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Recap: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-3 Jeju United

Choi Kang-hee looks on as Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors easily give up their undefeated run to Jeju United with just five more games left to play. (Photo Credit: Hyundai-MotorsFC.com)
Choi Kang-hee looks on as Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors easily give up their undefeated run to Jeju United with just five more games left to play. (Photo Credit: Hyundai-MotorsFC.com)

It has taken until the 34th round, but reigning champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors finally suffered defeat (in the league at least) at the hands of Jeju United. In doing so, they further exacerbated the damage inflicted on them by the KFA's punishment and now sit level on points with FC Seoul with just four games left to play.

Jeonbuk's Squad Rotation

It was touched upon in my preview that I was concerned how the manager Choi kang-hee would cope with four of his players heading off on international duty. Well his response was clearly to drop all three of the outfield players who had met up with the national team, along with top scorers Lopes and Leonardo, and set up in an attacking 3-5-2 formation that has not been used previously this year, with usual wing-backs Park Won-jae and Kim Chang-soo taking advanced winger roles. The line-up also saw the combined 71 year-old attacking might of Edu and Lee Dong-gook up front with forgotten striker Lee Jong-ho sitting behind. Midfield saw a mixture of youth and a returned military recruit, whilst the defence saw stand-out defender Choi Chul-soon, returned Ansan player Shin Hyung-min, and serial wanderer Lim Jong-eun holding the fort. Whilst standard first-team names such as Lopes and Lee Jae-sung graced the bench, top performers Leonardo and Kim Bo-kyung were absent all together. Choi Kang-hee sent this team out fully with an eye on securing a berth in the Champions League final midweek instead, even though Jeonbuk already hold a 4-1 aggregate lead over FC Seoul. The fact they performed commendably enough to only lose by three goals to two should be recognised by their title rivals; this was far from the normal Jeonbuk who played today but they still managed to score twice.

You Can't Win Them All

Losing for the first time in the league in the 34th round should not be sniffed at, despite what the K-League Twitterati might be compelled to tweet. This team has broken records within the league and for good reason. Their reputation has been soured somewhat by the backroom antics of the staff for the team who played three years ago and the subsequent punishment they have since received, but there is no denying that this iteration has been head and shoulders above the rest of the competition this season.

This being said, there is also a sense of frustration. I have often quoted the statistic that ten of Jeonbuk's draws this season have been two points dropped rather than one point gained, points which with hindsight could have helped them greatly. I also believe that the club surely had some prior knowledge of how the disciplinary committee was going to swing their, albeit quite blunt, scythe. It begs the question, why has Choi Kang-hee experimented with his line-up when reaffirmation of their league position has been what was most needed? The previous fixture against Jeju had seen ten line-up changes and a 2-2 draw for their troubles. This line-up also saw nearly an equal amount and now they have conceded both their league advantage and unbeaten streak, purely to ensure they qualify for a final they had more than a foot in already.

It is often questioned why sections of the Jeonbuk support cry out for different management, especially given this season's startling record, but its for decisions like today, along with lackluster performances against teams a Champions League semi-finalist should walk over, that have allowed this sentiment to fester. Whilst I am not Choi's bigger supporter, I do appreciate he has a strong bond with the players who do seem to fight for him, a trait that should not so easily be cast aside and is something that is difficult to replicate if a change in management was to take place. Calling for his head is certainly hyperbolic, but if the club was to achieve a league and AFC double this season, his departure would benefit everyone. Not only could he leave on a high, his reputation would be untarnished amongst his most loyal supporters whilst also allowing for those who wish to seem him replaced to have their opportunity to see if the grass is really a neon-shade greener on the other side of the fence. Whilst he continues his detrimental policy towards squad rotation though, this perfect exit opportunity he had created now hangs in the balance.

Jeonbuk's Performance

Despite the changes, the team's performance for ninety minutes must also be placed under scrutiny. For the home support, there was little to brag about for the opening half. Lee Dong-gook capitalised on a goalkeeping howler to unjustly send his side 1-0 up into the break, also offering the only highlight of the first half for Jeonbuk.

The lead was not to last long however, with the visitors finding an equaliser five minutes into the second half courtesy of Jeju's Marcelo Toscano and some calamitous Jeonbuk defending. The Jeju striker found himself unmarked, six yards from goal after three Jeonbuk defenders moved and failed to put out the smaller fire that was the assisting header down to him. Lim Jong-eun was the defender most culpable for following the ball rather than keeping on his man, despite there being adequate cover behind him.

Jeonbuk did perform better after this however, especially with Lopes being introduced from the bench for the yet again ineffective Edu. It was a Lee Jae-sung dive (and it really was terrible) that offered Jeonbuk the best opportunity to reclaim the lead. Somewhat justifiably though, Lee Dong-gook decided to strike the crossbar rather than his usual spot in the back of the net.

Jeju scored immediately afterwards. A breakaway move found itself in the path of an unmarked Ahn Hyun-beom who cooly slotted home to give the visitors the lead.

Jeonbuk's resilience once again shone through though as they eventually equalised through Shin Hyung-min. The defender drilled home well from the edge of the box. Celebrations were short lived however as Jeju reclaimed the lead through Kim Ho-nam. The ball was floated into the box from a free kick yet not dealt with by the Jeonbuk defence who allowed Jeju to control the ball and lay it off to the unmarked Kim.

Concluding Remarks

Whilst credit must certainly be given to Jeju for persisting and capitalising, internally Jeonbuk must look at their deficiencies. At least two of the goals were preventable and, if a familiar formation and line-up had been selected from the start, may have been avoided altogether. Instead, the champions severely underestimated a team who sits rightfully in third place with a reasonable claim as to why they should be involved in next year's Champions League competition. Jeonbuk were not hard done by with this result as the manager had already set the defeat in motion before a ball had even been kicked. Clearly as there was an eye on Wednesday's fixture, we are likely to see a much different team and performance against FC Seoul, but seeing as they are already 4-1 up going into the second leg, it does make the decision to drop so many key players against potential ACL contenders, with 5 crucial league games also left to play, questionable.

All teams lose, but it is in the manner in which this defeat was not so much inflicted, but offered up to be taken that makes it that much more bitter for Jeonbuk fans. A much stronger performance is needed in these last four games in order to ensure a title that was destined and deservingly heading to Jeonbuk three weeks ago, remains so.

Full highlights can be viewed on SPOTV here.

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