The narrative of a Jiangsu Suning CSL match in 2017 goes something like this; a sluggish and often punished opening half hour is followed by dominance for 15 minutes either side of the interval before the team falls short on account of (choose appropriate option); tired legs/a moment of opposition brilliance/woeful finishing/ refereeing incompetence.
On a scorching afternoon at the Haihe Education Park Stadium Tianjin Quanjian F.C made it three consecutive draws while Jiangsu failed to take full advantage of a surprisingly obliging Fabio Cannavaro defense. Though, truthfully, referee Wang Di deserves fair credit for his ‘hand’ in denying the away side its first league win of the season.
CHINESE SUPER LEAGUE
Tianjin Quanjian 2
Alexander Pato 12, (pen) 66
Jiangsu Suning 2
Alex Teixeira 39
Having arrested an early game slump, Choi Yong-soo’s side rallied and was ascendant when Ramires opportunistically gave Jiangsu the lead in the 62nd minute. But the advantage didn’t last five minutes as Wang pointed to the spot adjudging Hong Jeong-Ho to have blocked a fierce Júnior Moraes shot by way of his arm.
Among the throng of incensed light blue shirts that circled the referee was the South Korean who, in tragicomic desperation, lifted up his shirt to show the mark of truth on his ribcage. As one TV pundit assessed in the aftermath of Alexandre Pato’s smashing penalty kick, one can only laugh at Jiangsu’s misfortune given that the referee was perfectly placed to make the right call.
Here Pato offered his most accomplished display in a Tianjin shirt to date, a performance full of attributes once synonymous with the Brazilian; mercurial movement, deft flicks, and clinical finishing.
In an open, free-flowing first half, the former AC Milan forward gave the home side the lead in the 12th minute with a smartly placed free kick bent into the bottom of Zhang’s net.
Having rested several starters in the midweek Asian Champions League defeat to Jeju United, Choi offered tactical flexibility, or indecision depending on perspective, in a new look 4-5-1 formation. Captain Wu Xi returned to the side, youngster Chen Ji was given a debut on the left wing, and Liu Jianyi looked to play the robust enforcer at the base of Jiangsu’s midfield, a role in which he is yet to convince.
Following Pato’s opener both teams traded punches with the Brazilian frequently looking dangerous as he zipped in from the left and Jiangsu seeking to eek out opportunities from frequent set pieces. Ji Xiang rattled the nerves of the home fans with a near-range overhead kick that rippled the side netting.
Jiangsu grabbed the equalizer from a smooth and patient move against the backdrop of Tianjin playing for the halftime whistle. Zhou Yun worked his way out of a cul-de-sac on the right and set off a chain of passes that finished with Xie Pengfei squeezing the ball to Alex Teixeira who scored with a wonderful shot from the edge of the area.
Hong’s return to the side following a two-game spell on the injury table proved a defensive boost for Choi, but it was in the opposition area that the South Korean made his first indelible mark on the game. Buoyed by the positivity found at the end of the first half, Jiangsu sought a second goal and was rewarded when Hong flicked on a long range free kick and Ramires poked the ball home.
Choi had talked down physical fatigue in the buildup in place of the mental side of the game, but having played close to two games a week since early January it was understandable that Ramires and Wu Xi’s usual vim was missing in the final 10 minutes.
Though Choi’s side couldn’t be faulted for the manner in which it had conceded the second goal, it certainly looked unlikely to snatch a third and when Xie squandered a golden chance following a cantering counterattack in the 82nd minute it merely added to the sense of the inevitable.
The draw will certainly frustrate the unusually large contingent of Jiangsu fans that made the northbound trip for the May Day weekend and though Zhou Yun talked prior to the match of the continued belief in the management, it is hard to know how much longer the board room will share such patience irrespective of near misses or misfortune.