Here we are at last, then. It's been a season of ups and down - more downs than ups recently - and now it's time to finish things off, hopefully with a flourish and not a whimper.
The international break was really well-timed. With the extra week or so off, we were able to get a couple of players back from injury in time for the big home game against Guangzhou. Given what Scolari said about us earlier in the year (which actually might have turned out to be true), I would have loved the chance to damage their title push.
Hopes of doing that took a blow just a minute in, when Wenyi was forced into pulling off a wonder save to prevent them taking a ridiculously early lead. Having survived that early scare, we made a couple of opportunities of our own, and forced their keeper into a decent double save.
Half hour gone, Jackson Martinez did that thing that all half-decent strikers did against us and find space at the back post for an easy tap-in. The Champions were well in control of the remainder of the half.
We regrouped during the half-time interval and gave the second half a real go. I thought our second half performance was good enough for a point, but we just couldn’t get that goal. Jin Bo easily had the best chance, the ball landing at his feet with the goal at his mercy, yet he took the amazing decision to stand there and do nothing until the keeper came and took it off him. 1-0 to Guangzhou; another defeat but a decent display.
Beijing likely weren’t impressed with our failure to take any points off their main title rival and certainly let us know about it.
Beijing were on the title charge and no lowly team from North-East China was going to stand in their way. We were 3-0 down before half-time, having been thoroughly chewed up and spat out again. It was a case of damage limitation in the second half. Jin Bo scored a consolation goal towards the end.
With the final two games of the season being against the two relegated sides, we had a chance to end the season on a high.
A goal down inside four minutes. Another cross. The rest of the half was poor from us. 2-0 down early in the second half from a set-piece. Can you guess which team had been relegated here?
It got worse. A long-throw wasn’t dealt with and it was 3-0 after 60 minutes. We played out the remaining half hour in a stupor, surprised by the efficiency of Chongqing and our inability to defend any sort of ball that was airborne. A fourth arrived in the 90th minute, coming from yet another cross and capping off an utterly humiliating experience. What a way to thank the fans for their support during a long season.
That was one of the few times I went ballistic on the team. I didn’t care that morale was very poor or that our results had been bad recently. I let everyone know how badly they performed during the team talk and press conference. It was a terrible decision on my part but it was also cathartic, in a way. And I was able to hold a team meeting and restore some morale afterwards.
The final game away to Liaoning was a chance to put right some of the wrongs from the previous game. I made a few changes, feeling that then was a good time for a shake-up.
The damage from the previous game and its fallout was seen early on, as we played with little confidence and almost went a goal behind. It took about 25 minutes for us to start playing. Han Xuan gave us a rare lead, then Tae-Goon scored what was likely his final goal for the club. The second half was comfortable, and we added third through Zhao Ming.
Liaoning pulled a goal back with a set-piece, and then made it 3-2 in the 85th minute. I stated fearing the worse. Surely we weren’t going to bottle this. Surely not.
Thankfully, we held out for the win, otherwise I might have resigned there and then.
And that’s it, ladies and gentleman. My first season in the Chinese Super League has come to a close, and we’ve accomplished what everyone thought wouldn’t happen: avoid relegation. Comfortably.
The second half of our season was poor by the standards we set during the first half. Our final position was only achievable thanks to our outstanding form early on. That, and the poor form of other teams, meant we were never in any danger of being in a relegation battle. Nonetheless, I was very pleased with how the season had turned out.
Elsewhere, Beijing ended the streak! Guangzhou’s grip on the title was finally broken, and I like to think we did our bit to contribute to that by being awful against them.
Alex Teixeira won the Player of the Year and the Foreign Player of the Year, while Wei Shihao won Young Player of the Year. Alberto Zaccheroni picked up the Manager of the Year.
We had our own personal awards. It was no surprise that Ha Tae-Goon was voted our best player.
And here’s what the board and media made of our season:
I held a meeting with the team before they all flew off for their holiday – some of whom would not be coming back. I praised them for a fantastic season, and outlined my ambition for next year: we were going for that comfortable mid-table spot, like the one we were currently in. Everyone was happy with that.
It’s been a very enjoyable and unique experience so far, and it’s far from over. We’ve managed to beat the drop with ease this time, but next season, with the squad facing some significant turnover, comes with a whole new set of challenges.