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FA Cup Writers' Chat: Daejeon Citizen Vs Jeonnam Dragons

The league campaign is barely a third of the way through but the FA Cup is reaching the business end with 5th round (round of 32) being played out this Wednesday. Rock bottom of the second tier, Daejeon face an in-form Jeonnam Dragons in this Challenge versus Classic tie. The Challenge team, Daejeon, will be looking to top scorer Cristian Danalache (above left) to cause an upset whilst free-scoring Jeonnam have the luxury of choosing from a strike force that includes the K League Classic's joint top scorer in Jair (above right).

With Daejeon World Cup Stadium being used for the U20 World Cup, the game has been moved to Boeun, N Chungcheong-do
Graphic from Soccerway.com

Daejeon Citizen columnist Paul Neat sat down with K League United's resident Jeonnam Dragons duo Aodan Halligan and Alex Meyer to discuss all things purple and yellow ahead of Wednesday's intriguing clash. And, with Daejeon being the supposed home side, first Paul asks Aodan and Alex.

Paul Neat: Jeonnam have been flying in recent weeks, putting teams like Ulsan and Gwangju to the sword, not to mention an emphatic win in the previous round against Jeonju, do you see the FA Cup has something the club genuinely wants to win? Or is league form still the number one priority? 

Aodan: Yes, we’re the form team in the K-League at the moment – in fact, no team has picked up as many points over the last five games – and we’ve hockeyed a few teams, especially the ones you mentioned. We beat Jeonju 4-0 in the FA cup, which started our run of good form. We also trashed Gwangju (5-0) and Asian Champions League participants, Ulsan (5-0), in the K-League Classic. 

As for priorities, even though we’re rocketing up the table, we have to go for the FA Cup. I mean, not only are we two-time winners, we’re also a cup team on form this season – capable of beating, hammering, to be more precise, any team on our day. But we’re also likely to lose games that we’re expected to win – two 3-1 home defeats to Sangju and Pohang spring to mind - so winning the Classic’s perhaps a step too far. But with a bit of luck, we can force our way into the Champions League places and go all the way in the FA Cup. (Gosh, I’m starting to sound like Alex!) 

Paul: Having played Suwon at the weekend then having Daejeon and Ulsan all within a week, will the manager be fielding his strongest team?   

Aodan: Considering the game’s sandwiched between two crucial Classic ties, versus two ACL teams - Suwon and Ulsan - and Daejeon are one division below us, rooted to the bottom of the table, I’d doubt it. We have the wounded Suwon Bluewings this week, fresh after their credible, but ultimately insufficient, 2-2 draw against Galácticos side, Guangzhou Evergrande, from China.  And the following weekend we have to go to Ulsan Hyundai, who will no doubt be looking for revenge after that spanking we mentioned earlier. So, coach Noh Sang-rae will have to freshen things up. 

The bad news for Daejon is Hungarian striker Róbert Feczesin’s likely to get game time and will be fired up and keen to add to his goal tally for the season. You’ve been warned! 

Paul: When the draw was made, what were your initial thoughts on having to play Daejeon? Easy route into the next round or potential banana skin? 

Aodan: It may be a cliché, but there are no easy games in football – particularly, away from home. And very often teams’ (especially teams from lower divisions) seasons can change after a bit of giant killing in the cup. Having said that, though, on paper, and considering the fixtures it comes between, I was actually quite pleased when our name came out of the hat next to yours. I mean, it’s much better – again, on paper – than a tie away to Jeju, right? So if we play to our potential, I think we’ll be too strong for you and advance to the next round. Fingers, toes and toenails crossed! 

Paul: In your writers' chat with Muyeol for the Daegu game you attributed the slow start being down to a 3-4-3 system that wasn't working and perhaps because of a lack of fitness especially amongst foreign players, has the sudden upturn in form been down to match fitness levels improving or a combination of fitness and formation?

Alex: I do believe the formation, 3 at the back, was the major contributor to five losses off the bat. But you do point out another good reason for the Dragons notoriously slow starts, match fitness.  The Dragons are known for starting off slow and working their way into match fitness.  I do see the benefits of this, with the dog days of summer, you want your team peaking at the right time and not burning out in the second half of the season like Seongnam last season. Unfortunately, they haven't found the right balance and with the sub-par match fitness and slow to change the formation, the first five could come back to haunt them.

Paul: Jair has really come into form but he has played both out wide and down the middle with Feczesin coming in and out of the team, how do you expect the forward line to look against Daejeon? 

Alex: Jair has been the star as of late, he sure didn't have his scoring boots on against Suwon but no one on the Dragons did.  Jair did create some positive chances only to have the Dragons fade in front of the net. That being said, he is a very solid player and dangerous.  He plays with pace, can turn you both ways, has a dangerous left and right, and has a great eye for the game.  

I believe that with Feczesin's struggles, coach Roh Sangrea has made correct decision to move Jair up top and flanking him with speed from Choi Jaehyun and Hyun Yongmin.  Whether Jair is on the wing and Bae Chunsuk is in center, or Jair is the target man, the Dragons have been playing with speed and tactically appealing football  But I would not be surprised to see Feczesin in the starting 11.  It's to early to resign him to the bench and with a bit more field time and confidence, there is no reason he won't play himself into the player the organization believes he can be.

