Gone was the snap of Ramires’ midfield with Jeju allowed to pass from side to side and when the ball was slickly thread through to Magno Da Cruz he applied a delicate chip past the onrushing Gu Chao to level the game.
The goal was warranted for the positivity the South Korean side brought to the game, though Teixeira will know he should have scored before the interval when his ponderous decision making allowed rapidly retreating defenders enough time to block a clear cut opportunity.
The second Jeju goal seemed almost inevitable and, just as long range shots proved Jiangsu’s undoing in the most recent CSL fixture against Guangzhou R&F, Lee Chang collected a slick Magno lay off amid a flurry of sky-blue shirts and curled a swirling shot into the top left corner.
The shot was the away side’s last morsel of attacking intent in the game and as if Choi’s intention to win the somewhat meaningless game wasn’t clear from his pre match press conference, the introduction of Tao Yuan and Wu Xi with 20 minutes remaining emphasized the point. Certainly, Jiangsu played with all the telltale urgent signs a team desperately chasing a goal.
Choi turned to Ge Wei since Roger Martinez was once again missing from the starting lineup. Having seemingly lost both favor and interest in Nanjing, he will likely be throwing his hefty Colombian frame around pastures new come the summer.
Jiangsu threw bodies forward but unlike the first fixture between the two sides when Ramires altered the balance with a late goal, there were to be no heroics here and Ji spurned Jiangsu’s best chance in the 75th minute when he turned smartly in the area only to fire past the post.
Though the result bares no meaning for Jiangsu’s progress in the competition it is certainly an additional setback for a squad that continues to fall well short of its potential.