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

K League Football Manager 2017 Challenge - Incheon United FC

Three months into the 2016 season and Incheon United bizarrely find themselves in third place chasing down FC Seoul and Ulsan Hyundai. It is looking promising for Matthew Binns' men but June will see them squeeze in seven matches, testing their squad depth to it's limit. Can the surprise Champions League candidates navigate their way through the busy schedule unscathed?


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

Well, May certainly went well! After a disappointing and undeserved loss to Suwon Bluewings, we showed real grit and character to edge a victory against league leaders FC Seoul, making way for a four game winning streak which brings us into June. With seven games ahead, we will need all the momentum we can get to carry us through. Unfortunately, the last time we had this many games in a month, we only came out of it with five points. Here's hoping this won't be another repeat.

There is some amusing news as well as FC Seoul continue to falter after their humiliation in the Gyeongin derby, this time losing their rescheduled FA match against Ansan Mugunghwa on penalties. Hopes of revenge for last year's final loss will have to be put on hold, but to be honest I am just relieved it is one less Classic side for us to worry about,


First we shall play host to sixth placed Pohang Steelers. When we faced these back in March we came away with a comfortable 2-0 victory although admittedly they were reduced to ten men in the first half on that occasion. Pohang come into this game on the back of a credible 0-0 against 11th placed Jeonbuk, opting for a 4-4-2 with their attacks being focused centrally. My chief scout Lee Sang-hoon tells me they are particularly vulnerable to facing a 4-2-3-1 formation, my tactic of choice, conceding an average of four chances per 90 minutes when playing against it. Furthermore, they look set to field a half fit centre back in Kim Kwang-suk. Looks like I have my target to kick the hell out of.

Pohang manager Choi Jin-chul is apparently under pressure to keep his job and it is put to me in the pre-match press conference to give my opinion. I decide to support my fellow professional in a bid to lure him into a false sense of security. Hopefully it will have the desired effect.

I send out my team unchanged from the previous victory at Gwangju although I did consider recalling Jin Seong-wook to the squad. With the next game against second placed Ulsan however, perhaps he can rest for now and prepare himself for that.


I tell the lads assertively that they are to continue where they left off, which is greeted positively by most. We start well with the majority of the ball but our passing is somewhat hampered by the rain, with balls along the deck visibly slowing down play. I see it out to half-time but it looks as if I will be forced to make changes in the second half to my tactics, something that usually goes wrong. I instruct my players to dribble less and ensure the passing is more direct. I also avoid looking for the overlap and instead opt to clear the balls to the flanks and send in earlier crosses. I keep the personnel the same with a view to change it around the hour mark if it isn't going to plan.

It pays off within ten minutes, although not in the way I intended. Kevin Oris receives the ball on the edge of the box and slides it through to the overlapping Song Si-woo who makes no mistake in finding the far bottom corner. I then make three changes in the 62nd minutes, replacing Cho Byung-kuk and Bae Seung-jin in defence with Kim Gyeong-min and Kim Dae-jung, while also taking off the cautioned Park Je-sik for young Vietnamese lad Luon Xuan Truong. With fitness flagging, I need to ensure the defence remains solid as well as keeping players fit for Ulsan. I also instruct the team to play on the counter and let Pohang come forward to create space for us to expose. At 75 minutes, this switches to defensive measures and I shout at my team to start kicking them to death if they get anywhere near our box. Fortunately, Kim Chan-hee decides to calm my nerves by breaking away and crossing the ball perfectly to Song Si-woo at the far post to double the lead. We win 2-0 and move up to second place as Ulsan draw away to Jeonbuk.


As we look ahead to our trip to Ulsan in four days, I must attend to some urgent transfer business. Disgruntled and dropped Jonjic is once more attracting the interest of the Middle East. With the player having the potential to upset the dressing room if he doesn't get his move, while also having been the cause of many of our conceded goals, I agree to move him on to Al Faisaly for a knocked down fee of 150k. Not much I admit, but his departure will free up a foreigner slot and bring my wage budget back below its threshold. Shortly after, Al-Khaleej make an offer in excess of 200k, which I obviously agree to. It seems a bidding war has broken out for the Croatian.

