It’s Saturday evening and I find myself on the Shanghai metro on the way to Hongkou Football stadium, with absolutely no idea what I’m about to get myself into. As a former Hull City season ticket holder, I’m no stranger to watching my team at home or on the road in some of the biggest grounds in Europe.
But one thing is for sure, no atmosphere I have experienced compares to what I experienced at Hongkou. It certainly wasn’t the loudest or the most hostile crowd, but it was undoubtedly the most unique I have ever witnessed in the flesh. Admittedly my first foray to a Shenhua game could have been at a better time for the club but nevertheless, to hear three sides of the ground orchestrate an atmosphere like that was something to behold.
One thing that was easily noticeable from my first steps onto the northern terrace was the close vicinity of fans to the pitch at Hongkou. Unlike many a modern stadium these days, the distance between the fans and the pitch only helped to increase the red-hot atmosphere come kick-off. A cauldron-like atmosphere worthy of winning any game is incredibly hard to come by, but Shenhua’s fans definitely can’t be disparaged for their attempts to get behind their desperately struggling team.
The game itself… Well, the game wasn’t the most enthralling game I’m ever likely to see that’s for certain. The visitors Chongqing Lifan looked happy to settle for a point from the moment they stepped off the bus. Despite sitting in and defending for large periods of the game, Jordi Cruyff’s side offered enough of a threat on the counter, to make the Shenhua faithful increasingly tense as the game wore on.
Fernandinho showed flashes of the brilliance that has all too often caused Shenhua problems down the years, but all in all, Chongqing rarely ventured out of their own half on their way to earning a valuable point that took them up to 6th in the CSL.
Shenhua on the other hand, from the outside looking in, was seriously lacking any sort of killer instinct when they reached the final third. All too often the scenario of the ball being worked up to Gio Moreno who then consistently found himself at a lack for attacking options.
Shenhua visibly missed the speed and killer instinct that Nigerian international Odion Ighalo provides, but with Ighalo on African Cup of Nations duties, the lack of cutting edge in the attacking third of the pitch is not something that is going to go away anytime soon.
Heading into a game that felt like a must win and providing such a lackluster performance at home, will have certainly sent alarm bells ringing around the Shenhua faithful with the daunting run of fixtures that is to come. Facing last seasons top two in the next two games, hosting Guangzhou Evergrande before the small task of a Shanghai derby against the reigning CSL champions.
This run of games certainly won’t define Shenhua’s season, but it could very much shape the run in of a side who have dropped perilously close to the relegation zone. Taking the positives from a win against Jiangsu Suning last time out, Shenhua couldn’t go and beat one of the top two now, could they? In football these days who knows…
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