▲ Jeju United, in the orange uniforms, play Daejeon Citizens in Jeju on March 21. Photo courtesy Jeju United
“Where are Jeju United placed at the moment?” “Second.” “What, second bottom?” “No, second top mate!” “How the ...”
I haven’t actually had this conversation but I’m sure I and others will. Anyone who hasn’t been following the island’s only professional sports team this season has been missing out, so here’s your chance to catch up.
Watching Jeju United at the backend of last season (or if we’re being honest since mid-June) was akin to sitting through the death throes of a walrus, at turns distressing, painful and slow with an inevitable and tragic outcome. This season however, this malaise, the mindless trudge towards utter mediocrity has seemingly been arrested. Jeju has begun this season with a verve and sense of purpose that, despite the familiar orange uniforms, has made them totally unrecognizable from last year’s outfit.
The first game of the season was an impressive away win against fellow strugglers from last term, Busan, thanks to a second-half strike from Lee Sang Hyup. Gritty one-nil away wins are always a good thing, doubly so when you’re coming off the back of such a miserable previous campaign. This result led onto an excellent second performance of the season holding last year’s league and playoff winners Jeonbuk Motors to a deserved two-all draw at the World Cup Stadium. Jeju took the lead in the ninth minute through a Lee Yo Han own goal, slightly fortunate perhaps but a reward for Jeju’s early pressure. Brazilian forward Luis Henrique leveled five minutes later and a familiar sense of foreboding descended on Jeju’s long-suffering fans. This was exacerbated in the 56th minute when Krunolsav Lovrek pounced to give the visitors the lead. The writing was surely on the wall now after giving the lead away to last year’s champions with only half an hour left on the clock, or at least it would have been for the ’09 vintage. However, what happened in 64th minute is the reason we should all be excited about Jeju’s prospects. In a moment of unabashed quality, definitely the most joyous moment I’ve experienced as a Jeju fan, a 25-yard screamer was scored by Park Hyun Beom. This wasn’t luck or bad defending but simply pure class. The remainder of the game was relatively even and both sides could have snatched the win but a draw was a fair conclusion to an exhilarating game.
Jeju’s third game of the season was another credible draw, this time away to Gyeongnam FC, who finished just outside the playoff positions last time around. Gyeongnam took the lead towards the end of the first half through Lucio, but Jeju again showed their new found resilience as striker Lee Sang Hyup equalized in the 62nd minute.
Jeju’s most recent outing was at home against Daejon Citizens and two goals in the first 25 minutes saw Jeju stroll to a comfortable 2-0 victory. The first goal was an excellent free kick from Lee Sang Hyup to record his third of the season and the second was a tap in for Park Hyun Beom. After going two goals up, Jeju took their foot off the gas somewhat but were probably unlucky not to add at least one more goal.
So there we have it - four games, eight points, undefeated and second in the league. The question now is what happened? And the answer is several things, most of which I guess stem from the same source - new manager, Park Kyung Hoon . Park, a former South Korea International who played in two world cups (Mexico ’86 and Italia ’90), has made improvements both tactically and psychologically. Firstly, the side now looks like an attacking threat, which was palpably not the case last year with just 22 goals from 28 games. The forward’s movement has drastically improved giving the defense and midfield an outlet that they didn’t have last year. This both alleviates pressure on the back four and makes the side more dynamic and incisive when going forward. Secondly, the players’ attitudes and commitment have gone up several notches. Team members look focused, they’re playing with real intensity and they’re expressing themselves on the pitch.
Jeju isn’t a world beater (yet!) by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s no reason why they can’t keep this up. So check out the fixture list, join the excellent Jeju United FC Supporters group on Facebook and come down and help fill the 35,657 (last week’s attendance was 2,158) capacity stadium. Jeju for the title!
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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