The CSL continues as it attempts to cram as many games in as short a time as possible. This could well be the longest April I've ever had.
This is a multi-part series. You can start from the beginning, or read start from Part 11.
There was no time to linger on another disappointing result against Jiangsu, as April rolled round with a truck load of fixtures. We had seven games to get through in four weeks, starting with a home match against Yongchang.
Pleasingly the Jiangsu result didn’t damage the confidence of the team at all, as it continued to play attractive football and take the game to the opposition. Four minutes in some great combination play saw Steve knock in Junhui’s cross at the back post to give us the lead. Eight minutes in Steve cuts inside from the left and slips in Seung-Dae. The South Korean finished confidently on his weaker left foot. We were 2-0 up and looking good.
At this point it was expected that we play worse in the second half and let the opposition back in, but it seemed that this time that wouldn’t be the case and we would comfortably see it out. Then, late on, the inevitable lapse in concentration occurred as Steve neglected to track their right back, who went on to get a goal back. Determined to make amends, Steve picked up the ball from 30 yards and struck a ferocious effort that crashed against the bar. Seung-Dae then stole in to pick up the pieces and make it 3-1. Overall, a very good performance and another three points.
Next up was another home game, this time against Changchun.
Changchun had made an abysmal start to the season, losing all of their games so far. They arrived at our ground not the mess I was expecting, but a stubborn, determined team that wanted to get out of their rut.
This was an awful match. Our passing was wayward and our combination play was non-existent. Changchun weren’t threatening our goal but they were far too comfortable at the back. It took us half an hour to create any chance, and it was a noteworthy one. Sun Jun was put through one on one, but he screwed his shot hopelessly wide. We managed only three shots the entire half.
We began the second half far more aggressively, hitting the bar and working their keeper a bit more. But that flurry proved temporary and the second half became just as tedious as the first. In the final ten minutes, while I was just waiting for the game to finally end, Pei Yuwen’s cross from the right flew over the Changchun’s keeper head and into the far corner. A complete fluke, leading to a completely undeserved lead and win.
With that win, we were top of the league! Maybe the players were nervous about the prospect of going top, hence that highly disappointing performance in the previous game. We went into the Fuli match in the unusual position of leading the table.
We were trying out a new away day formation to hopefully improve our defensive record. It didn’t work. Fuli took an early lead when a cross resulted in a tame shot straight at our keeper that somehow squirmed in. No change of tactic can help if the goalkeeper makes such poor mistakes, evidently.
Seung-Dae got us straight back into the game with a well-struck effort from the edge of the box. Just before half-time, Fuli re-took the lead when another cross came in, brushed off our defender and rolled in. Not for the first time this playthrough, I’m left wondering if crosses are simply too overpowered, or if our defenders are so incompetent they can’t defend them.
In the second half, a Fuli cross came in from the left hand side. It wasn’t even that good a cross, yet it still managed to find Bruninho and he put it in for 3-1. We went on to lose the game, and I felt strangely hard done by.
Despite the defeat, we remained top of the table, which meant our next game against Shanggang would be a top of the table clash. Who’d have thought?
It took only thirty seconds for Seung-Dae to race clear and give us the lead. We were playing with a good amount of confidence and taking the game to Shanggang, but you know those awful crosses; the bane of our existence. Shanggang equalised when a cross from their right wing-back flew straight in. Since this is the second time this has happened in as many weeks, I can only conclude that the standard of Chinese goalkeepers is so bad that what should be a rare, fluky occurrence becomes commonplace.
Somehow, it gets worse. Two minutes into the second half, a cross from the same player hits our crossbar and drops right in front of the keeper, who has flopped on the ground. Wenyi didn't bother to get up and smother the loose ball, instead opting to lay there stupidly as Elkeson proceeded to stick the ball in the net and give Shanggang a thoroughly undeserved lead.
To our credit, we kept going – clearly the players were as angered by these ridiculous cross goals as I was – and pushed for an equaliser. It finally arrived in the 91st minute. Yuwen sent the ball across the penalty area and Sun Jun met it with a stupendous volley into the top corner. 2-2 the final score.
The busy month continued as we hosted Hangzhou.
Unsurprisingly, we play with a lot more confidence and ability at home. We probed away at Hangzhou for a good hour before we finally got the breakthrough. A free-kick was flicked on by Roorda, and Helio was on hand to nod the ball in. On the whole it was an unremarkable game, where we got back to winning ways before we tumbled into a rut.
I know well in advance that a rut is coming – it’s just a matter of when.
Having played two home games in a row, we were set for two away games to finish up what has been an exhausting month.
We tend not to play as well away from home. While we have little trouble retaining possession of the ball, creating good chances can be a challenge, and keeping the opposition out is downright impossible for our slow, weak and scatter-brained backline, marshalled by a highly erratic keeper.
Henan predictably took the lead when Sun Haosheng’s shot was parried by Wenyi onto the post and into the goal. It should have been saved. Seung-Dae continued his good season by scoring his 7th goal of the season, but poor goalkeeping would be the difference once again as Wenyi saved a shot, but ended up palming it straight to the feet of Du Changjie, who scored the winning goal. 2-1 Henan.
The month ended with our first game against one of the newly promoted teams, Wuhan.
Cao Yuan, a promising attacking midfielder from our academy, came in for his debut on the right side of our attack. The 17 went on to have a stellar game, scoring one and then providing another for Zlatko Gligorov, who will surely be relieved to finally get off the mark for the club. Granted, the Australian hasn’t been given that many minutes to score in, with Seung-Dae’s impressive form blocking off any chance of a start.
Compared to other away games, this one was possibly the easiest we’ve played all season.
After all that, we were a dizzy second in the table and, whisper it quietly, in the title race.
However, I wasn’t getting ahead of myself. The aim for the season was to finish comfortably in mid-table, not to challenge for the title or even qualify for the Champions League. It’s safe to say we’re very much on track to accomplish that.