Defensive slackness in injury time cost Fabio Capello’s side a hard-earned point as Guizhou Hengfeng Zhicheng’s resident Spaniards, Mario Suarez and Ruben Castro, combined to make it seven victories in eight games for the southwesters.
CHINESE SUPER LEAGUE
Jiangsu Suning 0
Guizhou Hengfeng Zhicheng 1
Ruben Castro 90+1
Riding high in seventh place despite lacking the glitzy high-profile names of many a Super League side, Guizhou are undoubtedly this year’s surprise package and the club should receive requisite praise for patience and competent boardroom management so clearly missing at many of China’s more prestigious clubs.
Though last year’s China League One runners up played without drive or penetration on a wet night in Nanjing, it showed the necessary defensive solidity in the absence of captain Festus Baise, who was substituted following a first half injury, and capitalized on one of its few chances.
Having failed to meet the lofty ambitions of first Beijing Guoan and then Shanghai Shenhua, Gregorio Manzano must take great pleasure from looking upon a league table that shows Guizhou, CSL first timers no less, outperforming both of his former haunts. Sweet sweet Schadenfreude baby.
By all accounts, a draw would have been a fair result, but this seemed an increasingly unlikely reality as an otherwise trundling game descended into a breakneck final five minutes.
Roger Martinez should have given the home side the lead in the 87th minute when Tao Yuan’s hard-hit clearance became an impossibility inviting through ball. The Colombian, however, failed to make the most of the one-on-one situation firing a shot straight at Guizhou goalkeeper Su Boyang.
Moments later, Castro made no such error as he calmly checked onto his right foot and scored his sixth goal since arriving in the winter.
The first half passed with little incident. The heavens opened and closed intermittently and both sides were openly comfortable with their current league statuses and unwilling to commit on field errors.
The only moment of note arrived when Teixeira’s wickedly inswinging was headed onwards and appeared to cross the line under the bumbling mass of bodies huddled around the goal mouth. Alas, the Chinese Football Association is yet to deploy goal line technology because it might have injected some desperately-needed urgency into the contest.
Much had been made of Capello’s decision to omit Ramires from the starting lineup for the first time in 2017. While it was perhaps a reflection of Guizhou’s direct style of attack that negated the need to deploy the Brazilian’s boundless tracking and hard running, Jiangsu’s lack of bite in midfield was evident throughout and one of the priorities in the offseason must be finding a replacement for defensive midfielder Liu Jianye, a player whose eight caps for the national team increasingly feel mythic as his passing and mobility leave much to be desired.
Alex Teixeira played in his compatriots’ absence and with rumors circling in midweek about a potential loan switch to affiliate club Inter Milan at the end of the season, it awaited to be seen if the former Shakhtar Donetsk forward would rediscover his fine early season form. Teixeira, however, hardly generated the level of awe in defenders that made him such a potent weapon in his first season and, on the basis of his patchwork display here, he might not be sorely missed should he return to European football in January.
As is to be expected, Capello has a solid group of defenders in his charge with Zhou Yun and Yang Boyu proving extremely capable in the air, yet by full time Capello could reflect on a forward line that seems one dimensional and ill-suited to prying open teams that sit deep when visiting the Jiangsu capital.
Benjamin Moukandjo and Martinez offer relatively similar skill sets and with Teixeira unable to stretch play in the intended manner, the duty of creating an opening was once again left to Wang Song’s set piece deliveries. Jiangsu’s only width stemmed from the marauding right wingback Tao, a player clearly relishing the opportunity to play under a world renowned coach.
Yet these are perhaps details for the future, fine tuning destined to take place in due course – the task of avoiding relegation remains the priority and until it is fully accomplished Jiangsu fans will be willing to sacrifice style for a little more comfort than this last-minute heartbreak provided.