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Onychectomy: Has the Green Wolves’ Season lost its Claws?

Ansan Greener's early season flourish has given way to a long string of poor results. Can the Green Wolves salvage anything from the remainder of the season?

As Seong Min-seok blew for full time at Bucheon Stadium, Ansan players sank to their knees having just fallen short of completing a remarkable comeback. 3-0 down at half time, the Green Wolves brought it back to 4-1 before a late flurry saw them come within a whisker of claiming a remarkable point. Yet wipe away the top layer of that story of near glory and it reveals the extent to which Ansan’s season has fallen apart. This was Ansan’s sixth defeat in 14, a run which, includes just two victories, and the second time in four matches that the opposition had bagged a quartet. The defensive surety of the opening months of the campaign has collapsed with some woeful defending on display. Han Ji-ho’s opener was more like a pass into the Ansan goal rather than a well-crafted free kick, as was the third, which Kim Sun-woo flapped at helplessly when it should have been firmly in his arms. Bucheon’s second came from a soft penalty, while the fourth came from more defensive calamity as Park Chang-jun was able to slot home from a cross with Ansan players strewn about on the floor. Inversely, Kim Ryun-do’s hat trick against his former club came from two penalties, one of which was missed and the rebound scored. While any hat trick is a great achievment, especially as this was a first for an Ansan Greeners player in the K League, it was not the result of a vintage attacking display, but rather from fortune against the K League 2’s bottom of the table club. Had Lee Sang-min’s 96th minute header stood, the tale of a heroic comeback would still be marred with all of the above. Ansan’s season has seemingly come to the end of the line, and in early-August.

It is not that Ansan do not provide spectacle. It will surely be Greeners players taking home the accolades for goal of the season for some absolute wonder strikes, albeit in the early part of the season. An injury to Yeon Jae-min meant that Ansan’s tie against Gimcheon lasted for a marathon 107 minutes, in which Asnawi was forced to retake a penalty and missed at the second attempt, denying the Indonesian superstar a first K League goal. And even the aforementioned match against Bucheon featured the notable sending off of goalkeeper Jeon Jeong-hyeok for time-wasting. All notable points that certainly make 2021 a remarkable season for any observers of Ansan's exploits. Yet for the fans of the Green Wolves, they are left pondering where it yet again has gone wrong this season.

Just Not Enough

Goals, or rather a lack of are a concern, thought that is hardly surprising for a team sitting 8th in a ten team league. Ansan have netted 26 times in 24 outings, with Kim Ryun-do accounting for 8 and Robson Duarte bagging five of them. However, 9 of those 13 have come from the spot, including rebounds: half of Ansan’s goals this season. Add to that several of Ansan’s open play goals being one-off wonder strikes and the lack of meaningful build-up play becomes evident. 22 year-old Choi Geong-joo was supposed to kick on this season, but with just 2 goals, the occasional flashes of brilliance have not been enough, and more is needed from the youngster, and soon. Not that other forward players have contributed more with only Italian-Uruguayan forward Santiago and Shim Jae-min being recognised forwards that have found the net. 

Kim Ryun-do lines up a shot against Jeonnam.


To offer some defence of the attack, Ansan’s two most creative players have been absent for large parts of the season. Brazilian Anderson Canhoto has missed the entire season through injury, barring a brief cameo against Gimcheon which had its characteristic liveliness to remind Ansan what they were missing. Canhoto looked to have made the step-up from K3 last year successfully but has watched on this season from the sidelines. At 24 there is still time to for him to continue his career trajectory, and Ansan need that to happen before the season's end. Ansawi, the 21 year-old right back brought in with much fanfare from Indonesia has also been absent making just 9 appearances following a quarantine situation at the start of the season and international duty with Indonesia during early summer. Although just the thought of Ansan missing a player through international duty does make the club seem leveled up from prior obscurity. Had both of those players been present for much more of the season, or even some of it in Canhoto’s case, Ansan’s chance creation would have been far higher, defensive work and subsequent errors less and table position much healthier. 

Asnawi misses a (very) late penalty against Gimcheon

 Rotation, Rotation, Rotation

While the aforementioned absentees have been beyond manager Kim Gil-sik’s control, the starting eleven has, and Ansan have spent more time rotating than a tetromino. To get a sense of this, here are Ansan’s starting XI’s from the last ten matches:

Players highlighted in green started the previous game, with the orange row being the number of changes made from the previous line-up for that match. As can been seen, Ansan make 4.5 changes per game, regardless of the previous result. While the six changes following the 4-0 thumping at Busan is understandable, such regular changing does not, particularly with such a poor record in terms of results. At least the inconsistency is consistent but it does not look the right path for turning the season around. The average number of changes to the starting line-up resulting in a defeat is 4.5, while for a win it was four, suggesting that consistency benefits the side more than adjustment. While any side faces disruption from injuries, fatigue etc, a side battling in the second tier needs to find a solid base and that is something Ansan lack, with only Lee Sangmin, Go Iwase and Kim Ryun-do being certainties for any team sheet. When a side sports an unpredictable selection even in the goal-keeping position, the spotlight shines stronger on the manager.

Some Fangs to Bare

Despite all of the doom and gloom above, there are still some positives. As to whether or not these will result in Ansan closing the 8 point gap with 4th placed Anyang (who have a game in hand) remains to be seen. Lee Sang-min has continued to impress this season since his move from Suwon Bluewings, and a question must now be asked about whether the K League 2 is a level that allows him to shine, or if he deserves another chance back in the K League 1? Chipping in with four assists and a goal, he has been part of almost a fifth of Ansan’s tally, not to mention his generally excellent passing range, with 82% accuracy, and making almost 2 key passes per game. Kim Ryun-do has also looked more like a reliable first choice centre-forward, not just with his 8 goals (yes, most were penalties), but also with four assists along with the second best chance creation rate in the side. Things could have been better with more deadly finishing and more creativity behind him. Ansan also have the K2’s best keeper in terms of saves per game, and third best in terms of least goals conceded (1.1) in Lee Seung-bin. His distribution leading to turnovers however is the worst in the Ansan side which may explain why Kim Sun-woo has been favoured, but nevertheless, Seung-bin’s five clean sheets may have been added to had he been the first choice more regularly.

Ansan celebrate against Gyoengnam.


Ten games remain in the season, and with such unpredictability in the K League 2, anything can happen in the space of 30 points. However, most of those games come against sides pushing toward the top of the league and with Ansan's current form, they are more likely to be a 3 point stamp on the road to play-off contention than a contender themselves. That said, two games against Line 4 Derby rivals Anyang, as well as clashes with Asan and Bucheon, the opportunity is there to at the very least make a run on 4th, although it will require a serious turnaround in form, and maybe a more familiar line-up week to week.

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