For some reason, my scout does not come forward with a scout report for Ulsan, although looking at their game against Jeonbuk, it seems they like a 4-1-2-2-1 style. It later transpires the scout has left for Seongnam and I have overlooked the email. I quickly reassign one of my scouts for future tasks and place an advert in the local Incheon Gazzette. As for the match, I do not intend to change my tactics but I will look into giving certain players some much needed rest.


In the end, I only make one change, dropping Lee Jin-wook for Jin Seong-wook. While he is lacking in match sharpness, he does seem more threatening in front of goal which may be crucial in a game where chances will need to be taken. I once again tell them to continue where they left off, but also offer some encouraging words to my midfield in the hope their buoyant mood may lead to more chances created.

It doesn't work. Kim Seung-joon finds his way past Choi Hyo-jin and pulls the ball back for Park Sung-ho to tap in. It's only been 42 seconds. Choi is claiming the player was offside and replays suggest he may have a point. It seems we have been undone by the linesmen. Fortunately, it only takes us five minutes to bring the scores level. Kim Chan-hee plays a lovely through ball into the path of Kevin Oris who makes no mistake when presented with a one on one chance. Game on.

We head into half-time with the scores still level at one a piece, although they did hit the post late on. I opt for the revenge card, telling them we owe them after what happened last time. it seems to stir most of the lads up although this new found passion does not seem to be translating to goals on the pitch. I decide to once again take off a lagging and yet again cautioned Park Je-sik for Luong Xuan Truong, hoping that a last minute winner from him will sell some more shirts abroad.

Unfortunately, Ahn Jae-joon has other plans as he gives away a penalty which Ulsan's Lee Jae-seong converts with ease. I bring on lee Jin-wook for Jin Seong-wook, thinking that it will recapture the magic. Instead we go 3-1 down as Park Sung-ho runds through our defence with ease, leaving Ahn standing in his tracks. Oris nearly pulls back a consolation at the death but its too little too late. Our winning run ends after five games and we drop down to third, six points off FC Seoul in first place.


Okay, there's little reason to panic. It's our first loss for a while and Ulsan are a good team so there's little shame in losing to them. Losing at home to 12th place Suwon FC in the 3 days time though would raise a few eyebrows of concern. With a difficult trip to Seongnam to shortly follow though, I will have to rotate newer faces into the squad to ensure my best players are not fatigued.


I make a number of changes but opt to keep the combination Kevin Oris and Song Si-woo, especially as Velkoski is still yet to recover from his injury. This will also be the penultimate game for Jonjic before he departs for pastures new.

It takes 20 minutes to break the deadlock despite our dominance. Lee Jin-wook eventually provides a cross that is met with the head of Jin Seong-wook. Almost immediately however, Suwon have their first shot of the game from Bruce Djite and score. The defence were caught napping and let the Australian beat them for pace onto a long ball up field. Then, just before half time, Kim Do-hyeok is injured and I am forced to replace him with Ju Min-kyu. The half-time whistle rings out and it's not all gone according to plan.

Disaster strikes in the 54th minute. We began the second half strong but another long ball up field once again finds our defence napping and Lee Seung-hyun scores his 1st goal of the season to give Suwon FC the lead. I respond by bringing on Park Je-sik and Kim Chan-hee. We equalise from a Ju Min-kyu corner shortly after, with Ahn Jae-joon heading in at the far post. I'm then screaming at my team to push for the winner, knowing that FC Seoul are losing to Pohang. It comes back to haunt me though as we are once again caught on the counter by Djite who claims a 91st minute winner. We drop down to fourth with Suwon Bluewings taking our spot among the elite after destroying Ulsan 4-1 at the Big Bird. I let my team know in no uncertain terms that their performance was disappointing. Suwon FC had 5 shots (3 on target) compared to our 19. This was not a game we should have lost.


