The season gets underway with a relatively tricky set of games, and we don't do too badly!
March and April were very busy months, as the fixtures were piled up early to free up the calendar for more international games. We travelled to Huaxia for our first game of the season to play the likes of Lavezzi and Gervinho, who have both scored hat-tricks against us at various points during the previous season.
There were débuts for Helio, Li Chunyu, Roorda and Wang Junhui, and Seung-Dae got his first game as our first choice centre forward. The 4-3-3 was here to stay.
Our new look team started the game well by putting Huaxia under some early pressure and creating a handful of half-chances. In the 21st minute our positive start was rewarded with a goal, as four or five quick passes saw Seung-Dae free in the box to score his first of the season. The decision to deploy him as our number nine was already looking good.
Huaxia could have levelled after a series of mistakes from my defenders, but we got away with it. I’m sure this good luck won’t last throughout the season. They paid for not taking that chance when, on the 41st minute, a Roorda free-kick went all the way through to the back post and Helio was there to put in a début goal and give us a commanding lead going into half-time.
We were doing a good job of seeing out the second half until the final ten minutes. Lui Haidong was caught dallying on the ball by Lavezzi. The Argentine ran into our penalty area and pulled it back for a young debutant called Chen Tao to get a goal back. Huaxia were encouraged enough to muster a late flurry for an equaliser, but we kept them out and came away with a nice three points.
Our first home game was against Tianjin. Fredy Montero scored in both games against us last season, and journalists asked about a hundred questions about how I was going to deal with it. My response was something along the lines of playing centre backs that can actually get off the ground.
Having centre backs that could time their headers correctly would have been helpful, too. Tianjin had a great chance to take the lead when Helio zeroed on a long ball, missed it completely, and had no chance of catching Montero. Through on the goal, the Colombian was favourite to score, but Wenyi produced an outstanding save to keep him out.
After that let off, Steve picked up the ball on the left and set off on a mazy run inside. It looked like he missed the chance to play in a forward for a chance on goal, but he kept going, then unleashed a shot from 25 yards that found the top corner. I’m never doubting Steve’s decision making again.
Not to be outdone, Montero received the ball on the edge of our box, held off the defender, swivelled and curled one into the top corner. 1-1 at half-time.
In the second half we were on top and probing for that one chance that could win us the game. It took until the 92nd minute for that chance to come. Our right back, Hongquan, found himself free on the edge of Tianjin’s box. The ball was cut back to him, and he unleashed a tepid shot that took a heavy deflection and nestled into the bottom corner. 2-1 the final score. It has been a good start to the season.
No time to reflect on that as we have a minor trip to the home of the Champions.
Last year we went to Beijing in the middle of their title charge and were thoroughly thumped, so I wasn’t feeling very positive about our chances. A couple of changes were made to the midfield in hopes of creating a stronger defensive base.
We started the game positively, having most of the play in Beijing’s half and working the ball into dangerous areas behind their midfield. 14 minutes gone and we made our first breakthrough, passing our way through their midfield and slipping in Seung-Dae down the right channel. The South Korean cut the ball back and a Beijing defender turned it into his goal to give us a surprise lead.
This stunned Beijing into action and they should have equalised straight away. In what was a carbon copy of the Montero chance in the previous game, a long ball was missed by our defenders and Yilmaz was through on goal. Wenyi was on hand again to keep Yilmaz out and keep us in the lead. Yilmaz would redeem himself later, as he held off our defenders far too easily and scored with a shot that could have been saved.
As I was fearing a Beijing onslaught, we went up the other end and re-took the lead. Chi Zhongguo made a third-man run from midfield and was put through on goal. He looked offside, but the flag stayed down and he stuck the ball in at the near post.
It seemed we caught Beijing at a good time, because they offered very little in the second half. We came out relatively comfortable 2-1 winners.
So it has been a great start to the season, with three 2-1 wins, including a win at the home of the Champions. And this unlikely beginning meant we were top of the league!
It wouldn’t last. Guess who was next?
I was tentatively positive about getting a result when we got through the first half without conceding. Those hopes got even higher when, in the second half, Junhui sent the ball down the right for Seung-Dae to run onto and finish brilliantly across the Jiangsu keeper.
But all good things have to come to an end, and inevitably they have to come to an end against Jiangsu. A corner was not cleared and they equalised. Not long after, a cross came in, evaded everyone and Jo stole in to give Jiangsu the lead. Ten minutes to go, any hope of a comeback was lost by a third Jiangsu goal.
3-1 the final score. I really hate this team.