The #KleagueFM17 Challenges: Challenge Champs [Run-In '16]
When we last left E-Land manager Steve Waddell the season could go either way. Ten points behind leaders Busan is a big gap to close but there was still the safety net of the play-offs to consider. As the season enters it's final stages we bring you a bumper edition of the blog which takes us through to the end of the season. We join proceedings at the start of a match vs Chungju...
One-nil down after three minutes because we can’t defend corners! Typical. I guess it's time for a cavalry charge to try to rescue things. Can't I just get one match where we don't screw things up royally from start? I'm not sure the team even understand my touchline instructions but I bark at them to push forward anyway.
It pays off after quarter of an hour when Kim Dong-jin picks up the ball on the left wing and fires in a low cross for Gil to force home at the near post. In 20 minutes we go ahead. Seo Beo-min almost runs the ball out of play but just manages to loft a high looping ball to the back post and Ahn Seong-bin finishes from a tight angle.
We can’t hold onto it though. 30 minutes on the clock and Chungju give us a taste of our own medicine with good wing play and find an equaliser. “It’s all action today” I think to myself and, in typical fashion, that kills the game stone dead. 2-2 it finishes. Another bloody draw.
Trying to look on the bright side, at least we scored a couple of goals. I was seriously considering sending Tarabai out with one foot in plaster but we can probably hold off on that one. Of course, as soon as we start finding the net then the defence goes walkabout and we concede two as well.
That’s the end of the third round of fixtures so we have ten games left to save our season. We’re still in a play-off spot but on current form we have no chance of winning even one post-season match let alone doing enough to get promoted. Ten points behind Busan in first is also probably too much of a gap to close without something of a minor miracle. The plan then really needs to be to find a formation and style that will give us a chance of making and winning the play-offs. At the very least I need to not get sacked.
Some good news arrives on Monday morning when Kim Jae-sung tells me he no longer wants to go to Incheon and he is happy to stay. I’m glad of his change of heart even if it does seem to have been prompted by Incheon losing interest in him. His form has been pretty poor since they started sniffing around so hopefully he can get back to his best now.
I decide the team need a bit of a kick up the backside so I tell Dan to up the intensity of training. My instructions are slightly more profanity-laced than that but that’s the jist of it anyway. Almost as soon as I have given this instruction Jeon Min-gwang goes down with a sore wrist. Lightweight. He wouldn’t have been playing anyway so no great loss.
I hold another team meeting to try to gee them up but my efforts only seem to piss them off. We can’t have GaIn at every meeting FFS lads!
Lee Jae-hun mouths off about his lack of first team football and how he wants game time. I decide to call his bluff and tell him he will get some starts. Time to put his money where his mouth is. Elsewhere I make a bold decision to drop Kim Young-kwang and give Sang-ki his chance.
The press seem interested in setting up a bit of a grudge match between me and the Busan manager but I can’t be bothered with that so I don’t give them anything. The continual questions start to annoy me though and I end up taking a swipe at the home fans for not giving us enough encouragement. Probably not a clever move.
This next match feels like a bit of a do or die moment and I’m two minds how to line the team up but in the end I plump for a cautious approach. We really need to win this one but we don’t want to end up 2-0 down after twenty minutes.
Surprisingly Busan seem to have the same idea and opt for a defensive looking 4-1-4-1 with my least favourite overweight Brazilian carpet-fitter up front. A repeat of the opening day 1-0 will do me here. Come on boys!
After a fairy uneventful first half hour Jaja puts the ball in the net for Busan but the ref pulls play back for an offside. What a let-off. It remains 0-0 at half-time and I genuinely have no idea what to do. So I do nothing.
We are reduced to long-range shots but they are pretty effective. First their keeper, then the woodwork denies Gil and then their goalie pulls off another brilliant stop to keep Min-kyu out. We’re getting closer…
…and finally one goes in! It took a wicked deflection but it still counts. Gil has given us the lead!
That’s enough to give us the win. A priceless victory indeed! The gap at the top is down to seven points.
After the Busan match I feel like partying but decide to keep my head down and stay focused for the next match. I fancy the same line-up but decide to sleep on it.
In the end I feel like I do want to make a few changes just to keep the team on their toes. We seem more or less unable to string back to back wins together and last time Anyang gave us a bit of a sore face. I try to get the team riled up by reminding them of that.
Sadly it’s the same old story yet again. We go in 2-0 down at half-time and we’re well off the pace. None of my changes in the second half manage to do anything to improve things. A terrible performance. We have been completely outplayed by a very average Anyang side.
Just to compound my misery next up is our bogey team Gangwon. I consider just walking away from the whole affair. As I’m putting my coat on though I get some good news. Tarabai is back in training! Can he be our saviour in the last few games? I’m seriously tempted to throw him straight back in the team but knowing my luck he would break his leg in the first five minutes.
A few hours later I get another call. Tarabai has injured his thigh in training and will need another three weeks. He literally didn’t last one training session! I head to the GS Mart for half a dozen bottle of soju to take the edge off. I barely care what the lineup is for this one and I doubt I will remember who I picked in the morning.
My pre-match teamtalk is little more than a soju-fuelled rant. I’m still in full flow when I realise the dressing room is empty and the game has already kicked off. I decide to just sit in the dressing room and quietly seethe. I send someone up to the craft beer stand to get some more drinks while I wait.
When the team comes back at half-time they are 2-0 up. It would seem slightly pointless to start in on them again. Apparently they do better when I am not watching. So I don’t even look at them. I just sip my beer and let my assistant do the talking.
