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2023 Season Review: Daejeon Hana Citizen

It was a memorable first season back in K League 1 for Daejeon Hana Citizen, finishing well away from the relegation battle and picking up memorable wins over Ulsan, Jeonbuk, FC Seoul, and Suwon Bluewings along the way. 

The Purles finished eighth with 12 wins, 15 draws, and 11 losses to earn 51 points. Perhaps more importantly, Daejeon finished 18 points clear of the automatic relegation spot and 16 above the relegation playoff places.

Daejeon's goal-scoring chart was led by Tiago Orobó with 17 as well as five assists; with 22 goal contributions, the Brazilian led the league in that regard. Leandro and Kim In-gyun both ended the season with six assists, joint-second in the league and joint-first at Daejeon. Kim's eight goals meant he was the club's second top scorer, ending the season level on goal contributions with Ulsan's Best XI spot-earning winger Um Won-sang. 

Only Lee Chang-geun was the only ever-present Daejeon player but Tiago, Anton Kryvotsyuk, and Ju Se-jong all racked up 30 appearances or more.

What Went Well

For the first time since 2012, Daejeon can look forward to another season in the top flight. Their last two K League 1 campaigns ended in relegation so, first and foremost, the aim for 2023 was simply to stay up. Although there was talk about Final A and even ACL, ultimately Daejeon achieved what they set out to.

If a newly-promoted team can find goals then they're halfway there and that's certainly what went well for Daejeon in 2023. Lee Min-sung's men scored 56, the second-highest goal tally behind Ulsan and FC Seoul who both scored 63. The Purples had pace on the counter and inflicted real damage to teams when hitting them on the break. Ultimately, survival never looked in doubt.

Daejeon's eighth-place finish doesn't really do their season justice, in truth. They managed to stay unbeaten with a win and two draws against both Ulsan and Jeonbuk, same too with FC Seoul on account of two wins and two draws, and managed to pick up two wins and two draws against 'Football Capital Derby' rivals Suwon Bluewings. 

Daejeon fans will have enjoyed 2023, that's for sure, and this is reflected in the club's attendance figures. An average of 13,439 was the third-highest in the league. Their biggest gate of the year was 20,592 against Jeonbuk in Round 22 and their lowest in the league was 8,377 in Round 12 against Suwon FC, but still higher than their best gate of 2022 - the first leg playoff tie against Gimcheon (8,545) 

What Didn't Go Well

Daejeon simply conceded too many goals, but that's become a theme for them over recent seasons. They shipped 58 in 2023 which is one goal more than relegated Suwon Bluewings and is the third-most in the division. On paper, Daejeon have good players in this area of the pitch with Cho Yu-min and Anton Kryvotsyuk in particular, but when Cho was absent, others like Kim Min-duk seemed to lose composure and concentration levels were an issue. Despite having experienced pros in the dressing room, too, Daejeon sometimes lost composure and struggled to maintain a handle and game management was sometimes lacking. They often left space in behind down the flanks and teams looked to exploit them in this area. 

Young Player of the Year

Bae Jun-ho

He left mid-season to join Stoke City in the English second tier but Bae Jun-ho was a first-team regular for Daejeon pretty much right up until he boarded his flight. At 20 years old, 19 at the start of the season, Bae was Daejeon's first choice to fulfil the U22 rule quota but make no mistake, he was in there on merit. He featured 17 times for Daejeon, scoring two including a well-worked and well-struck effort against FC Seoul in a 4-3 home win in August. He began to come out of his shell a bit but by that time he had already begun speaking to Stoke. A special mention must be given to Jeon Byeon-kwan, too, who also didn't look out of place in the team and earned his starting berth because he had something to offer.

Team MVP

Lee Chang-geun

It's probably a toss of a coin between Lee Chang-geun and Tiago Orobó and arguments could be made for either. Tiago scored 17 goals, which is a top-flight club record, and without those goals, Daejeon would have been much worse off. But Lee Chang-geun played every single minute of every single game and made some truly incredible saves, including a few from penalties. His lack of cleansheets (7) doesn't tell the full story and perhaps says more about the defence he had in front of him. 

