By Cal Widdall
Shanghai Shenhua drew 1-1 with Jiangsu Sainty in their first game of the season on Saturday, thanks to a goal from Aussie forward Joel Griffiths in the match’s second half. With approximately 30,000 tickets sold, fans were disappointed to see injured star signing Nicolas Anelka watching the entire game from the stands.
Sitting out with an ankle injury, which had been rumoured on Weibo beforehand but not officially confirmed, ‘Ā nèi ěr kǎ’ (阿内尔卡) can’t have been impressed with the performance of his teammates as they struggled against their local rivals, who finished fourth in the league last year. He’s expected back for next week’s trip to Beijing, where he’ll hope to start his first non-friendly competitive league game (though Anelka is arguably pretty unfriendly no matter who he plays).
Shenhua lined up for the Yangtze Delta derby in a defensive 4-2-3-1 formation, with ex-Beijing striker (and last season’s CSL top scorer) Joel Griffiths leading the attack in a lone striker role. While the home team sat deep, allowing the opposition into their half before closing them down, Sainty reaped the benefits from a more energetic pressing game and saw far more of the ball in the first half.
Eventually this possession lead to well-deserved goal. Sainty’s Aleksandar Jevtic met a lofted pass over the defence with a wonderful looping header, nodding the ball beyond the goalkeeper and into the top corner.
Griffiths equalizes in the second half
Shanghai created few chances, and only genuinely threatened from a well-worked corner routine which almost succeeded twice in the first half. Unsurprisingly, this is where the equalizer materialised from after 56 minutes. Moises flicked Jiang Kun’s cross towards the back post where a diving header from Griffiths resulted in a debut goal for the Aussie.
Though Shenhua’s dire first half was improved upon during the second, poor communication combined with a continued lack of creativity in the final third meant that they never seemed likely to snatch an undeserved win.
Joel Griffiths and substitute Mathieu Manset, who was brought on to take Griffiths’ striking duties around the 60 minute mark, saw very little of the ball up front throughout the game, with the crowd witnessing more than a few exasperated “What the hell?” hand-gestures thrown up in frustration from Griffiths. As time went on the midfield resorted to increasingly desperate through-passes, which consistently flew everywhere besides in the direction of a blue Shenhua shirt.
If this game is anything to go by, the pre-season recruitment of three foreign strikers will turn out to be a terrible investment. Hopefully the Beijing match and Anelka’s debut at the storied Worker’s Stadium, China’s equivalent to Wembley Stadium, will be just the rejuvenating boost the team needs to motivate their return towards the upper echelons of the Chinese Super League.
Highlights of the game below: