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The #KLeagueFM17 Challenges: Citizens Unite! [March '16]

K-League Football Manager 2017 Challenge: Citizens Unite

A disappointing winter has come to an end for Incheon United and now the real task starts with three tricky matches to commence the new season. With an injury list finally entering remission, recently appointed manager Matthew Binns should soon have a full roster of talent at his disposal to try and shoehorn into his tactical philosophy.

The Challenge:
Citizens Unite! Stand up to the Korean Chaebols by leading a citizen club to title glory.

Previous Instalments: Pre-season '16 [Part 1], Pre-season '16 [Part 2]

March arrives with the shocking news that reigning champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors have also been indicted and found guilty in the Gyeongnam bribery case. They will therefore start the season with a nine point deduction. While the amount of points is sure to be considered light by some fans, at least the KFA has been swift and decisive by applying it before the football calendar commences, rather than towards the end of the season when they might be in a title challenge. It also means that we are nine points above the automatic relegation spot before a ball has even been kicked, which I am definitely pleased with.

I begin the month by controversially offloading centre-back Lee Yun-pyo to Jeju United. Having seen the "reward" of departure for Choi Jong-hwan's abhorrent behaviour, Lee has also decided he wants off the good ship Incheon, swimming to the nearest island with a professional football team to gorge on it's mandarins of betrayal. Not to fear, we have reasonable, younger alternatives so we will soldier on without him. The fans are understandably livid though, adding further pressure to make sure I get off to a good start against Jeonnam Dragons in just under a fortnight's time.

I barely make it twenty-four hours before the Choi Jong-hwan fallout takes yet another detrimental effect on my squad. FC Seoul have piped up in their constant antagonising tone again, this time lodging a bid for promising 23 year-old Yun Sang-ho who proceeds to be subsequently disgruntled and also tries to engineer a move away. The following day, bids from Daegu FC and Saudi club Al-Faisaly come in, offering substantially more for his services. I reluctantly accept the Al-Faisaly bid, partly to keep him away from the peninsula, and watch him depart.

Something positive has come up though, a return on my goalkeeping coach advert. Who's on the applicant list you ask? Why none other than Korean goalkeeping legend Kim Byung-ji of course! He has no experience coaching, but I feel his presence and inspirational haircuts could be quite the lift to the players morale. Besides, I can always let him go if things don't work out. It's not like I've had trouble sacking coaches before...

With Byung-ji's arrival, I say goodbye to the last coach of the old regime Park Sung-chul. Turns out he started working the same time as me, but now I at least have all my own appointments in the coaching department. The blame for Incheon's impending relegation will be mine and mine alone.

And so the Jeonnam game finally arrives. The traitor and author of all my pain Choi Jong-hwan is predicted to feature in the starting eleven, as well as Park Gi-dong and Hwang Hee-chan up front as part of a 4-4-2. Noh Sang-rae apparently has them playing a high pressing, direct playing style, no doubt fancying himself as the Korean Klopp. I'm told to focus my training on defending in preparation for an onslaught.

Due to previous injury problems, Kim Tae-su and Kim Chan-hee are only recommend 45 minutes of action. I decide to make that the first 45, with Park Je-sik playing in a deep lying playmaker role, despite his preference to be a winger. Jin Seong-wook retains his place on the left wing after an impressive pre-season, with Song Si-woo and Krste Velkoski expected to link up between the attacking midfield and striker roles. New signing Choi Hyo-jin starts at right back against his old club.

We get off to a flier! The signs had been there early on with Song Si-woo and Velkoski's intricate passing play, but it was Jin Seong-wook who would unlock the defence with a delightful through ball into the path of Seong who played the offside trap to perfection and scored. Then, shortly after, Kim Chan-hee makes a dash down the right, crossing the ball in low only for it to be turned in by none other than Choi "The Snake" Jong-han. An own-goal, and on his debut. Revenge is sweet. I, like the crowd, am delirious as half time is blown. This was supposed to be an onslaught, but instead we're dominating.

I follow the physio's advice and take off the two Kims, replacing them for Ju Min-kyu and left winger Lee Jin-wook, therby switching Jin to the opposite flank. They bring on Jair and Kim Young-wook. I switch to a countering focus and wait for them to come to me. However, Jin Seong-wook breaks away and sets up Velkoski to make it three. We're cruising! Velkoski then immediately returns the favour, setting up Jin on the counter to make it four. It's only 55 minutes in. I did eventually bring on Jonjic for Choi Hyo-jin as he was looking tired, but nothing else really happens. Jin Seong-wook receives the man of the match but in truth, all of the lads were superb here. Ahn Jae-joon in defence was my particular highlight as he was involved in breaking down so many attacks. We should be first, but FC Seoul have only gone and beaten the Bluewings 5-1. Still, Jeonbuk's draw means we are now 11 points clear of the automatic drop spot.

