Jiangsu Suning conceded a pair of blindingly predictable second half goals to lose 2-1 to high-riding Hebei CFFC.
The possibility of relegation should be taken very seriously by Suning’s bigwigs and for a third consecutive league game the Nanjing-based team took a first half lead only to surrender points through defensive brain freeze and totally punctured confidence.
CHINESE SUPER LEAGUE
Ji Xiang 42
Hebei CFFC 2
Aloisio 55, 65
Whether due to poor leadership or a general inability to adhere to game plans, the fact this same Jiangsu side challenged Guangzhou Evergrande for the title in 2016 seems a laughable mirage. With eight points after 12 games and having already tried an array of tactics and combinations, it is hard to know what will arrest the slump.
Choi Yong-soo might have resigned in mid-week following the Champions League exit to That Team From Shanghai, but the side’s flaws remain ever present despite caretaker manager Li Jinyu switching to an untested 4-3-3 and introducing loanee Gao Di for only the second time this season. Zhang Xiaobin slotted into the midfield in place of the suspended Ramires whose energy was desperately missed, particularly as the home side chased the game for the last 25 minutes.
Manuel Pellegrini’s Hebei may not have dazzled à la Shanghai SIPG, but the former Manchester City manager has built a resilient and combative side that looks a good pick for one of the continental places. Even when the Qinhuangdao-based side went behind to a smart Ji Xiang goal minutes before the interval, it hardly seemed rattled by the home team – though, given Jiangsu’s lack of attacking creativity, Hebei’s confidence was well-founded.
Aloisio and Ezequiel Lavezzi demonstrated intelligent link up play from the game’s first moments and the diminutive Argentine’s thoughtful passing and mesmeric dribbling offers Hebei an edge in any game. Less convincing was the wandering Stéphane Mbia who played without drive or thrust and seemed most useful when slotting into the defense in the game’s waning minutes.
In spite of Hebei’s attacking prowess, Jiangsu had the upper hand for the first 50 minutes and were it not for the speed and tracking abilities of Zhao Mingjian, who kept Alex Teixeira in check all game, the home side might have exerted a greater dominance at the break. Gao and Roger Martinez missed chances but prior to Ji finishing off a delightful sliding pass from Zhang, Jiangsu lacked the penetration to routinely challenge Yang Cheng’s goal.
The away side pounced in the 55th minute when Aloisio, back in the side following his absence for the last minute win over Changchun Yantai, scored off a brisk counterattack. He rounded Zhang Sipeng and firing into an empty net giving the home support a sense of déjà vu.
This feeling was compete 10 minutes later as the Brazilian grabbed his seventh goal of the season tucking home a Lavezzi free kick that had escaped the entirety of Jiangsu’s defense. While Aloisio may not have exhibited the bare-chested bravado of Martinez or the twinkle toed dancing of Teixeira, he made the difference at the game’s most pressing moments.
Hebei resorted to the typical time killing antics that seem almost training ground perfected; Aloisio went down for cramp after 65 minutes and the referee ushered the stretcher onto the field no less than four times in the final 10 minutes.
Jiangsu’s only chance of the remaining 25 minutes came in injury time as Martinez failed to convert a tricky volley from Wu Xi’s chipped pass, but it is unlikely a goal would have placated the home support who seemed unnerved at the final whistle.
The team’s captain, Wu, made the symbolic gesture of walking over to the ground’s East Gate stand to offer his apologies via megaphone to supporters, however with Choi, the scapegoat of poor coaching, now gone, the worry is this side could enter into free-fall mode.