Conquering China took a small break for various reasons, but now it's back with the team being typically inconsistent and achieving our best result to date.
May was a mercifully shorter month this season, with just the three games to play around an international break. International call-ups tend not to affect us too much, with Steve and Helio being our only international players. This time, Gligorov would also go away on international duty with the Australian U20 side at the U20 World Cup.
This was one of those rare occasions where we didn’t have to face off against a high quality foreign player in the opposition attack that would almost certainly make a mockery of our wimpy home-grown defence. That defence held out well for most of the game, helped by our newly honed ability to circulate the ball in midfield in a way that could only be described as “passenaccio”. At this level retaining possession isn’t all that difficult to achieve, but ensuring that possession isn’t sterile is an altogether more difficult challenge.
Our closest chance arrived after Roorda stuck a lazy boot through a dead ball and nonchalantly struck the cross bar. The busy and lively Seung-Dae scurried past the unmoving Shandong defenders to latch onto the rebound, but somehow failed to put the ball in. Neither half saw much in the way of real goal-mouth action, and the game was set-up perfectly for a Shandong punt down the field to soar over the heads of our defenders and fall precisely at the feet of Cheng Yuan, who blasted it home.
1-0 to the visitors, and it would stay that way.
Off the back of a defeat isn’t how I’d want to be travelling to Guangzhou who, despite an uncharacteristically poor start to their season, still possessed a team that scared the crap out of me. But as always with these games, there’s not a lot to lose by having a go, and not much to gain from simply bending over and taking it. And who knows – maybe we could take advantage of their current turmoil and come away with something.
The first half was a welcomingly drab affair. Guangzhou played without any urgency or cohesion, and Jackson Martinez cut a forlorn figure up front trying to escape the attentions of Helio and Petkovic. We kept hold the ball a lot better than we did in last year’s visit, and as the half we went on we cautiously stepped up the pitch and dared to pry open their backline. Besides a half-chance here or there, though, there wasn’t much to talk about.
Still, it was a pleasing half, and a good platform for a long second half. Guangzhou spurned an excellent opportunity early on. Around the hour mark, we earned a rare corner. Chunyu swept the corner in with a precision he’ll probably never repeat, and Helio rose above everyone to glance a header in at the near post. This was actually happening.
Serenaded by boos and whistles, Guangzhou mustered up little in the way of a response. Their attempts to get back into the game were token at best, which made our usually rickety backline look rock solid. With much more ease than I was expected, we saw out the game, and secured a famous victory.
So sitting second in the table, with a number of players performing well, and with another transfer window looming ominously in the distance, it was inevitable that a couple of our players would attract interest from China’s biggest and richest. News broke that Beijing Guon were after our star midfielder, Sun Jun. Uh oh.
The latest China squad was announced, and our star midfielder Sun Jun was not included for unfathomable reasons. I’m sure if he was playing for a bigger club like, say, Beijing Guon, he would have received a call-up.
Our current form also earned me a new contract – same wage, but with an extra year. Seems I’ll be staying in this remote corner of China for a little longer.
After the scalp of Guangzhou, a home game against one of the weaker sides in the division looked a simple task. But, just because we found the answer to one puzzle didn’t mean we had the answer to this one. And boy was it a frustrating puzzle.
Yifang were stubborn at the back and surprisingly efficient going forward. They saw less of the ball but seemed to exploit the holes in our team with a precision I would have expected from Guangzhou. Half hour in they took a deserved lead. Meanwhile, our own attack failed to function at all.
Generously, I allowed young Cao Yuan and Gligorov (back from an expectedly short U20 World Cup campaign) and extra 15 minutes to do something worthwhile. When they didn’t, they were hauled off for Junhui and Seung-Dae, the big guns I thought I could rest. Within moments of coming on the two produced some fancy combination play that sliced open Yifang and drew us level.
But individual brilliance aside, our lack of cohesion in this game meant we failed produce any more chances of note, and had to settle for a disappointing 1-1 draw.
So we’re about halfway through the season now, and the table is looking very nice:
A title push looks like fantasy at this stage, but we’re firmly in the race for continental football next season. Whether we get there or not will depend on if we can maintain our current consistency, and how many players I end up losing when the window opens.