Our League One Talking Points article is back after a two week hiatus and, as always, there is plenty to discuss. Qingdao Huanghai recorded a massive win over the faltering Shenzhen FC and Beijing Renhe took advantage of that and their own generous start to go top. Two more managers have bitten the dust since our last article, but while Beijing BG are trying to move forwards, Meizhou Hakka seem to be taking a step back. There is also news of a “Hubei Derby”, a disappointing draw, a struggling team and an unlikely super-sub in Shanghai.
Huanghai’s Exciting Win Good for Everyone – Except Shenzhen Fans
Prior to Shenzhen FC’s match at home to Qingdao Huanghai there were many reasons to make the hosts heavy favourites. Sven Goran Eriksson’s men had been held away to Zhejiang Yiteng the previous week, but they still sat top of the table with a home record of three wins from three with fourteen goals scored. Conversely, Huanghai had lost all three of their away games so far and took a 3-0 beating in Wuhan two weeks earlier against a team which, like Shenzhen, contained two lightening quick foreign wingers and a deadly centre-forward.
There was a lot to suggest that Huanghai might take a hammering at the hands of their wealthy opponents and, despite Jordi Vinyals’s men holding their own for much of the first half, things looked like they might fall apart in the 38th minute when Chinedu Obasi outpaced Marti Crespi and won a penalty which Harold Preciado converted.
League One – Round 7
Shenzhen FC 1
Qingdao Huanghai 2
Crespi 65′, Rakic 87′
The sight of Crespi being left in the dust of a pacy opponent has become an unfortunately familiar one for Huanghai fans, but so has their side playing excellent football, and that’s exactly what they did in the second half as they put on an absolute masterclass to totally outplay their theoretically superior opponents. The Shandong side never once sacrificed their footballing principles in order to chase the game, and any uninitiated neutral would have thought it was the visitors who had invested vast sums of cash over the off-season and were being managed by a world famous coach.
Crespi atoned for his earlier error when he headed home a Deng Zhuoxiang cross on 65 minutes but, despite their utter superiority, it looked as though Huanghai would have to settle for a draw thanks to their own wastefulness and an inspired display from Shenzhen goalkeeper Guan Zhen. Justice was done, though, as Dorde Rakic took advantage of some fine work by Liu Long on the left wing to fire home a winner with four minutes remaining.
Not only is Huanghai’s win a positive for any neutral who appreciates good football and is opposed to the idea of clubs simply buying success, it also opens up a promotion race that looked to be in danger of being comfortably won by Sven’s men.
Gao Hongbo’s Rough Start Shows Size of Task at Hand
Having been linked with the previously vacant Wuhan Zall job, Gao Hongbo returned to the limelight last week when he replaced Yasen Petrov as Beijing BG boss following the club’s 4-0 derby hammering by Beijing Renhe in round 6. The 51-year-old was last seen resigning as China national team boss following World Cup qualifying defeats to Syria and Uzbekistan last October, and he faces another major challenge in turning BG’s season around.
League One – Round 7
Hohhot Zhongyou 1
Beijing BG 0
Despite their pre-season ambitions to earn promotion, Petrov left the capital city side stranded at the bottom of the table with one point from six games, but any hopes of an immediate turnaround were slapped firmly down in Inner Mongolia where Gao’s men lost 1-0 to Hohhot Zhongyou. The match itself was a drab affair which may well have ended scoreless had Dori’s second half long range effort not cannoned off the bar straight into the path of Nizamdin Afanti who gratefully slotted home with the goal at his mercy.
It would be entirely unreasonable to make any judgement about Gao’s prospects of success after just one game, but this match will have shown the former Changchun Yatai boss the myriad problems he faces. Nigerian striker Leke James will be out until at least July thanks to injury and it’s hard to see where goals are going to come from. The club’s Austrian forward Rubin Okotie has now failed to score in fourteen matches since netting on his debut last July and three of the club’s four goals this season have come courtesy of long range efforts from midfielder Wang Jianwen.
