At that point, Jeonbuk’s past came back to haunt them. The KFA passed judgement on a matchfixing scandal from a few seasons before, deciding to fine Jeonbuk and deduct them nine points. The points deducted seemed like a light punishment at the time. However, immediately afterwards, Jeonbuk lost their nerve, and a series of draws, followed by the club’s first league defeat of the season, at home to Jeju United, allowed Seoul to close the gap. On the final day of the season, Seoul were level on points with Jeonbuk. They travelled to Jeonju needing a win to clinch the title. In the fifty-eighth minute, former Monaco striker and Korea’s number one villain, Park Chu-young redeemed himself by smashing the ball across the goal into the far corner to win the title for Seoul and get some personal closure on the tough few seasons he has had since making the career-damaging move to Arsenal. Jeonbuk fans must have been absolutely sick to lose the title after only losing one match all season before their final-day encounter with Seoul. For neutrals, Jeonbuk’s policy of buying up the best players from the rest of the league made the league itself less competitive, so perhaps they don’t feel as sorry for Jeonbuk as they might have done.
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Financial cutbacks meant that 2015 runners-up Suwon Bluewings spent most of the season looking like relegation candidates. They lost out to second-tier Daejeon on wages when trying to sign Kim Dong-chan (who went on to be the top scorer in the second tier), and started the season with fresh-out-of-university Kim Gun-hee up-front. In the end, they relied on the goals of mid-season signing Johnathan to keep them up. The Bluewings are one of Korea’s best-supported sides, and after the misery that their fans were put through for the majority of the season, they thoroughly deserved the feeling of ecstasy that came after beating FC Seoul on penalties in an FA Cup final that will be remembered for last minute goals, horrendous misses, amateur-hour goalkeeping errors, and shoddy refereeing. Despite their atrocious season, Suwon Bluewings will be in the Champions’ League next season due to that cup final win. The final Champions’ League place was taken by Jeju United who, as perennial high-goalscorers, finally learned how to defend.
At the other end of the table, Jeonnam Dragons and Incheon United got off to a bad start, occupying the bottom two spots for the majority of the first dozen games. Jeonnam then went on a great run with only two losses in fourteen games in midseason. This propelled them into the top half of the table, and for a while they were in contention for a Champions’ League spot. Incheon’s poor run in July and August led to a managerial change with Lee Ki-hyung coming in for Kim Do-hoon. The turnaround was spectacular with an eight game unbeaten run meaning that a win in their final match of the season would be enough to ensure their survival. In a tense match against bottom placed Suwon FC (who despite making some good acquisitions in the summer, ended up returning to the K-League Challenge after just one season in the top-flight) Kim Yong-hwan scored a 75th minute goal for Incheon who held on to win one-nil, prompting a pitch invasion by Incheon supporters celebrating their great escape.
Sangju Sangmu were perhaps the surprise package of the season. Widely tipped for relegation, the army side ended up finishing in the top-half of the table. The loss of players towards the end of the season when many players’ military duty ended caused a loss of form, but given their resources, Cho Jin-ho managed an impressive feat in finishing so high up the league. Busan have already snapped him up for next season’s campaign. Gwangju also had a decent season, with thirty-two year old Jung Jo-gook coming from nowhere to finish as the K-League’s top scorer with twenty league goals. Ulsan recovered from their disastrous 2015 season by finishing in fourth place and reaching the FA Cup semi-finals but this wasn’t good enough for fans who protested at the club’s poor performances towards the end of the season, so perhaps it is no surprise that manager Yoon Jong-hwan decided to leave the club for Cerezo Osaka.
Next season will see Daegu FC back in the top flight after they were promoted from the K-League Challenge. Korea’s second tier was actually won by Ansan Mugunghwa, but as the police side are moving to Asan next season, the KFA banned them from being promoted. Gangwon reached the playoff final and then beat Seongnam to earn promotion at their expense. The relegation of the former Asian champions was quite a shock, but their defeat in the play-offs was unsurprising given their end of season form. Ansan will form a new team next season, inexplicably called the ‘Ansan Greeners’. Despite the creation of this new team, the K-League Challenge still looks in poor-health, with Chungju and Goyang both almost certainly dropping out of the league.