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K-League Challenge 2015 Grades

So the season is over and after 44 rounds (and a few extra play-off matches) it’s Sangju that managed to edge out Daegu to take the K-League Challenge crown. Meanwhile Suwon have taken the Challenge banner to Busan and taught them a bit of a footballing lesson two-legs, booking their ticket to the Classic with a 3-0 aggregate win.

It’s been an interesting an exciting season with more than a few surprises along the way. There’s been plenty of action, lots of goals and not a small number of upsets. Let’s take a look at how the teams have fared overall and award their end of season grades.


Suwon FC: I don’t think anyone expected Suwon to win promotion this season and it’s a ridiculously impressive feat by the club to go from National League to Classic in three years. It’s difficult to put a finger on exactly what went right for Suwon over the course of this season as it’s a team that doesn’t really have a great number of star names or standout performers but somehow manager Cho Duck-je has managed to create a side that is greater than the sum of its parts. Of course, the goals of Japa have certainly helped and the mid-season signing of Sisi from the Spanish leagues caught the imagination and added something different to the side. The real plaudits for this one probably go to Cho though, it’ll be interesting to see if any bigger clubs will take notice of his achievements so far.


Daegu FC: A case of ‘what might have been’ for Daegu at the end of the season as they somehow managed to conspire to throw away the title in the closing weeks and lose out in the play-offs as well. For a team that was probably expected to be mid-table at best they really put on some impressive displays with the efforts of their four Brazilians adding a bit of flair to a hard-working line up. Over the course of the season the goal-scoring exploits of Jonathan particularly impressed, apparently enough to earn him a big money move to the Middle East. It’s a pity that they didn’t get the reward their play deserved as the Classic and Korean football in general could really do with a successful team in Korea’s third largest city.


Sangju Sangmu: It might seem slightly harsh to award this grade to the team that won the League but given the squad at their disposal and the start they made to the season they really should have won it at a canter rather than having to rely on goals scored to break the deadlock with Daegu. With a wealth of top-class players at their disposal it looked like Sangju could only throw it away as they swept aside all opposition in the early stages, but throw it away is almost exactly what they did with some woeful performances in the second half of the season. In the end they can consider themselves very lucky to have guaranteed themselves that automatic promotion place.


Bucheon FC: For a team expected to be struggling at the bottom end of the table a 5th place finish is pretty remarkable. They’ve earned a lot of credit for taking the fight for a playoff place as far as they did. In Rodrigo Parana they have a striker capable of scoring goals while in Almir they have a real K-League character. If not for some odd squad rotation decisions by the manager, leaving out the Brazilians on occasion, they might have managed to finish even higher and really put the cat amongst the pigeons.


Goyang Hi FC: For a long time it looked as if Goyang were going to have a bit of a bumper season. For a spell they were fighting it out with the big guns at the top of the table thanks mostly to a pretty impressive defensive record and a string of shutouts. Over the course of the season though the wheels slowly came off the Goyang bandwagon and they just about struggled to keep pace with the playoff contenders before dropping down the league to finish 8th overall in the end. The tight defence of the start of the season quickly became a sieve and in the end they had the worst defensive record in the league, conceding 68 goals in 40 games.


Seoul E-Land FC: Hard to quite know how to grade this one. For a team that didn’t exist last season a fourth-place finish seems pretty respectable. On the other hand, with the resources and players at their disposal (though I’m sure Martin Rennie will question that statement!) you have to feel that expectations weren’t met. Few other Challenge teams can boast full international players in their ranks while E-Land had a handful in Kim Young-Kwang, Cho Won-hee, Kim Jae-sung, Carlyle Mitchell and Ryan Johnson. After a stuttering start it looked like they were finding form and were taking the league by storm in the Spring only to slide into a malaise in the second half of the season. They scored plenty of goals but also conceded far too many. They’ll need to do better next season.


FC Anyang: A real Jekyll and Hyde season from Anyang this term. The first half of the season is one they will want to forget in a hurry as they went on a winless streak for months. Whatever happened at the mid-season break seemed to spur them on to a run of form though and in the second half of the year they were pretty impressive. Standouts in the side were K-League United Newcomer of the Year Austin Berry who had an impressive debut season at the heart of defence and Kim Sun-min who showed a bit of class with his direct running from midfield. If they can keep this form up Anyang should be one to watch in 2016.


Chungju Hummel: Poor old Chungju often look completely out of their depth in the Challenge and have been on the receiving end of a few hammerings from time to time. Despite that, they never stopped plugging away and threw a few curveballs into the mix over the season. They couldn’t avoid finishing bottom of the table but at least they stayed in touch with the teams around them. A 4-1 win at home to Champions Sangju was probably their highlight for the season. Of their squad, probably young on-loan striker Cho Suk-jae was the standout with 19 goals. Whether he will be able to make the breakthrough at parent club Jeonbuk remains to be seen.


Gangwon FC: If the Gangwon Provincial Government have anything to do with it this might well be the last season that Gangwon FC play in the K-League. If it is then they’ll be disappointed to have gone out with a whimper rather than a bang. For large parts of the season they could barely buy a win and although they pulled it back somewhat in the second half of the year (thanks mostly to an influx of Brazilians – the go-to tactic for any struggling K-League side) to finish seventh that’s still a pretty sub-par performance from a team that would have been expected to compete at least for a play-off place.


Ansan Police: With the squad they had Ansan really should have done better than finishing second bottom of the league just one point ahead of bottom-dogs Chungju. A lack of goals was the main issue for the team that managed to find the net just 31 times in 40 matches. They’ll need to try to find an attacking threat for next season if they want to improve. They’ve already announced an intake of new players for 2016 including a few decent looking defenders but scoring goals will likely be an issue again if they don’t find someone to lead the line more effectively.


Gyeongnam FC: What can you say about Gyeongnam? Relegated from the K-League Classic last season and for long spells it looked as if they were going to find a way to beat the system and be relegated from the Challenge too as they bumbled along the bottom of the table. The Changwon side seem to still be suffering from the mistakes of the past leadership and to add insult to injury are now facing a possible suspension from the League for match fixing a few seasons ago. This investigation has also seen a couple of K-League refs dragged in by the police to face charges. Just to top things off, top scorer Milos was dispatched back to Serbia to avoid triggering a $50,000 bonus for hitting ten goals in a season. Bad times for Gyeongnam fans.

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