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The #KLeagueFM17 Challenges: Citizens Unite! [Post-Split '16]

K League Football Manager Challenge - The Incheon United Challenge

Despite an unlikely heroic triumph in the Gyeongin derby, Incheon United were unable to mount a last minute bid to regain a top-half finish and now have very little else to play for in the league. That said, there is still the small matter of the FA Cup semi-final against rivals Suwon Bluewings to be contested. Can Matthew Binns' men still achieve something to shout about this season?

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, September '16

The fans are still delirious after our victory over FC Seoul. I need to ride their good will now through the post-split phase where I will be versing three teams who have something to play for whilst we, seemingly safe from the threat of relegation, will have little to no motivation at all. Although, given how these last two months have gone, I wouldn't rule out our fourteen point buffer being overturned.

We've been given twelve days rest ahead of next encounter due to the international break. Up first will be eleventh placed Gwangju who will be desperate to make up the six point gap between themselves and Sangju Sangmu. I use this opportunity to increase my training regime's intensity, focusing solely on defence. We have the 2nd highest amount of goals conceded in the league. Clearly we need to address this before the semi-final later this month.

We're bolstered by the news that Kevin Oris is now fit to return to the squad, although he is lacking match sharpness. With only Gwangju before the cup semi-final against Suwon Bluewings, he will have to feature for most of the match to try and recapture his scoring form.

My last three encounters against Gwangju have seen us run away as victors on each occasion. We played an attacking formation each time but I want Oris to get some time in my 4-1-4-1 DM formation that we will be wheeling out against the Bluewings, so I pick the shape and team purely on how I intend to progress to the final. It is a dream for any Suwon scouts watching, but I doubt it will make any difference given our track record against them.

Two days before kick-off however, both Jin Seong-Wook and Song Si-woo are injured in training, scuppering my plans. Jin has a damaged foot, ruling him out for 3-4 weeks and therefore the semi-final. Song Si-woo has sustained a bruised head following a robust challenge during a training session. He will be out for 11 days, so should be available, if only from the bench.

The team is nearly exactly the same to the one that beat Seoul apart from Oris' inclusion. It only takes 18 minutes for us to break the deadlock. The team is not creating much but the build up is more patient. Eventually, Park Je-sik has the perfect opportunity to pass and lays a lovely ball out to Lee Jin-wook on the left who strikes it well from an angle. We continue to take shots after the goal but most are from too far out. That said, we are leading when time is called on the first half.

Worryingly, the ratings suggest both my central defenders are having howlers. Kevin Oris is also having a poor game but he is both starved of the ball and also recovering from a length lay off. My plan is to keep him on until around the 60th minute mark to ensure he doesn't aggravate his injury further.

The second half gets underway and Gwangju are quickly reduced to ten men when Goo Bon-sang fouls Kim Tae-su. Seeing as we are dominating but not scoring, I decide this is a perfect opportunity to rest some key names and also switch to something more attacking and increase the goal tally. I switch to a 4-2-3-1 and take off Kim Tae-su for Ju Min-kyu, Kim Chan-hee for Park Jong-jin and Oris for Velkoski. Despite these attacking changes nothing much of note happens. The 78th minute sees Lee Jin-wook play a superb low cross to Kim Chan-hee at the far post but, with the goal gaping, kicks it straight against the upright from two yards out. Excluding this though, we see the game out comfortably, confirming our survival and climbing up to eighth with four league games to play.

Elsewhere in the K League, Ulsan have managed to achieve what we could not and that is injure a Suwon player. They've not just chosen any player to injure, but Junior Santos, one of the Bluewings' most prized assets. Further to this, key central defender Koo Ja-ryong will also be out of the FA Cup match. Whisper it, but we may just have a chance here.

The Suwon scout report doesn't offer any further insight to the one received three games ago. They are expected to line up in a 4-1-2-3 DM formation with an attacking focus and direct playing style. They also like to close down quickly. I'm once again informed that they are weak on the left side of the pitch so hopefully we can exploit this. Finally, I'm told to focus on defensive positioning ready for an onslaught. I'm beginning to feel quite nervous about this now.

