Manuel Pellegrini's Hebei CFFC beat Guangzhou R&F 2-1 to secure its third win in a row on Sunday and move into third place in the Chinese Super League as the battle for places in next season's Asian Champions League heats up.
First-half goals from Brazilian striker Aloisio and Zhang Lifeng effectively secured all three points for Hebei, with Teng Yi's effort for Dragan Stojkovic's team proving little more than a consolation.
The win moves Hebei to 42 points, one clear of Tianjin Quanjian, which beat Guizhou Zhicheng 3-1 on Sunday. Tianjin still has a game in hand on the leader.
Only the top three teams in the CSL will qualify for the continental club championship and Pellegrini's side leads the way in a five-team fight for the final spot.
"I told my players before the game that we were playing for six points," said Pellegrini.
"Both sides are tight to each other in the rankings, so we had to win.
"There are five teams fighting for the Asian Champions League slots and this competition will become very intense in the final three games of the season."
Five points cover the teams from third through seventh, and Shandong Luneng was one of the biggest weekend losers with Felix Magath's side slipping to fifth following a 0-0 draw with Jiangsu Suning.
Beijing Guo'an also slipped up when Roger Schmidt's side shared a 4-4 draw with bottom side Yanbian Funde, with Babacar Trawally completing his hat-trick for Yanbian in the 90th minute to deny Beijing all three points.
Guangzhou Evergrande maintained its eight-point lead over second-place Shanghai SIPG at the summit as both teams won their respective matches over Changchun Yatai and Tianjin Teda.
Evergrande had a Ricardo Goulart double to thank for its 3-1 success over Changchun, while SIPG pushed Tianjin deeper into relegation trouble as goals from Wu Lei, Yu Hai and Elkeson gave Andre Villas-Boas's side a 3-1 win.
Guangzhou coach Luiz Felipe Scolari hailed the influence of veteran midfielder Zheng Zhi, who was instrumental in his team's win once again.
"Zheng Zhi's fighting spirit and professional attitude are an example to all Chinese players," said Scolari.
"He played for the national team but, no matter his state of mind, he always gives his best. He doesn't know how to play the game any other way.
"He's 37 years old but he's like an 18-year-old and he works so hard in every match.
"He is an example to everyone and it's a pleasure for me to be able to work with such a player."
Stielike takes over
Three months after being axed as coach of South Korea, German Uli Stielike has been tasked with steering Tianjin Teda away from possible relegation.
Underlining the challenge facing the 62-year-old, Tianjin lost 3-1 to second-place Shanghai SIPG on Saturday and sits second from the bottom with seven games left.
Fellow German coaches Felix Magath and Roger Schmidt are already in the CSL, helming Shandong Luneng and Beijing Guo'an respectively.
On Monday, Uruguayan Gus Poyet resigned as coach of Shanghai Shenhua after a 2-1 loss to Henan Jianye on the weekend left the big-spending club languishing in 12th place.
The club's 11th loss in 23 matches this season came despite the introduction of Carlos Tevez off the bench after the Argentine forward's return from injury.