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Jeonnam Dragons 1-2 Gwangju FC: Recap and Ode to Frustration

After an impressive showing against Busan, Jeonnam reverts back to its old self in second loss to Gwangju on the season.

Disappointment, thy name is Jeonnam. In what was seemingly an effort to resurrect the listless ways of May, the Dragons couldn't maintain possession to save their lives, and squandered it in frustratingly similar fashion when they had it. After gleefully watching a more direct approach pay off over the weekend, it seemed the Dragons had turned a corner. Clearly what they had been doing wasn't working at all. Jeonnam went 1-3-1 in the month of May and it wasn't pretty. After getting trounced on the road in Seoul and Jeju, the Dragons returned home and switched up their approach. And it worked.

In spite of the success against I'Park, Noh Sang-rae reverted back to the same mind-numbingly frustrating approach of booting it up the wing and lobbing a cross to no one in particular. Predictably this led to a slew of turnovers, lack of controlled possession, and very few goals. Just like it did through four of the five league games in May. Beyond being frustrated this reversion of tactics, it's aggravating to see the likes of Lee Jong-ho, Kim Pyung-rae and the up and coming Mislav Oršić handcuffed by a poor system. Nearly all of the playmakers on this Dragons squad have the ability to run directly at defenders, beat them, and get a quality shot on net. Choi Hyo-jin also has a fantastic ability to get forward and make the keeper work. However, none of them were encouraged to do so on Wednesday night as the tatic fell back to "lob it to Stevo and hope." Don't get me wrong, Ristić does a great job as a target man, but he shouldn't be responsible for hold up play. It's just not his role. And if our midfielders were allowed to possess the ball more, come into the center of the field, and actually give the defenders something to think about, then it wouldn't be so easy for them to double and triple team our big man in the middle. But... alas... this just doesn't seem to be in the cards for Noh Sang-rae who is unflinching in love with a broken system.

As for the game action, it started well for the Dragons. Ahn Yong-woo was in possession at the top of the box, made a cut inside (a good early sign), was rejected and instead took it to the line and whipped in a cross. Because of the more direct play (or perhaps a nap by the Gwangju defense), Ristić found himself unmarked on top of the six yard box and made no mistake with a well placed lob over Kwon Jung-hyuk to give Jeonnam an extremely early 1-0 lead in the second minute. Aside from the play and finish, the great news to come out of this is Stevo getting another goal. The early header brings his season total to 5 and immediately puts him into the Golden Boot race a mere two behind league leader Edu with 7.

The good news stopped there. Seemingly content to protect a one goal lead at home, Noh Sang-rae shelled his boys up and asked them to boot it out of the defensive zone, possession be damned! Not only is it utter madness to go into a defensive stance up a goal at home against a much weaker team, 88 minutes is simply too long to protect a lead. Yet this was the Dragons clear cut objective from the moment they finished celebrating their goal. Boot it out. Kick it to the wing. Lob in a cross regardless of who's around. Rinse. Repeat.

Unsurprisingly this strategy didn't work overly well and managed only to tire out our defense. Gwangju pressed for the remainder of the first half, but somehow didn't find their breakthrough until the 67th minute when Yeo Reum drilled a shot from outside the box low and hard past Kim Byung-ji. It could be argued that the keeper should've done a bit better, but it was a solid shot from a completely unmarked player. Not going to hang that on the keeper.

If it wasn't enough to see two points evaporate, the Dragons second biggest weakness was equally exposed: set pieces. With the game nearly in its death rattle, Gwangju earned a corner which Kim Young-bin headed home for the visitors over the clearly outmatched Ko Byung-wook. The goal was well deserved and had been a long time coming. The first goal felt a bit like a punch to the gut. The second was more like the slow and steady fall on ice when you can feel it coming, but can do nothing to stop it until your head wallops the ice.

In the Busan recap I said "it's important to keep perspective," but I didn't think it would be anywhere near this bad. Completely abandoning the more direct attack that finally gave creative freedom to our attacking mids is beyond reproach. Wing play simply isn't working for Jeonnam, yet that's what the manager insists on doing time and again regardless of what he's seeing on the field. When it comes to Noh Sang-rae's approach, I'm reminded of something Stephen Colbert said about then President Bush: "You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change; this man's beliefs never will."

2 comments

  1. Amen! I'm usually willing to give a manager some time to let his players get used to his/her system but at this point I'm out for blood. Jeonnam desperately needs a change in philosophy and I don't see it coming as long as noh sang rae is at the helm. The team is WAY too talented to be playing the way they are.

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    1. As a Chicago Fire and Everton fan I'm all too used to hearing "fire him" death chants from a number of fans, but it's usually not my thing. In this case, I just can't explain who else is responsible for the lack of creativity on offense. Obviously the players have the abilities and we maintain possession enough that we should be doing more... but they're clearly told to just lob it and pray. Really tired of it.

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