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What's Gone Wrong At E-Land?

Wednesday night’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of Goyang marked E-Land’s fifth straight game without a win and was the latest in a fairly long line of lacklustre performances which have seen the team win only two games in ten during the months of July and August. In fact, if the current form of all teams in the division continued to the end of the season then E-Land would find themselves finishing in sixth place and out of even the play-off spots in a league that many pundits expected them to dominate prior to the season getting underway. What, then, has gone wrong? I thought I’d take a look and offer my thoughts.
I think it would be fair to say in some kind of defence of the team that pre-season expectations of coasting to victory in the league were probably wildly optimistic. While E-Land have been able to bring in top players like Cho Won-hee, Kim Jae-sung and Kim Young-kwang there were still plenty of inexperienced or lower-level players in the squad and with competition coming from the likes of Sangju Sangmu, who can cherry pick the cream of the K-League Classic conscriptees, it was never going to be a walk in the park to get promoted in the clubs very first season.

That being said, it’s clear that the team should be, and is, capable of doing better than they currently are. This is the same group that won nine matches out of eleven during May and June scoring 29 goals in the process. By contrast during July and August the net has only been found nine times in ten matches. Had they managed to maintain their blistering springtime pace they would be something like a dozen points clear at the top of the league right now.

Of course it was always going to be difficult to maintain such form and every team suffers a dip at some point. Luckily for E-Land their title rivals have also suffered and so they have managed to cling onto third place and have stayed in touch with the league leaders. With 14 games to go there is still plenty of time to turn things around, and winning the title is still a possibility, but several issues will need to be addressed if this to be achieved.

The most vital of these is that the team will need to learn how to hold onto a lead. Wednesday night was the third game in August alone where E-Land have gone in front only to concede goals and end up losing the match. There is a tendency to take the foot off the gas as soon as they score which allows the opposition a foothold in the match upon which to build. Indeed E-Land have only scored a second goal in two of their last thirteen matches.

Furthermore, when they do concede they have a tendency to concede again quickly. In recent times, Goyang, Bucheon, Suwon, Gangwon and Sangju have scored multiple times in the space of ten minutes – five games in which E-Land have failed to take even a single point. Title challengers should not crumble so easily in the face of adversity.

Perhaps this stems from a lack of confidence or from the pressure of expectation but good teams are measured not just by how they do when things are going well but also in their ability to dig in when things are going against them. There are question marks around a lack of leadership on the park to marshall the younger, inexperienced players through these situations. Too many of the more experienced players are perhaps struggling with their own form but you would expect guys like Cho Won-hee or Kim Jae-sung to step up and take control of these situations. Cho, in particular, seems to revert to frustration and annoyance in the face of adversity rather than exert a calming influence.

Of course, one simple reason for the slump is that the goals of Joo Min-kyu have dried up somewhat. Perhaps defences have worked out how to contain him better or maybe he’s just having an inevitable barren spell that all strikers experience. It is difficult to expect him to continue to keep up his scoring form for the entirety of the season and it’s unfair to point any finger of blame at him when he has delivered so much under such a heavy weight of expectation.

Instead the finger has to be pointed at those around him who have failed to shoulder their share of the scoring burden. While Tarabai has contributed the most in terms of goals, the majority of his scores have been penalties and he has struggled to lead the line at times. Elsewhere Bobby has been a willing workhorse but lacking in end product with only a single goal to his name so far. The least said about Ryan Johnson’s contribution the better perhaps although in fairness he has hardly been used to the best of his ability.

Elsewhere, the midfield have also not contributed much in terms of goals. Kim Young-keun has struggled to recapture his form of the spring, Kim Jae-sung has lost the mercurial air of a man playing a level below his capability and while Cho has stepped up in terms of goals he struggles to dominate the way he had been doing just a few short months ago.

Perhaps too much is being expected of too few in some regards? The Challenge season is a long and arduous 40 matches of almost constant twice a week action. It takes a toll on players and squad management is important. However, few, if any, of the squad men have really stepped up to the plate for Martin Rennie’s side.

The best have probably been defensive men Yang Ki-hoon and Shin Il-soo who have been called on frequently to plug gaps in the side. Elsewhere Kim Chang-wook and Jeon Min-kwang have been tried in midfield but they remain unconvincing. Up front, there has been limited opportunities for guys like Choi Oh-baek or Choi Yoo-sang to show what they can do but one must assume that Rennie hasn’t seen enough from them in training to suggest they are not better options.

The lack of a Plan B must be a major source of frustration for Rennie as he really lacks the alternatives to change the team significantly either before or during a game. Rennie doesn’t escape without some share of the culpability though. Some decisions around team selection and substitutions continue to baffle but it’s difficult to point to exactly what else can be done. There are no glaringly obvious options elsewhere in the squad that look like they could make a difference. Rennie then is more or less confined to two choices – persist with his first eleven in the hope they come good or throw in rookies and let them sink or swim. The latter could be a dangerous path.

This being the case, it has to be said that the transfer window was a major disappointment in terms of strengthening the squad. While four young players were allowed to leave only two replacements were sourced – a National League right-back in the shape of Kim Tae-eun and a young midfielder from Jeonbuk, Choi Chi-won.  Neither has really convinced so far.

It remains to be seen whether the issue was budget, ability to source players or whether Rennie was just happy with what he had but bringing in a quality attacking addition to the squad to help Joo Min-kyu could have really given the team a much needed shot in the arm. You only have to look across town to see the impact that Adriano has had at FC Seoul or, to a lesser extent, the addition of new players at clubs like Bucheon have had in our league.

We’ve already suffered at the hands of summer signings Henan and Lukian for Gangwon and Bucheon respectively. The capture of Sisi for Suwon FC also shows that exciting signings can be made even in the Challenge. Our recruitment was uninspiring to say the least.

On the plus side, all is not yet lost and things can change quickly in this league. Promotion has to remain the target and can still be achieved. A lot of effort both on and off the field will be needed though.

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