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Conquering China, part seven - Tae-Goon is having a party

The Yanbian dream continues as we find ourselves looking down the table instead of up, and close in on the final stretch of the season.

You can read the previous part here, or you can start from the beginning here.

Big news! I was offered an extension on my current contract, which I of course accepted. Our form this season has been enough to convince the Yanbian board that this random Englishman with his trench coat and haunted expression was worth keeping around until the end of next season.

Now all I had to do was end the season strongly. Easy, right?

Hangzhou, the first team I beat in a competitive game in China, were up next.

Tae-Goon did the unthinkable and bottled a chance early on. Seung-Dae did something totally predictable and missed a good chance early on, too. Ten minutes gone and already I was having visions of several more wasted chances before Hangzhou took the lead and ran away with all three points in a burlap sack over their shoulder.

Hangzhou almost took the lead when a cross evaded all of my defenders – as they tend to do – and landed welcomingly at the feet of Louati. Louati clearly felt bad by how easy the chance was, as he shot straight into Wenyi’s hands.

A couple of tweaks were made at half-time. Petkovic moved into a more defensive full-back role, and Seung-Dae to LW to make a slightly lopsided shape that I hoped would protect our left hand side better.

Sadly, no amount of protection does a thing when you can’t defend a set-piece. Hangzhou’s corner wasn’t dealt with, a game of ping-pong ensued in our penalty area, and a Hangzhou player bulldozed one of our defenders in a blatant foul before putting the ball over the line.

It was time to switch back to 4-3-3 and go for it. It worked. Petkovic provided a fine cross and that man Tae-Goon was there again to level the score and set-up a nervy finish for Hangzhou. A late counter saw Jin Bo in behind, but he did that eternally frustrating thing where he got to the byline, had all the time in the world to cut the ball back to someone, and decided to shoot from an impossible angle. Needless to say, it ended 1-1.

We’re now unbeaten in five, but only two of those games ended in victory. Next up was Jiangsu, the bogey team.

Neither side made anything of note in the first half. For once, our defence stood firm and limited them to long shots. On the other hand, we only threatened from distance as well. Yoon Bit-Garam hitting the bar with a 25 yarder was the closest we came and the closest we would come.

Jiangsu stepped it up a notch in the second and we had defence pulled apart numerous times. A combination of fine keeping and last ditch defending kept the score at 0-0. At one point, we had to defend five consecutive corners. Watching my defenders leap like they had never leapt before was a beautiful sight. 0-0 the final score.

The transfer window came to a close the following week and we signed nobody because we had no cash. It’s just as well that we picked up as many points as we did in the first half of the season.

Meanwhile, third division Liansheng knocked Jiangsu out of the FA Cup. The magic of the cup exists in China as well, apparently.

Though we were unbeaten we could have done with turning some of those draws into wins. I didn’t expect to do it here but then this season has defied my expectations in many ways.

Shanghai Shenhua were struggling big time this season, languishing down in 12th when they should have been up there competing for the Champions League spots. They sacked Manzano not long before this game, and, sensing an opportunity to turn them over, I went with an attacking team.

We made a few half chances in the first half but couldn’t quite produce that one big chance until the stroke of half-time. We broke on them, Tae-Goon played the killer pass through their defence to find Sun Jun, and my favourite player in this squad gave us the lead at a great time.

That goal knocked the already fragile confidence of Shenhua and we ruthlessly exploited that. Hongquan’s cross found Tae-Goon, who’s head was like a giant magnet at that point, for 2-0. Demba Ba pulled one back, reminding everyone he’s a powerful striker who can stick the ball in the net, but rather than instigate an epic comeback, it spurned us on to get a third. Ha Tae-Goon, of course, heading in a cross from Steve. Shenhua weren’t going to come back from that, and we secured a fantastic win.

Seven unbeaten now:  three wins, four draws. Looking good. The media think so too – look how happy I look!

But as always, for every happy thing that happened, there had to be a bad thing. Han Xuan and Cui Ren out for a month each with injury. Good thing neither were likely to play in the Shanggang match.

Shanggang were under new management, too, and with it came a change of shape. We tried to match them with our usual away day formation and it backfired. Shanggang were all over us in the first twenty minutes, with Conca and Elkeson doing a much better running the centre of the pitch than our midfield three. I had to go to the reliable 4-3-3.

The switch didn’t prevent Shanggang taking a deserved lead through Asamaoh Gyan, but at least we were starting to play more in their half and create some chances. Even after Tae-Goon missed a sitter, we received enough encouragement to continue playing and it resulted in a thrilling second half turnaround. Tae-Goon got the equaliser. Then, Steve got down the outside of his man, stood one up to the back post, and Tae-Goon came in with yet another header to put us 2-1 up.

The lead didn’t last long. Dario Conca equalised for Shanggang, and it was anyone’s game again. Our response was to probe patiently with a passing move that consistent of about 20 passes, then ended with Tae-Goon in behind their defence, one on one with the keeper, on a hat-trick, chance to win the game… and he hit the post. Unbelievable. 2-2 it finished.

After the game, I praised Dario Conca’s performance, as he really was superb against us, and I got this response:

If you’re willing to play for nothing, Dario, you can join us anytime.

Somehow or another, we didn’t go behind early on in this game. Chi Wenyi had to pull of an almost-miraculous double save just two minutes in, and the resulting corner had to be cleared off the line.

Fuli were looking very good early on, but because football’s crazy laws, you’re at your most vulnerable when you’re on top of the game. A mistake at the back set Seung-Dae away, he lobbed it into the penalty area and Tae-Goon was there to head it in.

Right before half-time, though, that Renatinho-Bruninho combo did the damage yet again, and it was 1-1.

A telling off at half-time sent the players out fired up and they took just a minute to reclaim the lead. Can you guess who scored? It was Ha Tae-Goon, of course. And each goal he scores is a reminder that I’m going to lose him on a free at the end of the season.

We were largely in control of the second half, coasting towards a much welcome win. However, Fuli had a sting in the tail, and in stoppage time claimed an equaliser. 2-2 yet again.

Our unbeaten run stretched to 9 games, but 6 of them have been draws, and we’ve only won once in our last 7 league games. The press celebrated our impressive run without defeat, but I was starting to worry that a collapse wasn’t far off, especially if Ha Tae-Goon picked up an injury.

The table was still looking good:

And Tae-Goon had crept up the scoring charts:

Join me next time to see if we can finish the season strongly and achieve a top half finish.
FM Blog’s Guide to FM second edition is our updated handbook of advice, tips and tricks. SEE MORE



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FM BLOG: Conquering China, part seven - Tae-Goon is having a party
Conquering China, part seven - Tae-Goon is having a party
Part seven of my attempt to rule the Chinese Super League on Football Manager 2016 with Yanbian Fude.
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