After nine games of blunder, toil, near misses, and what-ifs, Jiangsu Suning won in its first Chinese Super League (CSL) match of 2017 with a last gasp Alex Teixeira goal finally puncturing stubborn Shandong Luneng resistance 2-1.
The away side played the last 20 minutes with 10 men, but if Felix Magath felt luck was elusive and the result unwarranted given his side’s slew of chances and generally dominant performance, Choi Yong-soo might point to the numerous occasions this season when Jiangsu has been thwarted by a devilish combination of hard luck, poor officiating, and bad timing.
Indeed, for the first 55 minutes it seemed yet another opposition had managed to douse hopes of victory with Shandong’s stingy defending, clinical forward play, and infuriating game management skills blunting the home side. Magath’s side controlled the game like an army of all-knowing orange minions and throughout the first half Jiangsu was frequently forced into desperate odds-and-ends, any body part will do, defending.
CHINESE SUPER LEAGUE
Jiangsu Suning 2
Alex Teixeira 90+2
Shandong Luneng 1
Diego Tardelli 26
Diego Tardelli put Shandong in the ascendancy after 26 minutes with a sublime individual effort. Breaking with a snap of speed from the left, the Brazilian seemed to uncannily anticipate the movements of those around him and when he found Graziano Pellè lurking around the area with his back to goal, the former Southampton striker acted as a wall and automatically returned the ball to Tardelli, as if the Italian was some giant chiseled sculpture best used for bouncing things off. Tardelli smashed the layoff home with a fierce first time drive.
At this stage, things looked dire for the South Korea coach, but ultimately he had Teixeira and Roger Martinez, his two South American battle tough forwards, to thank for victory – not simply because the former scored the dramatic late winner, but moreover for a pair of performances full of fight and footballing streetsmarts. And boy did the home side need every ounce of scrap and cunning to overcome a strong Shandong team that would have shot to second with a win.
Choi had once again tinkered with his formation yet even in victory one is hard-pressed to say the new tactic proved decisive. Gone is his preferred 3-5-2 formation with Jiangsu applying a direct 4-4-2 that looks to Martinez’s hold up play and Teixeira’s irrepressible speed as the means of overcoming what has been a disastrous start to the CSL campaign.
The away side had threatened either side of Tardelli’s opener with Wu Xianghan particularly culpable for failing to dispatch a close range chance following a lightning Shandong break forward.
The encounter turned feisty through some mixture of Shandong’s unwillingness to play out the remaining 50 minutes of the fixture once it had the lead, Jiangsu’s frustration at being unable to get a grip on the game, and the effects of a muggy early summer evening in Nanjing.
Shandong’s goalkeeper, Wang Dalei, added to the melodrama with a fawning spell on the ground, the type of dive one usually associates with the opposition penalty box.
As the halftime whistle sounded, Teixeira had to be restrained by teammates from assaulting Shandong’s coaching staff. Having already received a four match ban following a red card during the opening game defeat to Shanghai Shenhua, Jiangsu will be hoping the authorities don’t punish the Brazilian retrospectively.
The home side’s equalizer came during a period when Shandong threatened to extend their lead and was simple enough with an unmarked Ramires planting his feet and precisely heading home from a corner.
To say the goal buoyed the home side would be slightly inaccurate, while Xie Pengfei looked bright on the left and Martinez’s influence and poise grew as the minutes ticked along, Choi’s side again seemed an incongruous collection of oddly welded together objects; the defense remains in haphazard communication with the goalkeeper and the midfield only half connected to the strike force.
The true turning point was the 67th minute dismissal of Wang Tong. Having received a yellow in the first half for a petulant attempt to prevent a free kick being taken, he was given his marching orders following a cynical lunge on a goal bound Martinez.
Wang’s dismissal set up an all huffing all puffing final 20 minutes in which the raucous home support realized the glorious opportunity that had been presented. Despite camping outside Shandong’s box for the better part of the period, Pellè will feel he should have snatched the three points after he miscued a header from eight yards out.
Yet, this time the spoils belonged to Teixeira and to Jiangsu. Xie burst through midfield with a sudden spurt of energy, passed to Jiangsu’s top scorer who cleverly flicked the ball forward, therein playing his own assist machine, and finished acrobatically from 20 yards. In the ensuing celebrations Teixeira lost his shirt, Choi a desperately anxious facial expression that has lingered for months, and Jiangsu its winless record.
At the final whistle, Zhang Sipeng lay prostrate in the goalmouth, an image that has been all too familiar this season. Yet this time it was a feeling of elation rather than despair that he was enjoying.