The pre-match press conference sees me opt for flattery, declaring Seo Jung-won one of the best managers in the league and Augusto Fraga as unstoppable in front of goal. The press even offer me a pop at the FC Seoul manager which I seize with both hands, declaring he can only expect the pressure as he is not getting the results, well aware of my own similar shortcomings. With the conference over, I announce my line up and replace Choi Hyo-jin for Kim Dae-Jung, hoping that a bit of experience on that right side will serve us well. Song Si-woo has also returned from injury and thus makes the bench.

Despite reports of injury, Santos is in the starting line up. Either this was an attempt at mind games by Seo or the midfielder has been pumped full of injections in preparation for this game. Best to go in hard on him just to be safe. I also give similar instructions in defending Kwon Chang-hoon, Yeom Ki-hoon and Augusto Fraga.

It seems Suwon Bluewings scouts have been paying close attention to my recent switch to "Tiki-Hacker" football and have decided to imitate it. Min Sang-gi makes a disgusting challenge on Kevin Oris and I have to take off the recently returned striker after just three minutes. Velkoski is brought on to replace him.

Our centre backs Bae Seung-jin and Ahn Jae-joon are not having the best of time dealing with Fraga's aerial presence, but fortunately for us the striker can only seem to head over the bar. Other than this concern, we are playing well and restricting Suwon to pumping long balls into the box.

Our first chance doesn't present itself until the seventeenth minute when we are awarded a corner. Ju Min-kyu sends it in but Bae Seung-jin's header is blocked and cleared by Hong Chul. However, it's not dead yet. The clearance only reaches as far as Kainz, who plays it back to Park Je-sik who's still near the corner and crosses it back in to a Suwon box that is in disarray. Park Jong-jin hits a turning volley but his shot ricochets off the post. Fortunately, it rebounds out to Bae Seung-ji who taps in to give us an unlikely lead. We now have over seventy minutes to hold on. 

Fraga continues to head his colleagues' crosses over, and Suwon's edge of the box free kicks aren't meeting their target. We reach half time without another clear opportunity, but we are ahead and need to concentrate for the second half.

Fraga continues his fruitless aerial dominance, but his opportunity in the 54th minute sees him dragged down by Cho Byung-kuk in the box. Penalty to Suwon. Recently subbed on Tadeu is given the responsibility. He shoots centrally and Lee Tae-hee dives the wrong way yet still manages to push it onto his far post with an outstretched leg.Choi Hyo-jin rushes in and hoofs the rebound into touch.

I introduce Ju Min-kyu into proceedings for the booked Kim Tae-su. If we are going to continue defending for our lives, we cannot afford to drop down to ten men. We continue to head clear every aerial ball into our box, but the first low cross leads to our downfall. Yeom Ki-hoon plays an admittedly superb knee-level pass into the box and substitute Cho Dong-gun turns and volleys it beyond Lee Tae-hee from six yards out. Seventy minutes gone and the scores are now level at 1-1.

We continue to counter attack. as Suwon look for an equaliser, with Lee Jin-wook coming agonisingly close to meeting the rebound from park Jong-jin's shot. Our possession continues to increase but we cannot seem to breach their back line. Then, in the 87th minute, Velkoski gets a break away chance with just the keeper to beat. No Dong-gun manages to save though and we head into extra time with the scores level.

I decide to bring on Song Si-woo for Park Je-sik for these additional 30 minutes. With him being one of the team's highest goalscorers, I am hoping his freshness will cause a headache for the Suwon defence.

It does. Song Si-woo plays an exquisite through ball into the path of Velkoski who runs into the box trailed by the defender. His shot is angled yet driven, stinging the palms of keeper No Dong-gun and deflecting into the net. We are 2-1 up in injury time with twenty minutes to hold on.

I continue to pull back players towards the defence in a bid to contain them. Suwon have resorted back to bombarding our box with aerial crosses trying to seek out Tadeu yet we continue to throw ourselves at them, clearing them up the pitch to no one and then waiting for them to strike again. It's like Helm's Deep.

We make it though. I am not sure how we withstood their onslaught, but we have made it to the FA cup final where we will face Bluewings' crosstown rivals, Suwon FC for a spot in the AFC Champions League and a chance to lift this club's first piece of silverware. I tearfully tell the team to savour this moment. I could not be prouder of them.

