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

K League Football Manager 2017 - The Incheon United Challenge

Last month finally saw Incheon United fall out of the top half and below their board's recently revised objectives for the season. With four games left until the K League splits into two for the final rounds, can manager Matthew Binns' arrest his team's decline before it is too late?

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 '16, April '16, May '16, June '16, July '16, August '16
Four games lie ahead of me as the split looms. I currently sit in eighth position, three points adrift of Jeonbuk who are sixth. Fortunately, they are my next opponents so a win would go some way towards me crowbarring myself back into top half contention. However, we have not won in five games and Jeonbuk have not conceded in a considerably long period.

I have been afforded some time though, which leads me once more to the tactics board for a tinker. I decide to neuter my full backs somewhat, setting their focus to defend and forbidding my players from looking for the overlap on the wings. I also instruct my teams to play even shorter passes with an emphasis on retaining possession.

Jeonbuk come into this game with other goals in their mind. The Champions League quarter final is looming and they may rotate their squad ahead of this fixture. The scout report identifies their midfield as one of the strongest in the league, but does suggest they are weak down the left. Jeong Hyuk’s passing is apparently worth looking out for as well as Lee Jae-sung in midfield.

Before we even kick off, the teams below me win and drag me down to ninth place, annoyingly where the media originally predicted I would end up. The game seems pretty controlled though, with neither side venturing into either area, taking the majority of shots from afar. We do get a cross in the 26th minute, and Velkoski is presented with a free header which he nods into the gloves of Kwoun Sun-tae.

Our resolve is eventually broken when Kim Bo-kyung scores at the near post from a corner kick. Somewhat typically of our side, the midfielder manages to slot his shot through two defenders and past the keeper at a narrow angle. Our previous efforts though are quickly rewarded when Bae Seung-jin is taken out in the Jeonbuk area and we are rightly awarded a penalty. Having missed his last two spot kicks, Velkoski steps up to take this as I have forgotten to change my kick takers. He runs up, strikes the ball and it's saved, yet again. Five minutes later, Seo Sang-min is allowed to run for what feels like miles unchallenged before striding into the box and and doubling Jeonbuk's lead.

The second half proved uneventful, with Incheon not registering any shots of note. Jeonbuk had two free kicks that went close, but they were mostly subdued. Somehow, Jeju lose their game, and we remain three points off sixth spot with three games to play.

Next up is Sangju Sangmu. This fixture has previously proven to be one of many potential turning points, so another three points here is the minimum expectation. The scout report doesn't offer much in terms of wisdom, other that they get a bit flustered when facing a 5-3-2 WB formation. With games to follow against Suwon Bluewings and FC Seoul, I bravely decide to try it out in a bid to get my team to gel in a more defensive formation.

The press have started questioning me about relegation. It was not so long ago I was being praised about Incheon's incredible form, and now they are doubting my ability to keep my team in the top flight. I give some vague answer and retreat back to my office and cower. The game gets off to a terrible start, with Sangju's Shin Young-joon finding himself on the end of lengthy cross to give the military side the lead. By the quarter of an hour mark, they are two goals ahead with Cho Young-cheol converting an Im Sung-taek cross. I immediately revert my tactics back to my attacking, yet defensively lapse ways to try and rescue this before it gets away from me. Fortunately, we get a goal shortly before half time when a Jin Seong-wook cross deflects of a defender, leaving the keeper rooted to the spot.

After the break, we continue to pile forward but none of our shots are coming off. Then, in the 72nd minute, we win a penalty. Lee Jae-myeong is off for a second bookable offence and we are also given a man advantage. We might just be able to turn this around However, a thought suddenly dawns on me. Did I tell Velkoski that he is off the top of my penalty takers list? As he picks the ball up and eyes up the spot, I realise I hadn't. Surely he cannot miss a fourth? Thankfully, he does not and we are level. Now with an extra man, I overload the attack, throwing everything I can at Sangju's defence. It amounts to nothing though and we end the game with a draw. It looks as if I will need a miracle now to realise the board's top half objectives.

I duck out of the post match press conference and quickly usher the team onto the bus. Through fear of the fans blocking us in and protesting my management, I leave my assistant behind fielding questions as we speed away back to the training ground. I see him the next day and he informs me we have a cup draw to attend so off we go to see who our opposition will be in the semi finals. We face the possibility of versing Daejeon Citizien (preferable), Suwon FC (less preferable) and Suwon Bluewings (disaster). Having seen the way this season has so cruelly turned on me, it was of little surprise when we drew the latter, effectively dashing any hopes of reaching the FA Cup final. To make matters worse, the Bluewings are also our next opponent in the league.

The scout report highlights the many leaders and strong characters amongst the Suwon team. Well, I suppose you cannot have a chicken coop without a few cocks. Regardless of what advice I am given, I am going to defend the hell out of this in practice for our cup encounter next month, hopefully severely injuring someone so they cannot feature.

