Wu Xinghan's 93rd-minute winner moved Shandong Luneng to the top of the Chinese Super League standings as Li Xiaopeng's side handed Tianjin Teda a last-gasp 2-1 defeat on Friday.
The win moves Shandong three points clear of Shanghai SIPG, who play fourth-placed Jiangsu Suning on Sunday evening in the final round of matches before the league takes a two-month break for the summer's World Cup finals.
But despite the win -- Shandong's seventh from 11 league games so far this season -- Li was far from happy with his team's performance.
"The only thing satisfying about today is that the players never gave up throughout the 90 minutes," said a disgruntled Li. "Everyone worked hard and, finally, the desire to win prevailed.
"Our ranking now isn't important. We've only played 11 games in the league, let's see where we are at the end of the season."
Teda took the lead just before the hour mark when Frank Acheampong scored from the penalty spot but Hao Junmin levelled with only 11 minutes remaining when Tianjin goalkeeper Du Jia failed to claim the China international's curling cross towards goal.
The game looked destined to end in a third straight draw for Shandong before Wu claimed the winner three minutes into stoppage time when his header of Graziano Pelle's centered pass looped towards goal and Du was unable to stop the ball from crossing the line.
Despite the defeat, which leaves Tianjin in eighth place, coach Uli Stielike believes his team have made significant improvements since his arrival last year.
"Recently the team has matured and the performance of the players have been getting better and better," said the German, who saved the team from relegation last season. "Even though we lost today we haven't gone backward.
"Today they controlled the game and Shandong showed us respect. We controlled the game and if we continue in this way the future will be bright.
"When I took over the team last year they had only 16 points from 23 games, but now we have 15 points. In fact, we could have won a point from this game, but that doesn't matter."