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2019 Season Preview: Gwangju FC

2019 Season Preview: Gwangju FC K League 2
Park Jin-seop's Gwangju FC head into the 2019 season hoping to cure their inconsistency and improve on a mid-table finish last term. Sneaking into the play-offs on the final day, the Yellows lost away to Daejeon Citizen in the semi-finals. Looking for a new talisman following the departure of Korean international forward Na Sang-ho to FC Tokyo, the South Jeolla club will be hoping for a successful year on the pitch with a new stadium on the horizon.


Last Season

W11 D11 L10 (Promotional Playoff semi-finals)

What Happened?

A dismal run of one win in 12 frustrated fans and players alike as Gwangju mustered just a solitary victory in four months. While undoubtedly stunting their promotion push, glimmers of hope were seen with creditable draws against top-half rivals such as Seongnam and Busan IPark. Back to back home wins seemed to set up an improbable charge similar to that of 2014's promotion campaign but with key players missing for the crunch match in Daejeon, Gwangju fell short.

A lack of consecutive wins since July proves how inconsistent the Yellows were, with a propensity to concede cheap goals leading them to have only kept two clean sheets in their last 17 K League fixtures. Mid-season acquisitions of Felipe and Robson Duarte supported a free-scoring play-maker Na Sang-ho, however, defensive frailties persisted and with that front-line now decimated it's time for Park Jin-seop to find new heroes.

Notable Moves

The headliner is no doubt that Korean international Na Sang-ho has moved to FC Tokyo following the Asian Cup, with his goals leaving a gigantic hole to fill up front. Tricky winger Robson Duarte has also departed with his loan coming to an end and rather surprisingly sealing a move to last season's strugglers Seoul E-Land, while centre back Ryu Eon-jae is also out the door.

Image via Gwangju FC
Still to really sign a replacement for last season's hero, Park Jin-seop has understandably focused on defence in recruitment so far. Gwangju's first ever foreign defensive acquisition, Uzbek centre-back Rustam Ashurmatov joins from Bunyokdor, with the 22-year-old featuring 29 times in the league last term. Perhaps feeling some experience was lacking, the Yellows have brought in veterans Park Jeong-soo and Jeong Da-hwon, with the former enjoying a settled season in defensive midfield for Gangwon last season.

A couple of loanees could be a wise move with Jo Joo-yong tasked with making a mark up front, while Lee Si-young has arrived on loan from Seongnam to provide competition at right back. Experienced keeper Lee Jin-hyung will hope to recapture his 2017 form with Incheon United as he arrives alongside five university recruits. Boss Park Jin-seop claims that Kim Ju-gong, a free agent from Jeonju University will see game time in the first team.

Needs

Signed half way through their 2018 campaign, bustling striker Felipe Silva certainly brought a different dimension to the Gwangju attack. With his first choice strike partners leaving for pastures new, the Yellows could really do with a proven K League 2 forward to provide some goal threat. Bagging seven goals in 15, Felipe looks full of promise and is surely first name on the team sheet to lead the line, but he will need a player with more guile and industry to work alongside him. Kim Min-gyu and Doo Hyun-suk acted as deputies last term but only managed a combined total of three goals in 40 appearances.

Central midfield looks quite assured with Park Jeong-soo presumably set to form a partnership with Gwangju stalwart Yeo Reum in the middle. However, some fresh attacking flair would help on the wing, especially if the plan is to whip balls in for target man Felipe to attack.

Key Player

Lee Jin-hyung (R) in action for Incheon United in 2018
While Gwangju didn't leak goals compared to those around them, it was their inability to hold onto a lead which cost them any chance of finishing higher than fifth last season. With a couple of veterans added to their ranks and the unknown quantity of Ashurtmatov at the back, Gwangju's new keeper Lee Jin-hyung will have a whole new back-line to organise.

The former Jeju United and Incheon United keeper will be 31 by the time the season starts, prime age for a goalkeeper, so will surely be hoping that a step down to the second division means he has a fair shot at cementing the number one spot from the off. Lee's competence at the back this season will be a major factor in whether Gwangju can achieve their goal of promotion, which the board are fervently asserting that they are going for. Deputy to Incheon's Jung San last season, the shot-stopper has spent time in the second tier previously with Asan Mugunghwa and Anyang.

Young Player to Watch

While Kim Ju-gong is likely to be on the fringes of the first eleven, and although asking him to emulate Na Sang-ho is surely too much of a burden for an emerging university talent, it seems as though the 22-year-old will get his chance in the first team.

Described as a pacey and incisive forward, Kim Ju-gong has flirted with Jeonbuk Hyundai's reserves in the past before impressing on trial for Gwangju over the winter. He will hope to provide competition for Felipe and fellow new recruit Jo Joo-yong. With Gwangju losing a couple of big names in the attacking midfield department, should Park Jin-sub change his system and opt for two up front, this could be the youngsters best chance of pitch time.

Biggest Question

Can Gwangju find consistency this season?

Gwangju always seemed to be on the verge of a good run in 2018 but failed to converts draws into wins in the second half of the season. As well as being lax defensively, their midfield contributed a pitiful amount of goals to support their star men. This may be more difficult now that Lee Seung-mo has returned to Pohang. It seems as though the Yellows will line up will a relatively new starting 11 this term, considering they have made 12 signings while 13 have departed so far. Perhaps a fresh change was required and the veterans added can install a winning mentality.

Reason to Watch

While Gwangju's current stadium may not be the most inspiring place to watch football, at least that has been recognised by the club and the vast running track and open ends will soon be a thing of the past. The board seem intent on promotion and are perhaps hoping to emulate the boost that Daegu seem to have gained from their new home. With Jeollanamdo derby matches against Jeonnam Dragons back on the cards following their relegation, both sides could be competing for a top-four finish. By no means favourites for the title, Gwangju fans may be quietly optimistic after seeing so much new talent come in through the door. Seeing Na Sang-ho flourish as he did when afforded game time last season, those supporters will be hoping that the latest crop of young prospects can take over his mantle.

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