A new page in the ever-changing story of football in Shenyang was written on Saturday. Five short years after their establishment, Shenyang Urban Construction defeated Chengdu Better City 2-0 in the Championship Playoffs second leg, to secure the China League Two Championship 4-1 on aggregate.
Urban conquered the wobbles that had plagued them in previous seasons, putting together a 19-game unbeaten streak including 14 straight wins to win the North Group with two games in hand and with it seal promotion to League One. But, as fans of League Two know already, the CFA loves a good playoff, and so Urban duly were to slug it out with South Group winners Chengdu Better City for the Championship.
Urban won the first leg in Chengdu 2-1, before the second leg Saturday in Shenyang. The game was played in a carnival atmosphere in front of a full stadium and in the last of the autumn sunshine.
From the kick-off Urban showed no sign of sitting on the first-leg lead, and there were two hopeful appeals for penalties in within the first ten minutes. Chengdu’s first real chance came in the 16th minute, a shot from Cao Tianbao from just outside the area pushed around the post by goalkeeper Han Zhen.
Urban suffered a setback in the 24th minute, as top scorer Zhu Shiyu burst forward onside, launched a shot that just flashed wide of the right hand post, and appeared to pull a hamstring in the process, being led off by the medicos shortly thereafter.
Urban continued to press; an inviting cross from the overlapping left back in the 32nd minute could not find an attacker for the final touch. Then in the 34th minute Qin Beichen surged down the right and crossed in to the back post, just slightly behind the run of Ning Hao who couldn’t get any power into the header.
All this pressure from Urban had to come to bear sooner or later, and it was to be sooner – in the 35th minute Zhang Xingbo skipped into the area from the left hand side, a little shimmy combined with a stepover before curling a right foot shot into the goal off the left hand post… and the crowd went wild.
The pace dropped somewhat in the second half, Urban lowered the intensity of their attacking and Chengdu offered little sign they would get back into the tie. In the 54th minute a free kick for Urban was launched into the box, Qin Beichen headed it back to Quan Heng on the edge of the box, who screwed his volley wide.
In the 65th minute Urban killed off the tie with a second goal; Jia Xiaochen’s shot was palmed behind for an Urban corner, which was converted at the back post by Ning Hao.
Chengdu’s best chance of a goal came during stoppage time right at the end, Gan Rui’s free kick from 25 yards beating the Urban wall and the keeper, but bouncing back out off the woodwork.
And that was the end of that (well, apart from the minor twitter storm over the bright sparks behind this banner – that’s the flag of the ‘puppet state of Manchukuo’ history fans..).
With Liaoning Hongyun struggling on and off the pitch, at least next year Shenyang will have some representation in League One. It will be interesting to see whether Zhuang Yi’s bright and shiny new project will survive and thrive at a higher level, but they are there on merit. For anyone tempted to pay a visit, Urban’s tidy little stadium is right round the corner from the new South Station, with decent clean bogs and even a restaurant selling beer in the stadium.
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