I once again send my assistant to the press conference whislt I come to terms with this morning's news. Jeju United have shockingly sacked Cho Sung-hwan. What's worse however is that I am now second favourite in the "sack race" with bookies taking bets at odds of 7-2. I need something to save this season, but it's increasingly looking like it will have to be the cup next month.

The game gets off to the worst possible start imaginable. Park Dae-han decides to overlap the winger, despite explicit instructions not to, and leaves left back position unattended to when we lose possession. Bluewings counter quickly and Park tracks back, hacking down Yang Sang-min in the box before he can get his shot away. A penalty, and there has only been 37 seconds of the match played so far! Yang steps up to take it and it is amazingly saved by Lee Tae-hee.

Besides the early scare, we are doing well. We're not creating much by neither are they. Velkoski misses a glorious chance to take the lead when he is played through by Park Jong-jin but the striker is unable to convert a one verse one opportunity. I miss Kevin Oris. As we enter injury time, Park Dae-han decides to once again recklessly challenge within our own area. Suwon have changed their taker this time around and Fraga doesn't miss. We head into the break a goal down despite our strong resilience. Park Dae-han is immediately subbed off.

As we reach the hour mark, it dawns on me that we are going to have to attack as playing on the counter is no longer working. Suwon are just sitting back and waiting for time to be up. I progressively move players into more attacking roles starting with the wingers and eventually replacing the DM with an AM. Nothing comes of it though despite some close opportunities and we finish the game 1-0. There were signs of encouragement there, but Park will not be playing in the semi-final, or possibly ever again, after his atrocious display.

And so the final game before the split is upon us. It is impossible for us to make the top half meaning I've failed the boards objectives but they still seem satisfied for now. It has been eight long games since I last tasted victory and our next opponent is FC Seoul who are overwhelming favourites to make it nine. As it will be the last Gyeongin derby of the season though, I have to try and make it count for the fans.

I opt to work on the formation that had shown a strong resolve against Suwon, making it more defensive and reigning in the full backs. It nearly pays off as Park Jong-jin hits the crossbar within the first minute. The second minute sees Velkoski dispossess Kim Chi-woo but decides to play his free shot straight into the hands of the keeper. We're doing well so far. My assistant warns me though about the number of fouls we're committing, clearly having misunderstood that my tactic is to kick them off the park. I want them to suffer.

And suffer they do. Park Jong-jin plays the ball from deep and Velkoski outruns the backtracking Seoul defence. He then takes on the goalkeeper and slots it past him giving us the lead. The place is in raptures of disbelief.

Unfortunately, each of these games have become predictable by now and we concede just five minutes later. Yun Ju-tae beats Choi Hyo-jin for pace, driving into the area and squaring the ball for Adriano to tap in easily. We enter half-time level.

I try to stir them up at half time. I recall the losses and humiliation of every single defeat this season, and how these dwindling supporters that are still trying to find value in their ill-thought out purchases that were their 2016 season tickets, deserve a victory today. These fans shall not be mocked by their fiercest rivals. We shall persevere and deliver. We shall not go gentle into this good night! We will rage, rage, rage against the dying of the light! For we are Incheon United!

The official leans his head around the door. Kick off was supposed to be two minutes ago. I quickly tell the lads to get their boots back on and out the tunnel.

Things are looking good. FC Seoul are getting their shots off but they are all from too far out to properly bother us. After about ten minutes into the second half, we force a corner. Kainz takes it, the cross meeting the head of Park Jong-jin who nods it across for Bae Seung-jin to head in at the far post. We have taken the lead again! I'm out of my dugout jumping around in jubilation with my coaching team. Kim Byung-ji has jumped into the crowd, hurting himself on the empty seats he met upon landing. My assistant tells me to focus and for once, he's right. I begin barking orders to concentrate,

FC Seoul are battering us now in search for an equaliser. I take off Velkoski and bring on another defender, operating a 5-1-4-0 formation with the sole focus to contain our opponents. We hold on through the three minutes of injury time and the full time whistle has sounded. We've won a game! And not just any game, the Gyeongin Derby! 7-2 odds on being sacked? If it means days like these then I'll take it!

Of course, we finish below the split in ninth and, with a hefty 14 point cushion between us and relegation, we will effectively play 5 dead rubbers to conclude the league next month. There is the small matter of the FA Cup semi-final though and, after today's result, who knows what may be possible. We're still here, just.

You can read the next part here.

This article is the ninth 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.

You can also join our Seoul E-Land columnist Steve Waddell in another #KLeagueFM17 adventure as he takes on the challenge that is the K-League Challenge with Seoul E-Land. His latest entry sees his high-flying side face a number of problems in June.

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