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Conquering China, part four - Wonderful Mid-Table Form

We win some games, lose some games, and ultimately display the sort of average mid-table form that everyone associated with Yanbian Fude would be delighted with - welcome to part four of the Conquering China series. 

You can find the beginning of this series here and follow all the parts up to this one.

The month started with a friendly message from the board evaluating my performance so far:

The game at Jiangsu was less a humbling and more a reminder that a team predicted to be relegated will find it tough away from home. Winning at home isn't easy to do, either, but a strong home record would go a long way towards ensuring survival.

Shanghai Shenhua were the next team to visit the Yanji Sports Centre stadium.

Shenhua’s strategy was essentially to hoof it to Ba and let the big man take care of the rest. It was a valid strategy, considering we didn't have the strongest (or quickest, or tallest) defence in China. However, before they could put that plan into action, they were stunned by a goal inside the opening minute. Tae-Goon made a terrific run down the channel, held it up, then picked out Sun Jun on the edge of the box. Sun Jun took one touch then walloped it straight into the top corner. He’s rated as the best Chinese player in our squad for a reason.

Tae-Goon doubled our lead a little later but had his effort ruled out for offside. In my honestly, completely impartial view, it looked like the wrong call.

We got away with some more sloppy defending when a long ball put Ba through one on one, but he put his shot wide. This set the tone for the second half, where Shenhua bombarded us with long balls and various set-piece routines. Our keeper, Chi Wenyi, had a terrific game and claimed anything that came his way, and thanks to him we didn't have much to worry about in the second half. A corner in the final few seconds caused some panic in our box, but we somehow managed to deal with it and claimed a famous 1-0 win.

While I'm celebrating a second win of the season, our party is well and truly pooped by news of Sun Jun having a sports hernia and being forced to miss the next 6-7 weeks. A month in and I've already lost two of my best central midfielders. In brighter news, Steve had seen out his four game suspension and could now slot straight into the midfield for our trip to Guangzhou Fuli.

Fuli, the scrappy little brother of the other Guangzhou side, were the first team we've faced that didn't have players that terrified me. It became quickly apparent, though, that I made a mistake in thinking this away game would be easier because what Fuli did have was a pair of incredibly nippy Brazilian wingers called Renatinho and Bruninho.

In a match that was otherwise a stalemate, those two provided enough quality for Fuli to go into half-time with a 1-0 lead. Renatinho had whipped an unstoppable cross for Tan Long to tap in. We managed to create some good openings of our own, but Tae-Goon’s finishing wasn't up to par.

I felt reasonably confident of getting back into the game in the second half, but our momentum came to a grinding halt after Fuli turned on the style, ripped through the middle our team and doubled their lead. We went on to squander a couple more decent chances before Tae-Goon finally hit the back of the net with seven minutes to go. If only that goal had come 10 minutes earlier.

Fuli won the game 2-1, and I was left wondering what could have been had our finishing been better. The wait for an away win goes on.

Typically, the moment I started thinking we could rely on our home form for the bulk of our points, we lost.

Shanghai Shanggang (something of a tongue twister) were managed by the one-and-only Sven-Goren Eriksson, and their attack boasted the talents of Dario Conca (once the third highest paid player in the world, behind Messi and Ronaldo) and Elkeson (scored over 50 goals in little over 70 games for Guangzhou). They had a lot of quality, but still I naively thought we could win the game.

Sadly, my confidence didn't transfer over to the team. Seung-Dae shanked a good chance wide in the opening five minutes, and after that we struggled for any real fluency. Shanggang took an inevitable lead in the first half. At 1-0 we were still in it, and I changed to a 4-4-2 – Seung-Dae up with Tae-Goon for twice the Korean power.

As it turned out, having all the power concentrated in one area of the pitch wasn't a good idea. The lack of any quality in midfield became painfully apparent as they failed to connect with the South Korean pair and adequately protect our struggling backline. Asamoah Gyan added a second Shanggang goal and that was that. It had been a miserable performance and for the first time I was wishing I had better defenders, better midfielders and better forwards. Better everything, basically. 

Storming into the chairman’s office and demanding a completely new team in broken Chinese would have accomplished little more than amuse him, so we had little choice but to pick ourselves up and prepare for an already crucial relegation six-pointer with Henan, the side languishing at the foot of the table without a win and a pitiful two points.

I feared the worse when Henan started brightly and caused us real problems with a few long throws. One such set-piece ended with our post being struck. Was this going to be it? Was this the moment the decline began?

Half hour in and we finally showed some signs of life. Seung-Dae had a goal ruled out for offside and, again, it looked very, very tight. But while I was preparing another angry tirade at the officials, Seung-Dae put us ahead right on the stroke of half-time.

The timing of that goal seemed crucial, as Henan heads dropped. Seung-Dae got a killer second goal from the penalty spot, and from there it was clear sailing. Our first away win against a side everything is going to win against.

April was rounded off with the draw for the Chinese FA Cup. Jiangsu will travel to Yanji, hopefully sans Alex Teixeira, who’s nursing a broken ankle. Meanwhile, our number two keeper Yin Guang, who had a testimonial during pre-season, informed me of his desire to leave for a new challenge, and absolutely no amount of “come on, stay, pretty please” could convince him otherwise.

So here’s how the table looked:

It was still early days but the bottom two were already stranded from the rest of the league, whereas a decent run of form could see us rise into the AFC Champions League places. It’s okay to dream, isn't it?

Three guesses who lead the scoring charts so far:

It is, of course, Jackson Martinez, followed by a host of foreign forwards. Nothing is more fashionable in the CSL than a shiny, not-quite-good-enough for Europe centre forward.

We now enter May, which will give some pretty decent fixtures and a chance to grab some vital points before a daunting trip to Guangzhou at the end of the month. Join me next time to see how we get on! 



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FM Blog: Conquering China, part four - Wonderful Mid-Table Form
Conquering China, part four - Wonderful Mid-Table Form
Part four of my attempt to rule the Chinese Super League on Football Manager 2016, with Yanbian Fude.
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