Despite his goalscoring exploits, Wang was left out of this week’s starting line-up in favour of the 35-year-old Yu Tao who was last selected by Gao during his first spell in charge of the Chinese national team in 2011, and the attack suffered as a result. Yu’s midfield partner Cheick Tiote has been extremely disappointing so far this year and, even more worryingly, captain Yan Xiangchuang has failed to get anywhere near the levels he reached over the last two seasons and looks like a shadow of that player this year.
All of this, coupled with some serious issues with a defence that had shipped nine goals in Petrov’s last two matches, means that Gao has a mammoth task on his hands. The good news is, that with promotion already out the window, he will be given time and will not have all of his team selections picked over in microscopic detail, which is more than can be said for his last job.
Renhe’s Pole Position Yet to be Road Tested
Following last week’s 4-0 demolition of Beijing BG, Renhe took advantage of Shenzhen FC’s defeat against Qingdao Huanghai to climb to the top of the table thanks to a routine 2-0 win at home to Zhejiang Yiteng. The visitors had managed to hold Shenzhen to a 1-1 draw the week before, but any prospects of a similar achievement this week were severely dented when Chen Jie headed home an Ivo free-kick within the first two minutes.
The goal rocked Mauricio Copertino’s men and the knockout blow was dealt midway through the first period when Renhe’s 21-year-old winger Xiang Hantian picked up a throw from goalkeeper Zhang Lie in his own half, before dribbling over 50 yards and firing home at the other end courtesy of a slight deflection.
League One – Round 7
Beijing Renhe 2
Chen Jie 2′, Xiang Hantian 23′
Zhejiang Yiteng 0
So a look at the table suggests that promotion is on for a Renhe team looking for a CSL return at the second time of asking, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Indeed, aside from the reserves going to play Chengdu Qianbao in the CFA Cup last month, Wang Baoshan’s men are yet to leave the capital this season.
A quirk in the fixture computer meant that five of Renhe’s opening seven fixtures were originally supposed to be at home with one of the away matches being the aforementioned derby clash with BG. The other road trip was supposed to be in round 5, but the game was rearranged to be played in Beijing because renovations to Baoding Rongda’s new Hebei University Stadium had not yet been completed.
With five wins and two draws from the first seven games, this might not seem like a big deal until one considers Renhe’s atrocious away record last season which saw them pick up just 12 points from 15 games and lose seven of their last nine matches on the road. After hosting Beijing Guo’an in the CFA Cup on Wednesday, Renhe have to leave their capital comfort zone when they travel to face Qingdao Huanghai and four of their next six matches are on the road. If they’re still topping the table at that point, then they’ll truly have earned it.
Lively “Hubei Derby” Could be One of the Last
Xinjiang Tianshan Leopard hosted Wuhan Zall this week in a game that continues to be billed as a “Hubei Derby” despite the club relocating from the central province in February 2014. The key reason that the game maintains this moniker is that Xinjiang are still yet to sever ties with their past life as Hubei Huakaier. The club trains in Wuhan for much of the year, while manager Li Jun and eight of the club’s 27-man squad come from Hubei. More significantly, five of the eight Chinese players in this week’s starting line-up – Song Xie, Xu Qing, Yan Zhiyu, Wu Peng and Zhou Heng – were facing a side from their native province.
The match itself was a wild one where Yan Zhiyu put Xinjiang into an early lead when his attempt at heading the ball back across the box rather fortunately looped over Wuhan goalkeeper Sun Shuobo. The lead didn’t last long as a handball from veteran Xinjiang centre back Vicente gave Marcelo Moreno the chance to equalise from the penalty spot before Sam Johnson gave the visitors a 2-1 half-time lead.