The game finishes at 4-2 to us. Sounds like I missed a corker to be honest but I’m not going to cave. I just keep drinking my beer and say nothing. Let them sweat. Even after they awkwardly get changed and leave I continue to sit quietly in the dressing room. I’m quite enjoying the rest. And the beer. Mostly the beer.
I’m still in there three days later when the team turn up for the bus down to the Gyeongnam game. I reluctantly get on the bus with them but still say nothing. I suppose we will keep the same team because, quite frankly, I can’t be bothered changing it. I hope someone packed a crate of Cass on the bus.
On arrival I grab my slab of beers and head for the dressing room. Let them work everything else out for themselves.
This one finishes 0-0 apparently. I say apparently because at some point during the first half I am bored and decide to take a taxi up to watch the baseball instead.
The post-match stats make me think I probably made the right decision. Still third though. At the weekend we take on Daegu and we really need to win to keep our title challenge alive. A bit of freshening up probably required.
Kim Do-hoon the Daegu coach seems to have it in for me and is casting aspersions on my ability to handle the pressure. If having a mental breakdown in the dressing room is failing to cope with the pressure then he might have a point but he can still do one. He’s got me so annoyed I might even talk to the players again before this one, although I’m slightly concerned that they seem to do better when I don’t. I make sure the press knows that I’m not in the least bit phased by Daegu. My own team winds me up far more than the opposition ever could.
I decide to freshen up the side with half a dozen changes. This includes dropping Min-kyu and Jae-sung. We’ll find out in a few hours if that’s the most stupid decision I have made in my tenure. It certainly has the potential to be.
Even though we go in 0-0 at half-time I reckon we’ve actually played fairly well in the first 45. Daegu haven’t caused us too many problems and we’ve tested their keeper more than once. Luong nearly bagged a spectacular goal from the half-way line after their goalie came out a bit too far to clear the ball. Chang-wook also made him work from distance. I reckon we can we this.
Our finishing is really letting us down though so I switch Alves for Gil. He doesn’t seem to have his shooting boots on either and fluffs his lines a couple of times in front of goal. Finally he does make the breakthrough for us though with a nice half volley on 70 minutes. That might just be enough to give us the win if we keep things tight. Gil looks much better than Matheus Alves up front. Sadly he’s looking to have been a complete waste of money. I think I will move him on if I can.
In the end 1-0 is how it finishes and I’m very pleased with that. Our second choice midfield actually did very well and has given me something to think about.
After that win we have 5 games left of the season and we are 6 points behind the leaders, Daegu. Not impossible but it’s looking more and more unlikely. Especially with Busan having a couple of matches in hand and sitting 4 points ahead of us. We need snookers now really.
Daegu will play Busan in their next match and I’m not sure what result would suit us best. Probably a draw. We barely have time to catch our breath before we are travelling to Bucheon for the next match. Another must-win game. They all are now. Given that it’s make or break time I take a gamble and name Tarabai on the bench.
Somehow we end up 2-0 down in this one after 35 minutes. This is a disaster. I tell the team to go all out for goals and we pull one back when Gil gets behind their defence and lashes home. We’ve been the better side but still find ourselves losing.
In the second half we continue to dominate and eventually get a leveller from Gil again. Sadly I don’t think a draw is going to be any good to us so I make sure the side know to keep going for a winner. I even throw Tarabai on and take off a defender. It’s kitchen sink time. We are completely on top of this but amazingly it’s Bucheon that steal the win with a third goal. The stats tell their own tale. We have had more than twice as many shots and more than twice as many on target but it’s goals that count. We’ve been horrendously unlucky there but that doesn’t make it any easier to take. The Daegu v Busan match has ended 0-0 which makes it doubly hard to take this result.
I guess now the best we can manage is a play-off spot. Anything more would take a collapse from both Busan and Daegu in the last few games as well as us suddenly finding the ability to win two games on the trot. Not happening.
That being the case I might as well use the next few games to mix up the squad a bit and give a few players time off. For the Daejeon game this is exactly what I do.
This one turns out to be quite a game again but we come out on the wrong side of a 3-2. On the positive side Gil bagged another brace and is starting to look like a very sound addition to the squad. On the negative, we’ve been poor in defence once more and Tarabai’s injured himself yet again. We need to be careful now that we don’t do anything stupid and miss out on the play-offs completely.
Despite that warning from myself in the back of my mind I line up for the Goyang game by rotating the team a bit more once again. With a bit of luck the guys carrying yellow cards will pick up bookings and clear their suspensions before the play-offs but luck is not something I seem to be having much of so they’ll probably end up missing the most important matches.
This match is one of the dullest games of football I can remember and I confess to nodding off at some point. Sadly I was woken up the sound of both Goyang fans celebrating their winning goal. Bugger. Maybe this squad rotation thing wasn’t such a good idea after all. Looking at the table we really need to get results in our last two matches or we may not make the play-offs at all.
Almost as if I am deliberately trying to annoy myself I yet again don't heed my own advice and switch things up again in the Ansan game. You can probably guess how well that ends up working at the game finishes 2-2. We are now in fourth and only in the play-off spots on goal difference with the two sides below us having a match in hand. We're incredibly close to blowing this!
We have one last chance to put things to right. We absolutely must beat Chungju in our last match and even then we might still not have done enough if one of Goyang or Ansan do well in their last two matches. Ninety minutes later the headlines say it all. Well almost all.
Our chairman instead offers me a new contract. He seems to be the only one not in the least bit phased by things. The fact that he has renewed my deal after that abject failure almost makes me want to tell him to stick it. Instead I sign on the line and head off to Thailand for the winter break.
The news that art imitates life and Daegu go up automatically while Gangwon make it through the play-offs does nothing to cheer me up. I turn off my laptop and grab another beer from the poolside bar. Next year things will all be different. They'd better be.