He ranked top for total saves made with 143, third for the percentage of saves made with reflexes at 62.94%, and third for prevented goals with four. Daejeon's back line being the way that it is meant that Lee Chang-geun was kept busy but his performances between the sticks will have instilled confidence in his defenders, knowing that he was ready when called upon.

Expected More

Oh Jae-suk

For a player of Oh Jae-suk's experience and quality, you'd be excused in thinking that the Purple Arena faithful were going to be witnessing wingback master classes on a regular basis. But for one reason or another, Oh Jae-suk never seemed to get going in a Daejeon shirt this season following his move from Incheon. His leadership skills and presence in the dressing room proved valuable but he didn't really offer a great deal as a wingback. Daejeon brought Kang Yoon-seong back to the club to provide competition at right wingback and Oh now has work to do to earn his place back. Turning 34 in January, he might be better suited to playing on the right-hand side of a back three rather than at wingback.

Most Important Decision for the Off-season

Recruitment has to be good over the winter simply because of the number of players leaving. Centre back Kim Min-duk is off to Gimcheon for military service, Tiago has left and joined Jeonbuk, Yu Kang-hyun is also starting his military service, Lee Jin-hyun is out of contact and looking to go to Europe, Masatoshi Ishida is returning to Japan with Jubilo Iwata, Seo Young-jae is another who's heading out for military service while Kim Young-wook is headed to Seoul E-Land. That's a lot of experience, not to mention goals and assists (29, 17) to replace. Daejeon need at least one striker, a centre back, two midfielders, and probably a winger. If they want to challenge for ACL then the recruitment needs to be better than it ever has before.

Month by Month

February & March

Newly promoted Daejeon's big day, their first K League 1 game in eight years, was at home to Gangwon FC on the opening day. On that bitterly cold Sunday afternoon on February 26th, the Purples recorded a 2-0 win thanks to first-half goals from Tiago and Leandro. But after a confident opening day display from Ju Se-jong, Daejeon then lost their skipper to a facial injury in the 3-3 draw away to Incheon the following week. Tiago scored again, showing signs that the step up to K League 1 isn't quite so steep for the Brazilian. With a 0-0 draw with Pohang in Round 3 and 3-1 away win over Suwon Bluewings in Round 4, the first month of the season saw Daejeon go unbeaten with two wins and two draws. 

Points: 8/12 (66%)
League Position: 3rd
Goals For/Against: 8/4


April was a busy month with no fewer than seven matches, including Daejeon's first FA Cup match as a K League 1 team since 2015. Daejeon began the new month in a similar fashion to how they ended the previous one, with a win; beating FC Seoul 3-2 at home for what was the club's first victory over the capital club in nearly 20 years. However, in Round 6, Daejeon suffered their first loss of the season and it came in rather spectacular fashion too - a 5-3 loss away to Suwon FC in a game that saw the Purples lead 2-0 and 3-1. 

They bounced back straight away, though, with a 4-1 win over K4 Goeje Citizen in the FA Cup and a 2-1 home win over champions Ulsan in the same week. Daejeon then ended the month with an away loss to Daegu, their second of the season, a win away to Jeonbuk, and a 3-0 reverse at home to Jeju. April was a bit of a mixed back wining three of the six league games.

Points: 9/18 (50%)
League Position: 4th
Goals For/Against: 10/12


May proved to be Daejeon's most difficult month so far with just one win and a run of four without a victory that included three defeats in a row. May began with a 0-0 draw away to Gwangju, a respectable result in hindsight given where they finished in the table, and then a 2-1 home win over Suwon FC followed. But losses to Pohang, Daegu, and then Jeju in the FA Cup followed. Daejeon ended May with a 3-3 draw away to Ulsan. Daejeon very nearly won and built up a 3-1 lead but a Joo Min-kyu brace late on meant the spoils were shared. May also saw Cho Yu-min pick up a serious injury that would see him miss three months of the season.

