Tae-Goon had a party last month. This month, he's contemplating his next club. Meanwhile, the team is hit hard by a series of injuries. Join me as we meander towards the end of the season.
Ha Tae-Goon’s heroics the previous month earned him the Player of the Month award, a tremendous achievement considering the players he was up against. I’d be much happier for him if he agreed to a new contract.
If the board were concerned about Tae-Goon’s imminent departure, they didn’t show it:
I was happy they held me in such high regard. I would have been happier if they had managed to convince Tae-Goon the club could match his ambitions.
Anyway, back to business.
Henan were the team I thought would be beaten by everyone and eventually go down in a pitiful, Aston Villa-like way, but they managed to turn around an awful start to the season and were safe enough from relegation by the time they arrived in Yanji.
As for ourselves, the majority of my squad were either planning their holidays or thinking about their next club, because the performance was poor. We struggled to retain possession of the ball, made a half-arse attempt at clearing our lines and eventually surrendered to, of all things, a long throw. We made some token efforts to get back into the game in the second half but it wasn’t enough. 1-0 to Henan.
That unbeaten run had now ended, and the lack of wins over the last couple of months was becoming more and more apparent. We weren’t in any danger of slipping into the relegation zone thanks to the overwhelmingly poor duo of Liaoning and Chongqing, but it was making for a painfully anti-climactic end to the season.
And that anti-climax looked set to continue when Fredy Montero gave Tianjin an early lead. Giving a top quality striker enough time and space at the back post to have a picnic hadn’t been in the pre-game preparations.
Unlike the Henan game, though, we did show some fight this time. It took us a little while to get settled into the game, but once Tae-Goon scored the equaliser we were well on top. Sun Jun and Seung-Dae each had a couple of great opportunities to score, but that winner never came. 1-1 the final score. Where was that win going to come from?
I changed up some of the roles in the team in hopes it would produce a winning performance, because we had gone far too long without one. The first 45 minutes were an utter bore-fest, which didn’t give me much confidence in my ability to change things tactically.
Chances finally arrived in the second half and so did a goal. Tae-Goon’s ball over the top found Jin Bo coming in from the right flank, and his shot across the keeper hit the base of the post and rolled in. After that, I took the drastic action of setting up shop completely because we really, really needed a win. We held Changchun off for the remainder of the game comfortably before Steve gave the scoreline a bit of polish with a goal in injury time. 2-0 the final score – we actually won a match!
What is it I keep saying about good things? Yup, the predictable has happened. Our much overdue win over Changchun was balanced out by news of top scorer Ha Tae-Goon being out for two months with an ankle injury.
A week later it got worse as Jiang Hongquan, our full back, also picked up a two-month injury.
Then things started getting silly as our talented loan player Liu Haidong picked up a sports hernia and would also be out for two months.
Then as August turned into September, it became farcical: Steve injured on international duty, out for two months.
It really was just as well that survival was already ensured.
So after those awful couple of weeks, I had to patch together a team for our trip to Huaxia.
Seung-Dae’s suspension made it all the more difficult to put out a good side. Cui Ren, who hadn’t started in months, had to come in on one flank, while Sun Jun had to move from midfield to the flank where he was accomplished but not as comfortable. Jin Bo started down the middle having played every game for me on the flank. As for the bench, we had no forwards and one useless left winger.
But given the choice between parking it and hoping for the best, and going all out to get a win because we had nothing to lose, I decided to channel my inner Paco Jemez and go for it. It ended as expected. Gervinho bagged a high quality hat-trick and we were sent back to Yanji bruised and bloodied.
The Yongchang match saw Seung-Dae return from suspension, which meant we could have a full squad of 18 travel.
Yet, it made little difference. Muenga scored an early goal, the last thing we wanted as a team missing some key players, and I spent most of the game watching passively, waiting for that inevitable defeat.
Then Du Wei was sent off for a professional foul and the game, as they often do after a sending off, changed. We showed signs of getting back into it, and I hoped that this would be a turning point for us.
Cue Yongchang’s second goal. Oh well.
I felt then that this game would be the one where I stopped caring about the rest of the season. We made our extra man count as got one back via Sun Jun, but then proceeded to miss chance after chance before succumbing to a 2-1 defeat. How? I have no idea.
So ended a dismal two months that actually saw little change to our position in the table:
Meanwhile, there was a new intake of youth players that left my feeling reasonably encouraged about the future:
With the end of the season approaching, it was time to nominate the best player and young player. Ha Tae-Goon was on the shortlist for Player of the Year, while Liu Haidong and Nan Song made the Young Player of the Year list.
All that remained was to wrap up the final four games of the season, against the division’s top two, Guangzhou and Beijing, and the bottom two, Liaoning and Chogqing. Join me next time for the thrilling end to our first season in China.