The games are coming thick and fast now, with Seongnam (6th), Gyeongnam (FA Cup) and Jeju (5th) in a period of seven days. Ideally I would like to target that Gyeongnam game as an opportunity to rotate my squad but given our recent performances, and that the FA Cup may be my best chance of Champions League football, I would rather not. For the upcoming Seongnam game, I decide to revert back to tactic that served me well against FC Seoul in May; defending for our lives and await the counter attacks. This should also catch my old scout off guard who may have informed them of my "philosophy". Seongnam are expected to line up in a 4-4-2 with dribbling being their strongest aspect.


I opt for Choi Hyo-jin on the right wing, with Jonjic no doubt playing one of his last games for the club at right back. Ju Min-kyu is suspended for this game after collecting one too many yellows. Hopefully we won't need his creativity to get us out of any mess.


The thought that I had built a team worthy of Champions League consideration almost seems laughable after this match. I can't even look them in the eye, I am that disgusted with what I've just seen. It was poor. We fell apart after just ten minutes when we conceded a free kick, following on by conceding again, and again, and again, pulling one back as consolation, but then conceding once more at the death. 5-1. I can't even field a weakened team against Gyeongnam now, as a fourth loss on the bounce to a Challenge side would surely destroy any remaining shreds of confidence.


Gyeongnam is a team that is apparently looking so convincing in the division below, that I am not even the favourite going into the game. A quick glance at the board's pre-season expectations shows they expect me to reach the quarter finals of this competition. Crashing out at this stage will certainly create unnecessary added pressure. Best send out a strong team, even if they are flagging somewhat.


Well, we certainly get off to a good start! Song Si-woo looks up for it, scoring two goals that both stung their keepers palms and into the net. However, we still look suspect at the back, as evidenced when a ball is played over the top and met by an on running Yoo Byung-soo who converts without hesitation in the 41st minute. Fortunately, Song replies almost immediately by confirming his hat trick on the stroke of half-time. I cautiously tell the team not to get complacent to much confusion and send them out for the second half.

Song Si-woo turns provider early on, crossing the ball into the path of Kevin Oris who makes it four. With the game effectively wrapped up, I take both Song and Oris off, and give Velkoski a run out after his long spell on the sideline. Five minutes later, I take off Ju Min-kyu so he can get some rest before the Jeju game. It then falls to pieces, a feeling I am quickly becoming familiar with. Gwangju's Kim Dong-hee runs late into the box in the 67th minute to bring the scoreline to 4-2. The 81st minute then sees Yoo Byung-soo deflect a ball off Ahn Jae-joon to make it 4-3. I'm desperately clawing at the shutters in a bid to close up shop but Gyeongnam keep on coming. We are in disarray as I fiddle with my tactics, pulling them all back to keep the Challenge side out. We somehow see it out though and we make it through to next month's quarter finals where we will play Seoul E-Land. Our team really is looking out of sorts.


Two more games left to go until July; Jeju and Jeonbuk. Fourth placed Jeju having been looking good in recent matches and thus are strong favourites for this encounter. The scout report does suggest that they do like to concede tough, but I am advised to prepare the defence ready for an onslaught. I also have an unhappy Cho Su-hyuk in the squad, upset he has been bumped as my first choice keeper for the younger Lee. I agree to play him though in the hope that perhaps his presence can stabilise that defence.


We started well. I continue to repeat this to the coaching staff and the concerned director phoning from his box as we find ourselves a goal down thanks to yet again a ball over the back line. I need to drop the defence deeper but, before I do, we our 2-0 down due to a stunning free kick from their midfielder Gorious.

