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