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The Wolf in the Room


This is unfamiliar territory, in a K2 season where anyone can seemingly beat anyone, unless you are Bucheon, anyone can be a challenger. Seoul E-land’s excellent winter business bore early fruit as they raced away at the top of the league table, but have since lost form. Daejeon climbed to the top looking destined to finally reclaim their place as a K1 club, Jeonnam too, hot on their heels and feeling they have been out of the top tier too long. And then there is Anyang, league leaders, their citizen project finally coming together to expunge that feline ghost of the past. And there are the relegated sides, Busan and Gimcheon (technically!) who were both tipped to yo-yo right back to the K1. Amongst this ruck for the top four however sits the wolf in the room. How do Ansan Greeners, a franchise not yet half a decade old, and one hardly resplendent with cash, fit into this patchwork quilt of K2 football finery?

It has not come from scintillating performances or gluts of goals, but instead a steady consistency that is telling in the stats. All of Ansan’s matches have been decided by a single goal this season, with 1-0 being the most common result, which has proved a welcome contrast to the incosnsitent form described in the opening month analysis. This is not a side that looks like it will be obliterated like others have this season. Only the recent Line 4 Derby has bucked the trend, in fact the earlier meeting in the season did likewise and perhaps indicates that some sort of rivalry has been generated between the two sides, enough at least to lessen the impact of form. It has certainly entertained with Ansan claiming 2-1 and 3-2 victories.

3D Football: Defence, Defence, Defence

Much of Ansan’s success has come from a solid defensive mindset, and the speed in which danger is snuffed out. The backline of Min Jun-yeong, Kim Minho, Yeom Jei-min, and Lee Jun-hee has clicked and also shown its adaptability, with Ansan switching frequently between a back three or back four. Yeon Jei-min has been particularly impressive, coming in from Suwon FC and taking the captain’s role from the departed Lee In-jae. A no-nonsense approach has perhaps been responsible for a lack of control and build-up play, but with the side averaging almost 30 clearances per game, the manager appears to have identified the team’s weaknesses from last year, and also play to Lee Seung-bin’s strengths as a shot stopper, alleviating a seeming lack of focus when danger comes from inside the box.

Lee Sang-min, has proved to be Ansan’s star signing so far and has been a major part in keeping control in matches and preventing Ansan from being overwhelmed. Ansan have notched up an average of 16 interceptions per game so far this season, more than any other side in the league, and this pressing play has allowed the side to weather storms in matches they would otherwise have been expected to emerge from with a more negative result. Sang-min arrived from Suwon Bluewings with a point to prove and he has done that so far, not only with such defensive contributions but also chipping in with three assists. There is every chance he will be looking to get back into the K1… if of course, he cannot take Ansan there himself!

Lee Sang-min challenges for the ball in Ansan's 1-0 win over then league leaders Daejeon

A Flash in the Pan?

The problem for the Green Wolves however lies in the spectacular. Ansan players have already made a strong claim for the top 3 spots for goal of the season. Santiago De Sagastizabal‘s chest-down 30 yard volley to open the scoring against Anyang goes up against Choi Geon-ju’s thunderbolt against Busan, and Min Jun-yeong’s howitzer against Bucheon. Lightning never strikes twice, never mind thrice and Ansan cannot rely on wonder goals to win matches but must instead score more from build-up play. Three goals coming from the spot can also be considered fortuitous, and has masked some of the issues with being clinical in front of goal, although Kim Ryun-do’s miss from the spot against Gyeongnam may have had Ansan looking even brighter.

Choi Geon-ju, the 21 year-old who picked up the Foreign Supporters Player of the Season award last year has not converted his tenacity and creativity into goals, missing 4 big chances this season and almost solely being responsible for any disparity between Ansan’s ExG and actual results. The youth player rule may be giving him a stay of execution at present, but sometimes patience is key. Choi has what it takes to become a very good striker, but with Santiago now in the mix, Duarte having the third best scoring frequency (to minutes) in the league and Kim Gil-sik seemingly preferring Kim Ryun-do above his other forward options, opportunities may begin to become in far less supply.

The odd practice of keeper rotation also crept back in with Kim Sun-woo being given a first start against Anyang. This is despite Lee Seung-bin registering 3 clean sheets in 9, with a ratio of .78 goals conceded per game. Seung-bin must have had a creeping sense of déjà-vu as he sat on the bench and Ansan conceded the most goals in any game this season, albeit one was from the spot.  It is puzzling to see what Kim Gil-sik was attempting with the change, although Sun-woo impressed in the cup games and this may have just been an, albeit risky, experiment. The past two seasons have seen the Ansan number 1 rotated for almost half of the games each season, and this will be alarming for what has been so far, a settled defence.

And yet, the best is yet to come. When fit, Canhoto, who has missed most of the season since picking up an injury, would be a first on the team sheet, and upon returning he will surely add an additional burst to the side. He was in the K2 team of the week after his last appearance and the Green Wolves will be hoping he can return to similar form. There are other breakthroughs in the team this season. Asnawi's blistering explosion on the K2 scene, caveated by the fact that he is also contending with Ramadan fasting, means that we have far more to see of the Indonesian sensation. He has been ruled out until June/July with an Achilles tendon issue, however, given his only full month in the K2 resulted in the player of the month award, he is expected to return with even more to prove. We have yet to see if Santiago can continue with the fine impression he has made, but it finally gives Ansan options up top.

Santiago De Sagastizabal celebrates after scoring on his debut.

The Wolf and the Dragon

Ansan face Jeonnam next having lost the reverse fixture 0-1 with the last kick of the game. The early April fixture was one of those matches that comes up occasionally in the K2 that leaves one scratching their head. A penalty decision was overturned to the puzzlement of all involved, confusion broke out as Jeonnam’s Jang Soon-hyeok took an age to depart from the field for a second yellow, and Ansan conspired to still lose the game. The result did highlight a possibly telling stat for the coming fortunes for the team as Asnawi was brought off despite being the most impressive player on the field. While it may have been a question of sustaining energy levels in the circumstances, it means that Ansan have gone on to lose every game that Asnawi has been substituted off in. The team may not have to contend with that issue for a while but will in his absence, it is possible that there will be more chaotic matches in the weeks ahead for the Greeners. The Green Wolves will be keen to return to the defensive displays that have allowed Ansan to challenge at the very summit of the table itself for the first time since the Police franchise.

The wolf in the room looms large…

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