We make it to half time with not much else happening thanks to the more conservative approach to defending. We need to score though and as I instruct them to once again venture forward, we are sucker punched by an almost replica goal of the first one. The defence has fallen apart but how? I sold the original problem that was Jonjic! We claw one back thanks to Oris in the 70th minute but eight minutes later sees us 4-1 down when Lee Keun-ho hits a shot on the half-volley from the edge of the box through five Incheon players and keeper Cho parries it into his own net. Fortunately the final whistle comes before the humiliation can worsen. I am going to have to try something different it seems. My brand of Incheon Tika-Taka has evidently been found out.


And so the final game of the month approaches. The problem with seeing the schedule in monthly chunks is that I have began convincing myself that it will all finish at the end of each period and I can start anew after. It won't though. If I lose this game, it will be five straight league defeats in a row and July will not let up with Suwon Bluewings, FC Seoul and an important quarter final featuring Seoul E-Land all to come. I need to stop the rot but we are in free fall, and I honestly have no idea what to do.

Fortunately, it seems Choi Kang-hee can relate to me, or at least he could. Jeonbuk have sacked their manager after being knocked out of the FA Cup in addition to them being 10th. They did have a nine point deduction to be fair, but even without it they would only be 7th. Add unconvincing form in the Asian Champions League and it seems Hyundai's patience had been tested to the limit. Jens Lehman or Kim Hak-bum are in contention for the role but whoever they choose will not be in place in time for my visit. This is my chance to kick them while they're down.


I am also told that I need to call a team meeting to boost morale. To be honest, I could do with the team boosting mine. I try my best to stir the lads, giving them a passionate plea to keep their heads up. They seem to take it well and appear uplifted. Now to lock myself in my room and play with tactics.

I take a look at my previously ignored staff advice and see their constant recommendations of playing a 4-1-2-1-2 Narrow formation. I reluctantly agree and begin tampering. I intend to use the wing backs in a supporting role to the attack, with the defensive midfielder pulling back to make it three at the back. The central midfielders will hold down fort in the middle allowing Song Si-woo and two other strikers to attack. To be honest, I don't see how it will be different from my other tactics apart from the lack of width and overlap. Still, it's worth a shot. Oh, and I tell the defence to stay deep. The last thing I need is a geriatric Lee Dong-gook to somehow beat my offside trap, outrun my backtracking defenders and score; the final humiliation.


We again start well. Crosses from deep into the box seem to be working, with Jin Seong-wook missing a free header from a Park Dae-han cross to almost take the lead. Their defence is also pinned back coping with our additional striker. A repeat Park Dae-han cross in the 39th minute finally comes off, with Jin Seong-wook heading in off the underside off the bar. We lead 1-0 in Jeonju at half-time.

I don't change anything during the interval, but I am forced to early on as Shin Hyung-min upends Jin Seong-wook and he is stretchered off. Krste Velowski is brought on but, with hindsight, I should have gone more defensive. Kim Bo-kyung eventually finds space on the edge of the box to cross in to Lee Dong-gook who is unmarked at the far post. There are suspicisions of offside there but the replays are inconclusive. 1-1.

Ten minutes later and Bae Seung-jin fails to close down Kim Bo-kyung who scores a screamer from 25 yards out. The final nail in our coffin comes once again courtesy of Bae who concedes a soft penalty which Lee Seung-gi duly converts. The score is 3-1 at full time, but we looked so much better. It's a jumping off point and some more tweaks are needed, but we may have laid the seeds of an alternative tactic here. I tell the boys they were unlucky and we get back on the bus back to Incheon.


Somehow, this month was worse than April. Five league games lost consecutively certainly does not make easy reading, but we are somehow still 5th in the table and have a winnable tie in the FA Cup. The board do not seem to mind yet either, still drunkenly celebrating the victory in the Gyeongin derby from last month. I am left to wonder how long their delirium will last after Seoul have their revenge in Sangam in two weeks time.



Find out what happens in July here.

This article is the sixth part (congratulations and thanks if you made it through the other five!) 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. Part one can be read here.

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