League One – Round 7
Xinjiang Tianshan Leopard 2
Yan Zhiyu 7′, Gueye 65′(pen)
Wuhan Zall 4
Moreno 10′(pen), 80′, Johnson 26′, Kouassi 53′
Vicente’s handball may have been just outside the area and Xinjiang felt further aggrieved after the interval when Kouassi extended Wuhan’s lead despite being at least a clear yard offside. Xinjiang might have pulled one back had Yves Ekwalla Herman not missed an open goal in the 62nd minute, but they soon narrowed the deficit when Babacar Gueye levelled from the penalty spot after a clumsy challenge on him from Moreno. The Bolivian international made amends before the end, though, by heading home Wuhan’s fourth and restoring their two goal winning margin.
The game in itself was fascinating to watch, but there are signs that the days of this being considered a derby are coming to an end. Xinjiang’s starting line-up featured two young Uighur players – Abduhamit Abdugheni and Erpanjan Aniwar – whose combined age of 38 makes them collectively just a year older than Vicente and, thanks to substitutions, they finished the game with four locals and just three Hubei players on the field.
Abdugheni and Aniwar have each impressed after starting the last four matches and their inclusion is part of a wider trend towards bringing through young, local talent. Last year, the squad was balanced with ten Xinjiang natives and ten Hubei players and now it’s 13-8 in favour of the former. With the exception of Song Xie – who was awful at centre-back as usual – Xinjiang’s Hubei players still have a lot to offer and the club’s connections with the province are still some way from disappearing completely. Things are changing, though, and if the cash-strapped club survive another couple of years this game may no longer be considered a “derby” at all.
In Meizhou it’s Meet the New Boss; Same as the Old Boss
It was a case of deja vu in Meizhou this week where they decided to sack a foreign manager and replace him with General Manager Cao Yang without officially announcing it. Last season, it was Dutchman Luc Nijholt who got the boot after 18 games. This year it’s Croatian Vjekoslav Lokica who was let go after just six games. In both cases, the decision was made “official” when Cao Yang’s name appeared as manager on the team sheet the following week and in both cases the decision to let the manager go seems confusing.
League One – Round 7
Hangzhou Greentown 1
Wang Guangyi 76′
Meizhou Hakka 0
Lokica only took over in February, so a slow start was to be expected and five points from the first six games really wasn’t so bad given that the run featured games against Wuhan Zall and Dalian Yifang, as well as trips to play Beijing Renhe and Shijiazhuang Ever Bright. The home draw with Hohhot Zhongyou in round 6 was disappointing, but if the club weren’t prepared to give Lokica more time, one wonders why they bothered hiring him in the first place and didn’t just keep Cao in charge.
Indeed, Meizhou’s anemic display away to Hangzhou Greentown this week suggests they won’t get the “dead cat bounce” they enjoyed when Cao took over last season. Hangzhou’s starting line-up featured four under-20 players and was missing injured foreign players Matthew Spiranovic and Anselmo Ramon, but Meizhou were unable to take advantage and were justifiably beaten by a powerful Wang Guangyi header in the second half.
It’s still early days, and we have no idea what goes on behind the scenes, but from the outside looking in, Meizhou seem to be in trouble both on and off the field.
Draw in Shijiazhuang Makes Nobody Happy
With Shenzhen FC losing to Qingdao Huanghai, Dalian Yifang missed the chance to go top thanks to a draw in Shijiazhuang. But it wasn’t just the northeastern side who were dissatisfied with the outcome as the hosts missed a chance to kick-start their season with almost all of their players now available after injury or suspension.
League One – Round 7
Shijiazhuang Ever Bright 2
Matheus 31′, Adriano 70′(pen)
Dalian Yifang 2
Mushekwi 40′, 43′
With right-back Feng Shaoshun back from a five game suspension, midfielder Wang Peng making his season debut after returning to fitness and Brazilian Matheus getting just his third start in an injury-hit year, Shijiazhuang manager Afshin Ghotbi was hoping to get some momentum going and things were going well as his side largely controlled the ball in the first half before finding themselves a goal up thanks to wonderful solo effort from Matheus.
Having had a poor start to the game, though, Yifang suddenly turned things around in the last five minutes of the first half when Nyahsa Mushekwi twice struck from chances that seemed to come from nothing.
