Incheon v Pohang
I hadn’t made it down to Incheon in a while with the last time being back in August when they defeated Gyeongnam so I was overdue a trip. Incheon’s stadium is a great stadium to watch football, it’s really close to the pitch, close to the subway and most importantly close to a really good convenience store. Dowon is a bit of a trek on Line 1 which is no one’s favourite subway line as it’s the oldest in Seoul and kind of like the bar scene from Mos Eisley . The fact I had to work in the morning meant I had to make the journey in work clothes so I wasn’t my normal happy, jolly self when I arrived at the stadium. The sun was out though and it was a pretty nice day so we decided on the East stand even though it would be in the direct sunlight come the second half. We noticed when we sat down that some of the Incheon Ultras seemed to have split from the main group and were now sitting at the corner of the East stand nearest the away end, which is about as far away from the traditional Ultras end of behind the goal as you can get. Not sure what has happened there whether the groups have had a spat or whether it was intentional to try and create more of an atmosphere. As the game went on and they continually sang different songs from each other the ‘lover’s tiff’ idea seemed the more logical choice.
This match was pretty much a ‘must-win’ for Pohang, they’ve seen their lead evaporate of late and were 7pts adrift of Jeonbuk as we kicked off. With Jeonbuk playing on the Sunday they had the chance to put some pressure on them but would they take it? Well after only 3 mins it looked like the answer was a resounding NO. Incheon won a free-kick on the right hand side of the box. Fans were still taking their seat as Lee Chun Soo lined up the free-kick and curled it over the wall and beyond Shin Hwa Yong in the Pohang goal. It was a decent strike but was poorly defended both by the wall and the keeper who really should have got a hand to it. 1-0 Incheon and things were not going to go according to plan for the Steelters. Within less than a minute Incheon won another free-kick, this one in the middle of the goal about 25 yards out. Lee struck it again but this time Shin was up to the task, touching it over the bar for a corner. We were only 5 mins in and it was already looking like being a cracker of a match. Incheon had obviously come out the blocks firing and it was going to be all Pohang could do to keep them at bay. With 7mins on the clock though Pohang surged forward, a clumsy challenge resulted in a penalty for Pohang and although not a stonewaller was one of those ones more often given than not. Having seen first hand Pohang’s penalty taking skills, or lack there of, it was never definite that they would convert this one. Ko Mu Yeol was the man chosen for the task and he responded in rather keystone cops fashion. He firstly had a run up where he checked himself 2 or 3 times, this may have been to confuse the keeper but the only person confused was himself as he drove straight at Yoo Hyun who parried it straight back to him. Ko then fluffed the rebound again straight at Yoo who decided to give him a third bite at the cherry as he again parried it straight into his path. It was third time lucky for Ko as he eventually bundled the ball past Yoo and over the line. I don’t think Andrea Pirlo will be losing any sleep over losing his penalty king title. The rest of the half seemed to fizzle out from then on and the next 35 mins or so were a tad non-eventful. For all Pohang needed to win this match they lacked any real passion or drive to do so.
The half-time whistle sounded and with it came the sun. It had been threatening to shine directly into the East Stand for the past 20 mins or so but it was almost as if it took the whistle as cue to beat down on us. Of course this meant two things, one I was beginning to feel even more uncomfortable in my work clothes and two almost every Korean fan fled the stand to seek refuge either in the shade of the bottom tier or behind the goal. Even a rather legendary OB shotgunning ajussi seemed to be feeling the exposure too much for him (but more about him later). Incheon have started putting on half-time entertainment in the form of obscure kpop groups but this week we were treated to May Queen, I know this only because @korearacing has some ‘name that tune’ app on his phone. They were pretty good by all accounts and seemed more than happy to take part in some game where they shoot balls from an air gun into the fans. Having never caught one of these balls I’m assuming they are t-shirts or something similar. Being too far from them to get a decent photo I decided to unashamedly steal this one.
Just as the second half was starting the legendary ajussi returned with a further bag of beer and a cardboard box lid, and yes you guessed it he wasn’t going to let something as ridiculous as a little sun ruin his day out…..
As the teams came out for the second half the only change was Diogo Acosta being replaced upfront Jin Sung Wook for Incheon. Pohang were unchanged. The second half carried on much as the first had ended, both teams had good possession but most of it in the middle of the park. Incheon looked the more hungry and most likely to score. Both teams continued to huff and puff their way through the match until the 82nd minute when it all fell into place for Incheon. Choi Jong Hwan dispossessed Pohang on the right and swung a dangerous looking ball across the six yard box and there was substitute Jin Sung Wook arriving at the back post to gleefully tuck the ball away. 2-1 Incheon with 8 mins left and they were looking home and dry. The match finished 2-1 and Pohang must be disappointed that they were unable to come away with at least a point. It was a damaging defeat and leaves their title aspirations dangling. Incheon fans were obviously happy with a victory which should keep them away from any relegation battles. They have a vision apparently to be the top team in Korea by 2023, they will need a better season than this one if they are to come close to achieving that. Jeonbuk up next at Incheon Stadium while Pohang have a short flight to Jeju.