HONG KONG: Shandong Luneng coach Li Xiaopeng breathed a sigh of relief as his side ended a three-game losing streak with a 2-1 win over Guangzhou R&F on Sunday that keeps alive their hopes of landing a first Chinese Super League title since 2010.
Graziano Pelle and Jin Jingdao scored the goals that earned Shandong their first win in four matches and ensure the four-time champions remain within touching distance of leaders Shanghai SIPG with eight games remaining.
“This is the kind of game where you feel the pressure,” said Li, who took over as Shandong head coach at the start of the season.
“Thanks to the players for their effort. Everyone was striving to win and it has put us on a good path for the final phase of the league.”
Former Southampton striker Pelle put Shandong in front after just 10 minutes with a delightful side-foot volley from seven metres out and Jin doubled his side’s lead eight minutes after the restart with a close-range finish.
Brazilian Renatinho pulled one back for R&F on the hour mark, but it was not enough to spark Dragan Stojković’s side into mounting a successful comeback.
Shandong trail leaders SIPG by five points after the Shanghai side returned to the summit on Friday.
Vitor Pereira’s side secured an emphatic 5-2 thrashing of Tianjin Teda that allowed them to capitalise on Beijing Guoan’s 1-0 loss to defending champions Guangzhou Evergrande.
Evergrande’s win, courtesy of a late goal from on-loan Brazilian striker Anderson Talisca, means one point separates the top three sides, with SIPG leading on 46 points with Guangzhou and Beijing both on 45.
SIPG and Evergrande have played one game fewer than the rest of the teams in the league after their meeting earlier in the season was postponed due to a typhoon, and their delayed fixture is due to be staged in Shanghai on Tuesday.
Elsewhere, Chris Coleman’s Hebei China Fortune continued their upswing in fortunes with a 2-0 win over Beijing Renhe that moved the Welshman’s team up to sixth, six points adrift of fifth placed Jiangsu Suning, who were held to a 1-1 draw by Shanghai Shenhua.
Second division champions Dalian Yifang continued their climb away from relegation trouble with a 1-0 win over Asian Champions League quarter-finalists Tianjin Quanjian. Bottom side Guizhou Zhicheng’s troubles deepened as a result of a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Changchun Yatai.
Chongqing Lifan, meanwhile, had a solitary goal from Alan Kardec to thank for pulling them out of the relegation zone as they defeated Henan Jianye 1-0 to leapfrog the Zhengzhou-based club to move up into 14th place.