The tables were again turned in the second half, where Yifang were the better side, but Shijiazhuang were able to score against the run of play thanks to a penalty from Adriano after Yifang’s Jonathan Ferrari had rather rashly shoved Matheus in the penalty area. With Yifang dissatisfied with the referee’s decision and Shijiazhuang also growing frustrated, the closing moments of the game became scrappy as the two sides rued what they will both view as two points dropped.
Promotion Gorge May be too Wide for Lijiang’s Flying Tigers to Leap
Back in round 3, we discussed how the return of centre back Johnny may help turn Lijiang’s season around, but subsequent matches have suggested that may not be enough for the League Two champions to survive their first season in the second tier. Top scoring striker Zhang Shuoke broke his leg the following week and Lijiang have lost three on the bounce since then without any sign of improvement.
On the surface, falling to a stoppage time defeat away to Dalian Transcendence doesn’t look so bad, but the scoreline doesn’t paint the whole picture. After a terrible start to the year, Transcendence had surprised many by taking seven points over their previous four games but they had done so by grinding out tight, ugly wins. This week was a different matter, though, as Transcendence were dominant and should have been at least 2-0 up during a first half in which Xue Yanan missed a penalty.
League One – Round 7
Dalian Transcendence 2
Xue Yanan 47′, Sheng Jun 90+1′
Yunnan Lijiang 1
Xue made up for his miss with a goal early in the second half, before Kaio equalised out of nowhere for Lijiang with a speculative effort from a tight angle which Transcendence goalkeeper Cui Kai ought to have saved. Rusmir Cviko’s men continued to have chance after chance and finally broke the deadlock in stoppage time when substitute Sheng Jun fired home from close range.
Injuries to key players; struggling foreigners in the shape of Kaio and Korean centre back Kim Hyun-hun; a poor home record – which they shouldn’t really have given their altitude advantage; and a manager in Lim Jong-heon who has no idea what his best line-up is and is making constant changes. This list of problems sounds awfully similar to the ones facing Hunan Billows last year and, while it’s not being suggested Lijiang’s season will go that badly, things will have to change soon if their stay in League One is to extend beyond a season.
Super-sub Pan Chaoran the Key to Shenxin’s Second Half Flurries
It was a bit of a shock when Shanghai Shenxin decided to replace English manager Gary White with Juan Ignacio Martinez last November, but the decision seems to be bearing fruit as Shenxin preserved their unbeaten start to the season with a 2-0 win at home to Baoding Rongda. The Jinshan based side have had a comparatively soft start, but a record of four wins and three draws will come as a surprise to many, as will the outstanding performances of super-sub Pan Chaoran.
Pan made a few appearances for the club when it was based in Nanchang five years ago and was with League Two side Hainan Boying Seaman last season having failed to break into the Changchun Yatai first team. Few noticed when Pan was picked up by Shenxin over the winter, but the 25-year-old winger has been making waves with his game changing half time appearances in place of struggling U-23 player Tan Fucheng.
League One – Round 7
Shanghai Shenxin 2
Cleiton Silva 48′, Pan Chaoran 68′
Baoding Rongda 0
In the first game of the season, Pan scored away to Beijing Renhe as he helped turn a 1-0 half-time deficit into a 2-2 draw, and he found the net again in Lijiang last week when Shenxin were once again trailing 1-0 at the interval before running out 3-1 winners.
Martinez’s men weren’t behind this week, but they were being held to a scoreless draw by a well-organized Baoding side when Pan took to the field after the interval. Within three minutes, Cleiton Silva had driven the ball into the Baoding net with a powerful header and Pan had doubled the lead with a header of his own 20 minutes later.
Make no mistake, pint-sized attacker Biro-Biro was the star of this display having produced pinpoint crosses for both goals, and it could be argued that the tiring of defences exhausted from trying to shackle the irrepressible Brazilian is just as responsible for Shenxin’s improved second half performances as Pan’s introduction to the right-wing. Still, three goals and six post-interval points earned across four games where he was actually brought on at half-time is a very impressive record for a player whose career looked like it might have been washed up on a tropical island just last season.