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March Review: Ansan Greeners

 

As Shin Jae-min scrambled the ball into the Yangpyeong goal, Ansan fans could breathe a collective sigh of relief. The goal would prove the be the winner, and in spite of it being a cup tie and opposition two tiers below Ansan in the Korean domestic pyramid, it would encapsulate the K League 2 season so far for the Green Wolves.

An optimist may have fancied a playoff spot as a outside chance for the Ansan club this season, but four matches into 2021, the Greeners sit second in the K2, with a home tie against Asan up next in the 3rd round of the FA cup as well. It is a great start to the campaign and for just a few moments Ansan fans can cast their minds back to that 2019 season, when a dynamic team narrowly missed out on the playoffs after failing to take any points in the final three games. There are several echoes of that side, with a solid defence and creativity in midfield. However, Ansan still have one big question mark hanging over them.

Goals

Five goals in four league matches is not a bad statistic in isolation, especially with a solid defence, but when just 2 of those goals have come from open play, concerns rise. That goal against Yangpyeong made it 3 open-play goals in six for Ansan, but without some super stops from deputy Kim Sun-woo between the sticks, Ansan could easily have been embarrassed. The campaign got off to a great start, with Lee Jun-hee scoring what will certainly be a contender for goal of the season come October after just six minutes of the opening fixture at home to Gimcheon. However, three of the next four league goals would come from the spot, with Kim Ryun-do bagging a penalty brace in the Line 4 Derby, and K league journeyman Duarte  scoring the winner against Asan from the spot. Ansan need to find a finisher soon. The Green Wolves’ fortunes since 2017 have ultimately relied on a consistent goal scorer, with Tarragona, Vintecinco and Masatoshi weaving their names into Ansan legend for their returns, but as of yet, nobody looks able to take on that mantle in the Ansan frontline.

Could Have Been Better

The main takeaway from Ansan’s start to the season has been that they have not been out of any games. Gimcheon were predicted to win their opening match at a canter but instead Ansan outplayed them in the first half and kept it competitive in the second. The Green Wolves were great value for their win at Anyang, not only taking the Line 4 Derby spoils, but also asserting a degree of dominance that no Ansan side has ever really shown at their rivals. Kim Ryun-do’s last minute penalty miss against Gyeongnam cost Ansan a point that could have seen them sitting aside E-land on points at the summit, and a drab encounter against Asan also demonstrated an organised resolve that was converted into three points. High possession, solid at the back, and with a bit of bite in midfield, Kim Gil-sik has put together a solid foundation that just needs a sharper point to really allow Ansan fans to dream of a play-off challenge.

Stand-outs

Such a collective effort means that it is difficult to pick out individuals, but so far Lee Sang-min has stood out as the main man for the Green Wolves this season. Controlling games from the centre of the park, he has allowed Ansan to tick over, when either in the ascendency or under attack. If he continues to perform like this, Suwon Bluewings may regret letting him go. Behind him, the loss of club captain Lee In-jae, and right back Kim Tae-hyeon, has so far not been as damaging as feared, with new arrivals Yeon Jae-min and Song Ju-ho slotting into the side seamlessly. Kim Min-ho has also looked fairly solid, despite a calamitous attempted clearance against Gyeongnam that led to a goal, he made up for it by getting on the scoresheet himself. Lee Seung-bin has also made a more solid start than in previous seasons to offer a more assured set of hands in the Ansan goal. Kim has shown faith in youth by allowing Choi Geon-joo to start 2 matches and come on in 2 others, and his creativity has continued to develop, but he needs to convert that into goals sooner rather than later.

Still to Come

Anyone taking so much as a tertiary glance at Ansan this year will not have escaped the hype around Indonesian import, Asnawi Mangkualam. He finally took to the field against Yangpyeong and looked impressive. Given Kim’s preferred 3 at the back flanked by wing-backs, this system will suit Asnawi who is expected to come in on the right hand side. Canhoto’s injury has certainly had an impact on Ansan’s attack and more will be expected up front when he returns. Added to that, Duarte looks hungry to prove his detractors wrong and has been impressive in his few appearances so far this season. We have also yet to see Argentine-Italian Santiago, signed from Italian fifth tier side GS Felino.


Where Next

Ansan’s April schedule sees them travel to Busan and Bucheon, while hosting Jeonnam and Daejeon. In the middle of the month they also host Asan in the 3rd round of the FA Cup. Given the Green Wolves start and some of the issues that their upcoming opponents have encountered, another seven points from these four fixtures seems a reasonable target. It is that cup match that looks most appealing to Green Wolves fans at the moment, with the prize being a 4th round tie against Pohang. A K1 side has not visited the Wa Stadium since Ulsan in 2011, and hosting one of the big sides is something that Ansan fans have not had a chance to experience in too long.

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