When you’ve just spent 2 weeks in Thailand and are going thru a live football ‘cold turkey’ that would make most of Hollywood shudder then there are few better games to quench your needs than the visit of the 2019 Ulsan FC team. I’ve watched K-League for the best part (or worst depending on the team) of 10yrs and the current squad from the Munsu Football Stadium is up there with best. So armed, of course, with a bottle of Horangi Makgeolli (호랑이 막걸리) I made may way to Moran Station unawares of the spectale I was about to view.
As a Glasgow Celtic fan I am used to being the favorites in a match and, Europe aside, it’s not often I feel trepidation entering a stadium. This in itself is one of the reasons that I love supporting Seongnam as the last few years watching them claw and climb their way back up from the K2 has given me a more rounded view…..or made me more bitter! On this occasion as I navigated my way up the hugely uneven steps of the ‘Ultra’s’ stand of Seongnam Sports Complex it was not just the walk to my seat that made me feel unsure.
On to the match in question and one of the things I’ve taken from those European nights is that there is often nothing worse than “awakening the beast”, and that is exactly what Seongnam seemed to have achieved as Joo Hyeon-woo’s stunning 4th minute free-kick sent Oh Seung-hoon scrambling across his goal-line in vain. Memories and dreams of our earlier, and obviously unexpected, April victory over Ulsan in the Munsu came flooding back…but that was then and this is now. That scoreline was always going to be difficult to repeat but few envisaged the footballing lesson that lay ahead.
Ulsan leveled things in the 23rd minute as Junior produced his own world-class freekick which left Kim Dong-jun rooted to the spot. It was a deserved equalizer for the team who, at this point, had dreams of an Asian Champions League and K-League double beginning to float around their heads. Seongnam were stunned back down to Earth and had to make a decision, attack for the 2nd half or defend like they had so solidly done against Jeonbuk? Whatever was said and decided at HT didn’t make it onto the pitch as the boys of Hyundai would soon dish out a beating I hadn’t seen since Barcelona handed Celtic their arse at Celtic Park in 2016.
The first half finished with American Internationalist Mix Diskerud pulling all the strings akin to the most astute of caporegimes in a Mario Puzo novel. Mix may very well talk a lot of his game online but he is, without doubt, one of the greatest imports this league has and will see. His ‘beginning to come into the game’ would only serve as an omen for the 2nd half as the on-loan Manchester City midfielder would prove to be 3 passes ahead of both his teammates and the opposition.
Eder could’ve and probably should’ve restored the lead a mere minutes into the 2nd half as Oh turned his shot just wide of the far post. It was a good save but the talismanic Brazilian should’ve done better. Ulsan would take the lead a matter of minutes later as Junior’s free-kick would be shockingly defended allowing Lee Keun-ho to clip the ball home unmarked. The floodgates may not have opened with Junior’s equalizer…..but they were about to. First Mix then Kim Bo-kyung would exploit the sleeping Seongnam defence and get their name on the scoresheet as Ulsan would 110% exact revenge for that April defeat and reinforce themselves as a proper title challenger.
There was not a whole lot to do as FT rang out other than to applaud the best team I’d seen in K-League One so far before licking my wounds and heading back homewards to Itaewon and to dream again. Ulsan may not win the title this season and the footballing Gods may see fit to bestow that title on another, but there is no doubt that those 45 second half minutes will live in my memory for months to come just like I can still see Messi twist and turn his way around the Paradise turf on that ill-fated September evening 3 years ago.