Gwangju is up next, fresh off the back of that previously mentioned draw with Jeonbuk. Again, they are expected to line up in a 4-4-2 but, unlike Jeonnam, do not press as heavily and will likely resort to zonal marking. I've been alerted to the goal threat of 31 Year-old Jung Jo-gook and the trouble he may cause me, yet I am told to go gung-ho due to Gwangju's defensive vulnerabilities. They also have an 18 year-old loanee up front to partner the veteran striker, Korean wonderkid Lee Seung-woo. How did that transfer go unnoticed and why did I not consider it when I took over?

I opt for the same starting eleven that defeated Jeonnam so easily, but I bring Park Jong-jin onto the bench seeing as he has recovered fully from injury. Things do not get off to the best of starts when my defence is left dumbfounded as Lee Seung-woo finds himself in acres of space within our box to score on the 45 second mark. Fortunately, I too have a promising young Korean on my right wing who can deliver, and so he does. Kim Chan-hee once again crosses into the box and centre back Bae Sung-jin heads home to equalise in the fifth minute. This could be quite the game.

Admittedly, Lee Seung-woo is having a blinder, particularly with Jung Jo-gook assisting nearly all his opportunities. Keeper Cho Su-hyuk was called into action numerous times by the youngster but was mostly able to divert the danger. Lee needs to be specifically marked, which I instruct to do so. I am also ashamed to say that I requested that he received hard tackles for the rest of the game. Sometimes, a Barcelona B player needs putting in their place. Fortunately, we then somehow take the lead as Velkoski drops back into the midfield to play through attacking midfielder Song Si-woo who converts easily. I switch to a counter attacking mindset and see the 2-1 score out until half time.

The second half is far more edgy, with my team aiming to defend and draw Gwangju out of their half. The 58th minute sees some good fortune though as Gwangju's Lee Jong-min is shown his second yellow of the game for a bad foul. Now Gwangju has ten men, we should easily be able to see the game out. Once again, Kim Tae-su and Kim Chan-hee come off on physios' orders to be replaced by Ju Min-kyu and Park Jong-jin respectively. The subs make an instant impact as Park jong-jin proceeds to collect the ball in the box before rolling it past the keeper towards the far post making it 3-1. The rest of the game peters out despite Velkoski hitting the visitors' goal frame late on. Bae Seung-jin is rightfully given the man of the match award, and all I can do is praise my team's efforts. We're 1st on goal difference (tied on goals scored). What makes it better is Jeonbuk drew once more, meaning we are now 13 points ahead of the champions!

Last game of the month is an away trip to Pohang, a team who had also drawn against Jeonbuk, despite leading until a 92nd minute Leonardo equaliser. The scout report suggests they play a very similar style to Jeonnam Dragons, but boast better players. I see no reason to change a winning formula.

I was right to have faith. Jin Seong-wook scores in the second minute to give us the lead. The goal coming from a lovely combination from Kim Chan-hee, Park Je-sik and Velkoski before the ball was eventually played through to the onrushing Jin who slotted in with relative ease. Our luck then continues when Pohang's Hwang Ji-soo decides to push Park Je-sik in the pback and earns his second yellow card of the game. With the man advantage, we proceed to double our lead with a second goal in the 42nd minute as Jin Seong-wook crosses in low to Velkoski who converts at the near post.

The second half once again saw me sit back in a counter attack mindset, seeing us run out comfortable 2-0 victors. What makes it better is that Ulsan (again, our next opponent) defeats Jeonbuk 1-0. Incheon are now 16 points clear of the champions and joint top with FC Seoul on nine points out of an available nine.

So as April rolls around, I realise one thing: Manager of the Month awards do not seem to be awarded by the KFA, meaning my efforts go unnoticed come April 1st. Despite that however, three wins with one goal conceded for relegation candidates is certainly not to be sniffed at so I just imagine that it would have most likely been awarded to myself. My injury list has receded and we still have the strongest fitness coaches in the league. It seems I am finally undoing all the mistakes my predecessor left me to handle. Next month will see us face Ulsan but I am ready however, pleased that I am nearly a quarter of the way to safety.

Other News

Somewhere, in an alternative Football Manager reality, Gangwon FC have found a new manager who seems keen on taking them to the K-League Challenge title. You can read more by following Mick and his #KLeagueFM17 challenge on Twitter here.
Read the next instalment here

This article is the second part of the #KLeagueFM17 challenges, a series we are running on our website and encourage others to do so on their's as well. If you enjoy Football Manager and the K-League, then we suggest you should take a look for yourself and see if there is a challenge which you can complete during these matchless winter months. The short online entry form can be found here.

The form and style of this piece takes it's inspiration from the fantastic Championship Manager series written by Iain Macintosh on The Set Pieces website. You can read that particular series here.

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