After the match, I receive assessment from the physio on Oris' injury. He will be out for two months and will miss the final. To make matters worse, Ju Min-kyu collected a yellow card in the match and will be banned for the first match of the two legged showpiece.

With effectively four dead rubbers left before the FA Cup final I decide to keep to the same tactic and similar line-ups in a bid for them to gel ready for our test, although some minor rotations to combat tiredness. Next up coincidentally are our FA Cup final opponents Suwon FC.

The game against Suwon FC sees us take the lead in the 70th minute through an error by Yu Ji-no. The Suwon defender heads the ball into the path of Velkoski who volleys into the net from 20 yards out. six minutes later though and Lee Jin-wook is deemed to have conceded a penalty although it did look incredibly harsh. Vladan Adzic steps up and sends it down the middle. Although Lee Tae-hee got a hand to it, he was unable to keep it out. Despite a clear opportunity for substitute Song Je-hyeon to steal all the points for us at the end, the game peters out to a draw, most probably due to the negative tactics but at least we did not lose. Other than the penalty, Suwon created little of real threat so it may at least be worth considering this tactic for the away leg of the final.

The remarks concerning the soft penalty during my post match press conference sees me banned from the touchline for the following game against Jeonnam. Apparently, it wasn't that soft although I stand by my player and what I said. Oh well, at least I can try my hand at smuggling cans of Cass past out stadium's security. It's been a while.

For the game I rotate slightly yet continue with the formation. We find ourselves two goals down at half time, both from Kim Do-youp. I text my assistant to opt for a more attacking strategy in the second half and getting a cutesy emoticon as a reply. We quickly find ourselves yet another goal down after Kim Do-youp plays Jugovic through to score. Matters worsen when Velkoski is taken off injured, although it is not thought to be serious. His replacement Kim Chan-hee bags a consolation after taking advantage of a bumbling Ko Tae-won but that is the only positive. The final result is 3-1.

Thankfully Velkoski will only be out for two weeks and will therefore be fit to face Jeju United on the last game of the season. It means I will have to field recently returned Jin Seong-wook in the game against Sangju instead. The rest of team is mostly my preferred side though, having rested some in the previous match.

The near entirety of the match plays out as a drab goalless draw, with the only point of note being our defensive midfielder Kainz being hauled off with bruised ribs. He will be fine for the final though. With not much going on up front, I haul of Jin Seong-wook and replace him with Song Je-hyeon (the striker I forgot I had) for the last twenty. The substitute proceeds to score two goals in the last four minutes and we run away with three points. Daylight robbery.

And so we finally proceed to the last day of the season and, as an example of just how exciting this league can be, nearly ever position is already decided. The title has been claimed by Suwon Bluewings, 2nd and 3rd place are claimed by Ulsan and FC Seoul, Suwon FC have been relegated, Gwangju FC will fight it out in the relegation play offs and I, as the media predicted, can only finish in ninth place. Still Jeju can finish as high as seventh with a win here, so perhaps we can find excitement in spoiling their party.

I once again opt for the team I am likely to use in the final, giving Suwon FC every possible chance to scout my ways. The game itself turns out to be good practice with Jeju swarming all over us but we seem to be defending everything well. Well, we do for twelve minutes anyway when Jeong Dong-ho decides to score from a corner leading us trailing a goal to nil. The rest of the match sees us make a number of good chances with recently returned Velkoski missing from point blank range and Ju Min-kyu coming on and striking the post from afar. Fortunately, Park Jong-jin is continuing his rich vein of form, so when Park Je-sik squares a ball off to him on the edge of the area, the right winger decides to strike it first time and into the back of the net. I quickly usher Velkoski off through fear of him getting injured and see out the draw. Jeju are subsequently overtaken by Jeonnam and finish 8th.

Finally the league has drawn to a close and it is safe to say that without this miracle cup run, I would most likely have been facing the sack considering I am miles off the board's target of a top half finish. While we will be facing the relegated Suwon FC in the final, we are still yet to beat the league's whipping boys and will be without our best striker Kevin Oris for both legs. The winner will obtain a place in next year's Champions League group stage, a competition neither side are good enough to play in yet would not mind gate crashing. It's all very exciting.

This article is the tenth part (yes, there are ten of these things!) 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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