Paul: If you beat Daejeon you would have a home tie with either FC Seoul or Busan IPark, both would be interesting matches, first of all who would you prefer and do you think that for the players, knowing who possible awaits in the next round acts as extra motivation? 

Alex: One game at a time and Daejeon is definitely no gimme.  If the Dragons do pull it out, which I think they will, I'd like the see Busan.  Mostly because I couldn't be asked to sit through another Seoul vs Dragons game.  Also, it's nice to see teams that aren't normally on your radar.  As for the players, I know a few quite well and they are all top notch professionals and will be focused 100% on the game ahead of them and worry about the next challenger when they cross that bridge.

Paul: Score predictions? 

Aodan: I think there’ll be quite a few goals and the Dragons will score most of these. Daejeon 1-3 Jeonnam.

Alex: I believe the Dragons feel a bit upset about the result and with Suwon and will bounce back strong - 3-0 Dragons.

Aodan and Alex ask Paul

Alex and AodanDaejeon Citizen are propping up the second tier of South Korean football, the K-League Challenge, and struggling to find form – with no wins in five; how have a football team from one of Korea’s biggest cities got themselves into such a mess?

Quite simply there have been mistakes made from the top of the hierarchy that have now filtered down to pitch level. The board have made some poor choices of manager over the last few years. Kim Inwan, a former assistant manager at Busan, was a disaster during his short spell (2012 - 2013) - he won just two of his 30 games in charge.

His successor, Kim Inwan's assistant, Cho Jinho was a good manager for Daejeon, he almost kept the Purples up in 2013 before guiding Citizen to promotion in 2014. The subsequent season in the Classic didn't go well though and he was sacked after just a few months into the campaign, unfairly in my humble opinion.

After Cho the board replaced him with Choi Moonsik, a former assistant with the Korea Under 23s. Despite Choi having the league's top scorer in Kim Dongchan, Daejeon finished 7th under him and he resigned, perhaps before he was pushed. The board then appointed the current gaffer Lee Youngik, Gyeongnam's former assistant manager. Can you see a pattern developing here? The board seem to enjoy appointing number twos, regardless of whether they are fit for the job or not.

I was hopeful about Lee Youngik as he was a coach at Daejeon in the mid-2000s and he comes across as being uncompromising and determined. He also said in an interview when he first took over that he understood the culture of the club and so with that, along with the signings that he made over the winter, I thought that they'd be able to have a good go at promotion this season. Alas, I never foresaw a start to the season quite as bad as this. 

As for on the pitch, Lee is forever chopping and changing the team, selecting seven different left backs so far over the course of the season and fielding seven different wingers alongside Cristian Danalache up front too. So many changes can't help the players' confidence nor is it conducive for building a cohesive unit. In my opinion, the current manager is the problem for the current mess but the problems stem from a series of poor managerial appointments that date back a good number of years.

Alex and Aodan2003 has been described as a ‘miracle year’ for Daejeon as you recorded your highest K-league finish – 6th – and your average home attendance was around 19,000. How can you win promotion and bring back the glory days? And what’s the atmosphere like at the club these days?

The glory days, they seem like a completely different life time ago now for the Daejeon fans, I'm sure. The atmosphere is really flat at present, there is so much apathy surrounding the club now that is just sad to see. Daejeon have good fans and they support their team home and away but things are so bleak that even the most ardent of the Purple Arena faithful are apathetic to the point of despondency.

To get back up to the Classic Citizen need some drive and vigour about them, particularly in midfield. Pace goes a long way in the K League, the Challenge even more so but Daejeon lack pace and struggle to get the ball forward quickly enough. Service to Cristian Danalache is pedestrian at times, he has done well to get eight goals in all competition but he cuts quite the lonely figure up top and seems frustrated with life at Purple Arena.

Alex and Aodan2001 was also a great year for Daejeon as you won the FA cup. Would a good cup run suffice this season or would most of your fans prefer to finish higher up in the league? Plus how much of a scalp would Jeonnam be, considering they’re the form team in the top tier - the K- League Classic - over the past five games?

Getting back into the Classic sooner rather than later has to be the priority. A good cup run would help confidence but has perhaps been seen as a welcome distraction from the league.  To get to round five Daejeon beat Cheonan City and Yeungnam University but weren't exactly convincing in dispatching either team so whether or not there can be many positives to take from those games I am not so sure. 

If Daejeon were to beat Jeonnam it would surpass Bucheon's win over Jeonbuk, I feel. It would without doubt be a huge scalp for Daejeon, certainly a result which could really kick start the season. But, given Daejeon's current predicament, any win for the Purples would be extremely unlikely. 

Alex and Aodan: What's your prediction?

I am extremely concerned Daejeon are about to get hit for five or six. Given Jeonnam's free-scoring nature, Suwon at home aside, I am not expecting much. If Daejeon can keep the score down to 2-0 or 3-0 then I'd be actually be quite content.

Daejeon Citizen 0-4 Jeonnam Dragons.

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