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Jeonnam Dragons 1-1 Seongnam FC: Recap

(photo by Derek Burchfield)
The Dragons winless streak is pushed to six as they fail to capitalize on late chances and settle for home draw against Seongnam.

In front of a ridiculously sparse 2,000 fans the Jeonnam Dragons dug themselves an early hole and couldn't fully crawl out to earn all three desperately needed points at home. As mentioned previously, Seongnam's averaged a paltry 1.10 goals scored per game this season and 75% of their games have had under 2.5 in total, so the Dragons didn't need to do much to win. However, they fell short due to missed opportunities and mismanagement. In what's been a yo-yo of a season, the low water mark continues to drop as they've now extended the longest winless streak of 2015 to six.

After an international break and plenty of time to rest, it would've been fair to assume manager Noh Sang-rae would trot out the regulars for such a crucial match against the third place team. That assumption would've been dead wrong. Instead Kim Min-sik made his fourth appearance of the year in net, a far too rusty Leandro Lima made his 5th start, and Ahn Yong-woo was left on the bench. The slightly different lineup combined with the seemingly mindless wandering of Lim Jong-eun from the centerback position left Jeonnam looking rather out of sorts for a team that had multiple weeks to prepare for this opponent. Multiple times in the first 15 minutes the Dragons defense was torn to shreds by the few Seongnam players going forward. The lack of cohesion was most evident in the 26th minute when a Nam Jun-jae cross found a completely unmarked Lee Tae-hee just outside the six yard box for a header that bounced off the far post barely missing giving the visitors an early lead.

Unfortunately for Jeonnam, Seongnam continued to live up to their average of a goal a game and netted shortly thereafter. Nam Jun-jae went down just outside the box from phantom contact with Lee Jong-ho to set up Seongnam free kick from a dangerous spot. Reina took the free kick and found an astoundingly wide open Nam Jun-jae who made no mistake with the free header from the center of the box. How wide open you might ask? Feast your eyes on that crap image to the left and see how not one, not two, not three or four, but five Dragons players get absolutely worked by three SFC players in the same frame. To be fair to Stevo, his back was to this play and Jun-jae is not his responsibility here. However, the four defenders surrounding one player on a set piece should be followed around next practice with a bell and someone shouting "shame!" repeatedly. Woeful marking that mired an otherwise solid performance from Jeonnam's second string keeper.

The good news to come out of all this is that it lit a fire under Jeonnam's collective ass. After sustaining a few decent shots from Seongnam, the Dragons closed out the first with a flurry of chances that would have seen them equalize with a touch better aim on net. A 39th minute free kick bounced through the box relatively untouched, and one minute later Mislav Oršić literally left a few defenders on the ground with a brilliant move through the box and a shot that sailed just wide. He would be rewarded in the 41st when Stevo headed down a cross and laid in a slightly bouncing ball that Oršić drilled on the volley and on frame... but right at Seongnam keeper Park Jun-hyuk.

Ahn Yong-woo was substituted on for Kim Tae-ho at the half and added his usual pace and control on the wings which led to more chances early in the second. Ahn's pace also helped open up the play for Lee Jong-ho to get two quality looks on net in the 10th minute, but Jong-ho could neither head it in, nor make contact with a ball heading just wide of the frame. The breakthrough finally came in the 71st minute from a lovely Oršić free kick just outside the box. From the left side he hit an arching shot up and over the wall that tucked into the net about a foot under the crossbar and nearly kissing the far post. The goal pushed him into a tie for the team lead with nine and was the kind of kick that reminded everyone in attendance exactly what the youngster's capable of.

The remainder of the game saw Jeonnam maintain possession (they finished with 56%), but lacking the tenacity for a killer blow. At times they continued to go for the win and eventually put in 18 shots on the night with only 5 hitting the target. At other times both the team and especially the manager seemed content with the home point and fighting another day. This was never more evident than in the 67th minute when Kim Pyung-rae came on for Stevo Ristić. Why a manager would feel the need to take off the team's top scorer and only 188cm aerial threat in an essentially must win game makes absolutely zero tactical sense.

I cannot for the life of me fathom what Noh Sang-rae was thinking putting the game onto the 27-year-old Pyung-rae who hasn't scored a single league goal this season. Maybe Pyung-rae plays a little better defense than Stevo, but who really cares at that point? Ristić is not a liability up top and not only offers a true target for wing players, but also takes up a good amount of opposing defenses attention which opens space for fellow attackers. Especially when considering the Dragons have scored nearly a quarter of their goals in the 75-90th minute this season this was a particularly odd sub choice. Again, this is on the other end of an international break, so there's zero chance of fitness being the issue. In all honesty, it's the kind of "play it safe" move that's resulted in the Dragons going winless since late July. Needless to say, the set pieces and crosses that came to the middle for the remainder of the game lacked a true target and usually went without much contact aside from one Oršić shot that was blocked by a defender. The match ended deadlocked and Seongnam got exactly what they needed: a road point and maintained 3rd place standing.

The draw sees the Dragons stay in 7th place with only four more games to be played before the split into Championship and Relegation rounds. Miraculously Gwangju pulled off the upset against Incheon, and Pohang and FC Seoul finished scoreless, so the Dragons nearest competition also failed to solidify their spot in the table. The additional two points from a win would've seen Jeonnam back into sixth place with last place Daejeon and 10th place Ulsan as their next two matches. Instead, the Dragons are on the outside looking in and absolutely cannot afford to slip against the lower teams in the next two games as they finish the season against Suwon and FC Seoul. Whether this Sunday's match against last place Daejeon is exactly what the doctor ordered or the definition of a trap game is something Paul Neat and I will discuss in this week's Writers Chat.

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