Qingdao Huanghai secured promotion to the CSL with a comfortable 2-0 away win in Shanghai. Huanghai’s victory against Shenxin was something of a formality, with no-one expecting bottom of the table Shenxin to rain on Huanghai’s parade.
While there was no repeat of the nine goal demolition Huanghai inflicted on Shenxin earlier this season, the Qingdao team still eased to victory. Huanghai dominated the match from the outset and took the lead just before half-time. When Wang Dong scored from the spot, following a foul on Gao Xiang.
In the second half, Huanghai pressed for a second goal and got their reward on seventy-seventh minute when Gao Xiang stabbed home a rebound from close range to make it 2-0. This goal effectively ended the game as a contest and sealed promotion for Huanghai.
Huanghai’s promotion will see them play in the CSL for the first time in their six year history. And it will also be the first time that Qingdao will be represented in the top-flight since Qingdao Jonoon were relegated back in 2013.
For the past few years, Huanghai have been amongst the runners and riders in the League One promotion race. However until this year they, had never been able to achieve the level of consistency needed to secure promotion to the CSL.
A key reason for Huanghai’s inconsistency in previous years had been their leaky defence. In the past it had always shipped far too many goals for Huanghai to be able to sustain a successful promotion challenge. This year however Huanghai have looked far more solid at the back, largely thanks to the emergence of centre-back Liu Jiashen.
The twenty-seven year-old has spent almost his entire career at Huanghai but only emerged as a first-team regular this year. Over the course of this season he has formed an effective partnership with Spanish born Taiwanese centre-back Yen Yaki who signed with Huanghai last year. Together they have shored up Huanghai’s defence and helped the team grind out some crucial wins.
Another major factor in Huanghai’s success this year may have been the club being more ruthless when it came to making managerial changes. Despite never being able to guide the ambitious club to promotion, Huanghai had persisted with Spanish coach Jordi Vinyals for a number of years. Their patience with Vinyals however, came to an end this July.
A strong start to the season, was followed by a mid-season slump which seemed to lead the Huanghai hierarchy to fear that under Vinyals the team’s promotion push would peter out, just as it had done previous years. In the end Vinyals was sacked and replaced by Juanma Lillo. Lillo appointment saw an immediate turn around in the team’s fortunes with Huanghai going onto win six of their next seven games and securing promotion with a game to spare.
While Vinyals sacking in late July, was big news for those who follow the club. Huanghai attracted both national and international media attention earlier in the month when they signed former Man City star Yaya Toure. While Toure has certainly been an important player for Huanghai in the second half of this season, neither he nor any of the team’s other foreign players have been the engine which has driven Huanghai’s success this year.
The galvanising force which has pushed Huanghai towards promotion this season has been its core of local players. Throughout the season Qingdao natives Liu Jiashen, Yao Jiangshan, Wang Dong and Gao Xiang have all consistently performed at a high level. And have helped create a sense of cohesion which has held the team together through some difficult spells.
Wang Dong especially has been something of a revelation this year. Despite now being in his late thirties, this season he has rolled back the years and shown that he still has what it takes to pull the strings in middle of the park. Wang has also been one Huanghai’s most reliable goal scorers this year. Finding the net ten times, in what has been a vintage year for the former national team player.
It’s difficult to speculate exactly how well Huanghai will fare in the CSL next year. Wang Dong is one of a number of key players at the club who are now entering the later stages of their careers. How well these players will be able to perform in the more fast-paced CSL is an issue that the club will undoubtedly need to look at in the off-season.
However if the Yaya Toure signing shows us anything, it’s that Huanghai are a team with both ambition and the financial clout to back it up. And we should without a doubt expect to see them being very busy in the transfer market this off-season.