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Jeonnam Dragons vs. Jeonbuk Motors Recap

             The formula for No Sang Rae's Jeonnam Dragons has remained the same all season long. They play a defensive minded, counter attacking brand of football with minimal flare and a weighty serving of grit. This conservative brand of football has netted them a few lucky bounces that have kept the Dragons afloat in the top half of the K-League Classic; most of their matches resulting in 0-0 or 1-1 draws. There was nothing lucky about their April 26th win against bitter rival Jeonbuk Motors.

             From the opening whistle the Dragons looked like an entirely new team than the one that had been smashed by Pohang 4-1 two weeks earlier with pacey Lee Chang Min making tireless (and often ill-advised) runs at the defense. The opening minutes were characterized by wild and occasionally violent play from both teams as the early battle was waged in the midfield trenches but, it was Jeonnam and not top of the table Jeonbuk that established dominance early on, particularly through the air. The Dragons displayed an edge in the aerial attack not before seen in any previous tilts. Unfortunately, the new found aggression didn't come without its cost as starting forward and leading scorer Lee Jong Ho
was carted off in the 14th minute and replaced by 22 year old Croatian import Mislav Oršić.

             The Dragons were initially rattled after losing their emotional leader and Jeonbuk took advantage as play settled in to the home half of the field. Jeonbuk feasted on some questionable decision making from centerback Lim Jong Eun and won consecutive corners but, both times and throughout the entirety, the Dragons were rescued by ageless goalkeeper Kim Byeong Ji who looked absolutely unbeatable on this warm and cloudless April day.

             For a brief moment it seemed as if Jeonbuk had found their foothold over the Dragons defense and were content to apply consistent attacking pressure. They launched several wild shots from outside the box and were repeatedly stymied on lackluster build-up attempts by defender Choi Hyo Jin and team captain Kim Dong Cheol. That moment was short lived as serpentine striker Stevica Rstic glided through several Jeonbuk defenders on the counter attack and set up a telling give-and-go pass resulting in a beautiful one touch goal from Lee Chang Min in the 22nd minute.

             After play resumed things got a bit chippy from the previously undefeated Jeonbuk team. Again, possession was mainly located in the Jeonnam half and again Jeonnam repulsed any attempt to swing the ball in to the box. Jeonbuk turned up the pressure consistently as the last minutes of the first half ticked away. In the 41st minute Jeonbuk equalized off a low corner kick that bounced around inside the box hitting several players on both teams and ultimately finding itself in the back of the net.

             Despite a dominant performance from Jeonnam both teams went in to the locker room with the score level. Jeonbuk came out to start the second half looking refreshed and quickly subbed in the K-League leading goal scorer Edu. The Brazilian played sluggishly from his forward position and at times showed his age but with the ball at his feet he was in a class of his own, as evidenced by a scintillating run in to the box in the 58th minute. He easily shrugged off two Jeonnam defenders and then flicked the ball in front of goal for a perfectly placed cross on what was probably Jeonbuk's best opportunity of the day. Fortunately for the Dragons the ball was handled poorly and sailed well high.

             There was no doubt that the second half belonged to Jeonbuk and they certainly looked to be the stronger side but, it was Jeonnam that unleveled the score on another wonderful pass from Rstic, effortlessly tapped in by Lee Chang Min for his second goal of the day in the 62nd minute.    

             Jeonbuk would never recover from the sting of that second goal. They looked lazy in attack often settling for looping passes in to the Jeonnam half which were quickly dispatched by the aerial dominance of the Dragons. In the 76th minute defensive minded Lee Ji Min came in to bolster the back line. Jeonbuk could do little more than collect corner kicks and their share of the possession percentage as Dong Cheol and company held firm against the talented Jeonbuk frontline. Jeonbuk never showed the type of urgency to equalize that you would expect from an undefeated team and the result felt concluded long before the referee's final whistle.

             Jeonnam will be riding a 2 game winning streak as they look to move farther up the table in their next match on May 3rd against the plummeting Gwangju FC, who have not won in their past 5 games.    

Player Ratings
GK – Kim Byeong Ji 9 Man of the Match
DF – Choi Hyo Jin 8
DF- Kim Dong Cheol 8
DF- Lim Jong Eun 5
DF- Lee Seul Chan 7
MF- Lee Ji Nam 6
MF- Jeong Seok Min 7 (84)
FW- Lee Chang Min 9  22'  65'
FW- Ahn Young Woo 6 (76)
FW- Lee Jong Ho – Injury (16)
FW- Stevica Rstic 8

FW- Mislav Oršić (16) 6
DF- Lee Ji Min (76) 6

MF- Oh Young Jun (84)

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