Points: 5/15 (33%)
League Position: 5th
Goals For/Against: 7/8 


The month of June brought just one win, too, from the four games played. A 3-1 loss at home to Incheon in what was a lacklustre display from Lee Min-sung's men got June up and running but the team bounced back straight away, earning a 2-1 away victory over Gangwon in Chuncheon. The game saw Ju Se-jong mark his return to the team after missing the last two months with the facial injury that picked up in the 3-3 draw with Incheon in Round 2, scoring what turned out to be the winner. Two draws ended the month, one at home to Gwangju and one away to Jeju, both by the same 1-1 scoreline.

Points: 5/12 (42%)
League Position: 7th
Goals For/Against: 5/6  


Daejeon started to find wins hard to come by come the summer and drew their first three matches in July to make it five in a row stretching back to early June. Another loss to Incheon followed before the Purples ended the month with a 1-0 win over Daegu. Bae Jun-ho got the game's only goal for what was his first in K League 1. The second and third round robins had proven difficult for Daejeon after such a hot start. July also saw the arrival and debut of Latvia international striker Vladislavs Gutkovskis, Daejeon's only summer addition.

Points: 6/15 (40%)
League Position: 8th
Goals For/Against: 5/6 


Now well into the thick of Korea's humid and hot summer, wins came at a premium. In August, the Purples managed just one win - a pattern that was becoming more apparent with the Purples only able to pick up one win in the months of May, June, and July as well. The August win came against FC Seoul, a seven-goal thriller at Purple Arena. Kang Yoon-seong scored what turned out to be the winner, cutting in from the left before sending the ball into the bottom corner right-footed. Stanislav Iljutcenko pulled one back shortly after and so there was a collective sigh of relief as Daejeon had made hard work of a game that had seen them go 2-0, 3-1, and 4-2 up only to allow the capital club back in.

Points: 4/12 (33%)
League Position: 8th
Goals For/Against: 8/11


One win, one draw, one loss was Daejeon's record in September. The loss was at home to Suwon FC 1-0 in a game that saw the Purples struggle to get going; the win at home to Suwon Bluewings in a game that saw Yu Kang-hyun finally break his goalscoring duck for the club, and the draw away to Ulsan. Daejeon were slipping away from the top six but were picking up just enough points to avoid getting dragged into a relegation battle in the same way that Jeju United had been.

Points: 4/9 (44%)
League Position: 8th
Goals For/Against: 4/3 


Daejeon went unbeaten in October, the first time they'd stayed unbeaten throughout a single month in the season since July. The first match of October, a 1-1 draw away to Gangwon and the two points dropped, meant Daejeon were unable to finish in Final A. It was a flat performance with little to no urgency. Daejeon seemed to run out of steam after a lightning start to the campaign. The only win over the month was at home to Jeju 1-0 before draws with the two Suwon teams ended the month. The first, a 1-1 stalemate with Suwon FC, sealed safety with four games to spare.

Points: 6/12 (50%)
League Position: 8th
Goals For/Against: 5/4 

November & December

Daejeon ended the campaign with one win, one draw, and one loss. The loss came at home to Gangwon FC with a performance typical of a team with nothing to play for; the win came away to Jeju United, and the draw at home to FC Seoul on the final day. Tiago scored his 17th goal of the season in the match against Seoul to draw him level with Joo Min-kyu but with the Brazilian having played more minutes than the Ulsan centre forward, the top goalscorer award would evade Tiago for the second year in a row. But, a Shin Sang-eun half-volleyed equalised deep into time added on against Seoul at least meant Daejeon would end the season on something of a high.

Points: 4/9 (44%)
League Position: 8th
Goals For/Against: 4/3 

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