The #KleagueFM17 Challenges: Challenge Champs [March '16]
After an up and down pre-season, Steve Waddell is ready to kick-off the season proper. There are a few tricky fixtures coming up starting with a season opener away to newly relegated Busan. Can he keep his job beyond Easter or will Choi Tae-uk stage a coup?
If you haven't been following you might want to start off at Part One
The pre-season fun is over now and it’s time to buckle down for the real action. Our scout has actually heard of Busan for a change but his preparatory report is fairly thin and short on any solid recommendations. I try to find him to get some more depth on his report but he’s busy watching old VHS copies of the A-Team on a black and white TV in his office and doesn’t seem to want to be disturbed.
Busan have a few guys that worry me. Willian Popp is everyone’s tip to be the league top scorer. Milos Stojanovic knows where the goal is and overweight Brazilian riveter Wagner Querino may have a point to prove after our last interaction. On the plus side Ko Kyung-min seems to be injured and they don’t appear to have a first-choice keeper. I’m torn between being cautious and trying to keep their frontmen at bay or exploiting their possible defensive weaknesses by trying to outscore them.
I’ve got 35 first teamers to choose from and they are more or less all fit so I’m not short of options. Decisions, decisions. Every position has at least a couple of options. Even goalie isn’t straightforward as Kim Young-kwang has missed most of pre-season and Lee Sang-ki has impressed in his absence. In the end experience gets the nod at the back. Joomes and Jae-sung will be the middle two and Ahn and Seo take the wide spots. Controversially I start Kim Heung-il ahead of Tarabai, he’s not going to be happy about that. Then it’s a toss of a coin to decide whether we play Sin Il-soo sitting or Lee Seung-woo behind the striker. Lee wins it. My first Challenge teamsheet is filled in and distributed to the lads. Fingers crossed.
I bat my way through the pre-match press conference in a largely non-committal but positive mood. I don’t want to give my opponents anything to get a hold of but I want to make sure my team knows I believe in them.
By the time kick-off rolls around I’m almost bouncing off the walls. Good thing I tucked a hip-flask of soju into my suit jacket pocket to take the edge off. Luckily I haven’t over-indulged by the time I’m grabbed for a tunnel interview by a TV reporter. Again, I try to be uncontroversial but upbeat.
The Busan lineup is a 4-4-2 as expected. Popp and Milos are the preferred front pairing. Nilson starts in midfield and they have an Aussie defender in the lineup as well. Overweight Brazilian ironmonger Wagner hasn’t made the cut it’s good to see. The team need to get in about this lot for ninety minutes so I send them out as fired up as I can muster.
We definitely look the better team in the first half. We are dominating possession and creating the better chances but can’t quite find the net. Busan’s closest thing to an effort on goal is a wild forty-yard shot from Popp that goes miles wide. I’m enjoying the game so far. At half-time though it still remains 0-0. I’ve still got Tarabai in reserve and his time is edging closer.
I pull the trigger on our Lord of the Pants at the 55 minute mark. To be honest, Kim Heung-il has looked a bit rubbish. 5 minutes later we are ahead! Kim Jae-sung bangs in a shot from the edge of the box and finally we have a goal.
Another 5 minutes later Tarabai is rubbing his groin. He’s either injured or embarrassing himself in front of everyone so either way he has to come off. Since we’re ahead I’ll shore up the midfield by bringing on Sin Il-soo. Another injury strikes shortly after with Lee Seung-woo going down. He has to come off and it’s another reshuffle upfront. Ahn Seong-bin is now the fourth player to play centre-forward today. All my subs are spent so I hope for no more injuries.
Busan keep up their rough-housing tactics though. Kim Jae-sung heads to the sideline with a back strain and Joo Min-kyu has to get a bandage on a head gash. Both should really come off but they will have to see out the last few minutes as best they can. The fourth official holds up a board saying 5 additional minutes of stoppage time and Dan Harris has to hold me back from telling him where to stick it. Joo and Kim are liabilities now but all we need to do is pass the ball around until full-time. Just. Keep. The. Ball.
And finally! The ref blows his whistle and we’ve done it. 1-0! The bullies of Busan have been defeated. The physios are going to be busy this week. I hope we don’t have a midweek fixture lined up.
We have absolutely dominated this match according to the stats and surprised quite a few people with our quality of play. Busan were limited to just one shot on target in the whole ninety minutes. Lee Seung-woo was the youngest player in K-League Challenge history and picks up the man of the match award despite only managing an hour or so on the park. Our heat map looks like a ball of fire heading for the Busan goal and we’ve had nearly 60% possession. A cracker of a performance to start the season.
Sadly, as expected, it looks like Seung-woo, Jae-sung and Tarabai will be out for weeks. I make my view known on dirty, dirty Busan after the match. Those are some significant losses. Just to rub salt into the wounds Glory and Mitchell are off on international duty and will miss the Anyang game. 5 players down out of my starting eleven for our home opener.
I do my best to piece together a team that I’m happy with making the minimum number of changes possible. It’s not ideal but we’ll just have to do our best.
Anyang don’t have any big names in their side and lost their opening game to Chungju so that gives me a bit of confidence that we can get a win. They line up in a 4-4-2 just like Busan did so a repeat of the same result would be nice. Still it’s going to be a tricky one so we will need to be at our best.
The first 45 don’t do much for either team and it’s 0-0 at half-time. I take off the anchor man and push Joo-mes up behind the striker to see if we can create some more attacking threat. Despite some more changes up front we create no real chances in the second half either and it finishes 0-0. 2 clean sheets from 2 games is promising but this kind of display will do nothing to get the fans in. I might have to look out Dalshabet’s number again.
Next up is an away trip to Gangwon. They’ve drawn their first two games 0-0 while we have managed a 0-0 and a 1-0. Something tells me this isn’t going to be a classic. Glory and Mitchell come back in to the side and I tinker a little bit elsewhere to see if it makes any difference. Ahn Seong-bin starts up front for this one. I need to find someone to score goals pretty soon.
In the last training session before the match Glory picks up another knock meaning it’ll be Lee Sang-ki between the sticks against his former club.
Gangwon have filled the team with a selection of journeymen imports with Maranhao, Pacheco, Samuel and Silva all making the team. Pacheco even starts the game carrying an injury. They look eminently beatable but Gangwon have been E-Land’s bogey team in the past and our record in Gangwon is shocking.
After initially looking promising we are really struggling to cope with Gangwon. Their front players are causing us all sorts of problem and we seem to be resorting to giving away fouls around our box. The woodwork keeps us in it, as does a good stop from our keeper but eventually we succumb to a shot from overweight Brazilian taxi-driver Maranhao. Not long after it’s 2-0 as our defence and keeper fail to deal with a lofted ball into the box and the same man loops a header over everyone into the net. Pathetic stuff from us now.
At half-time I make some changes and tell them I expect a better second half. It’s all out attack from us now and we need to take some risks. After 65 minutes it’s hail mary stuff and I stick Mitchell up front. Our bench looks fairly sparse in terms of gamechangers at this point. Nothing makes the slightest bit of difference and we’ve been totally outclassed. The curse of Gangwon strikes again. Not happy at all with this display and heads will roll.
At the end of the first month of the season then it’s played 3, won 1, drawn 1, lost 1. Without Kim Jae-sung we don’t look half the team we are with him and when you add in injuries to Seung-woo, Tarabai and Glory I suppose we can’t be too unhappy with 4 points from 9. The last game has shown that we far from the finished article but the transfer window is closed now so there isn’t much we can do about it except wait for our injured players to return.