This meandering, tit-for-tat encounter saved its best twist till last as Guizhou and Jiangsu cancelled each other out in injury time to finish 2-2 on a blazing hot South China afternoon.
It was a peculiar and oddly unsavory game in which high drama was interspersed by periods of extreme lethargy that demonstrated the sense that many of the players empathized with the rows of empty seats around Guiyang Olympic Sports Center.
CHINESE SUPER LEAGUE
Guizhou Hengfeng 2
Festus Blaise 62
Min Junlin 90+3
Jiangsu Suning 2
Hong Jeong-ho 90+5
In other circumstances Choi Yong-soo might have chosen to rest key players ahead of the AFC Champions League second leg against Shanghai SIPG, but such is the reality of relegation for a team that finished second last year.
Roger Martinez sat out the gane following his no-handshake spat with Guangzhou Evergrande and Wu Xi entered the side following a prolonged period on the sidelines this season.
Guizhou Hengfeng has somewhat defied expectations so far in 2017 and following back-to-back wins against Henan and Tianjin Quanjian, Gregorio Manzano will rightfully feel aggrieved with his side’s lack of concentration in the final minute that surrendered what would have been third straight win.
Despite taking the lead in the 15th minute when Ramires sweetly drove home a Alex Teixeira flick on, having had two goals disallowed for offside after 10 minutes, there was a sense that Jiangsu might have put the game beyond the home side’s grasp were it not for poor officiating.
As has often been the case this season, once in front Choi’s side struggles to control the tempo and Guizhou all too predictably muscled its way into the contest with repeated long balls to Nikica Jelavić creating awkwardness for Li Ang and Yang Xiaotian. Ramires, seemingly the main resistance to Guizhou’s resurgence, was dealt with in a heavy-handed manner with Min Junlin at one stage performing what can only be described as a rugby tackle on the Brazilian.
Much of Guizhou’s attacking intent came from the passing of Tjaronn Chery and through Michael Olunga’s speed and variation of movement. It should be noted that while the South China team may not have purchased footballing superstars over the winter, Manzano has compiled a very handy squad that builds from the experience and intelligence of 37-year old Hong Kong international Baise Festus in center defense and plays to its strengths.
Jiangsu had smart saves from deputizing goalkeeper Gu Chao and several timely interventions from Li to thank for entering the interval a goal ahead.
However, if Choi offered warning words about the need to deal simply and efficiently with Guizhou’s long ball approach, they were not heeded and Jelavić was to thank for squandering a couple of good chances early in the second half.
The pressure continued to mount and moments after a defensive deflection nearly looped into the away side’s net, Guizhou got their deserved goal when Baise’s header snuck past Gu.
Entering injury time, the game’s true drama was yet to unfold following 15 minutes of procrastination and if there is such a thing as two last kicks of the game, then it was experienced here. Central midfielder Min thought he had won the game when he struck an exquisite volley from outside the area and invited his teammates celebrated accordingly.
Jiangsu, however, had other ideas and when Hong Jeonh-ho found himself unmarked in the middle of the area he calmly headed home Li’s smart cross to salvage a point for a side that can use all the luck it can get.