Mixed season for Aussie stars in Korea's K-League

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The latest K-League season is over and it has been a mixed bag for the Australian contingent. The World Game takes a look at the highs and the lows.

Adam Taggart (Suwon Bluewings - 8th)

It was always going to be hard to match the heroics of 2019 when the Socceroos striker finished as top scorer in the entire league but, overall, a return of nine goals in 18 starts is impressive for a team that flirted with relegation.

Suwon struggled this season under coach Lee Lim-saeng who had Taggart in and out of the starting eleven at times.

Indeed, the Bluewings expected their star forward, named as the most valuable player in the league in terms of potential transfer fee, to leave earlier in the season and actually signed a replacement. Then coronavirus intervened.

The situation improved under Lee’s successor Park Kun-ha and the highlight was a hat-trick against bitter rivals FC Seoul in September that did much to end worries of relegation and included a fine volley that was named goal of the month.

Taggart signed off on what was probably his final K-league game with a goal against Gangwon on Saturday.

It is expected that he will leave in the coming weeks and nobody at Suwon could begrudge the 27-year-old a big-money move to another Asian league.

He was a rare bright spark in what was two seasons of underachievement for the two-time Asian champions.

Rashad Mahazi (Incheon United -11th)

While the ex-Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers midfielder did not play much for Incheon United this season-with just seven league appearances- his impact will never be forgotten by fans. In the penultimate game of the season, Incheon, who had been bottom all season after failing to win any of the first 15 games, were playing relegation rivals Busan I’Park.

Incheon needed to win to keep alive their hopes of staying in the top tier and were leading 2-1 with two minutes to go with Busan throwing everything forward. Then Busan’s Kang Min-soo appeared yards out from an open goal just needing a touch for the equaliser that would surely have preserved their top-flight status.

Rashid Mahazi
Rashid Mahazi in action for Incheon United
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And then, out of nowhere, came Mahazi flying through the air to somehow block the former Korean international and then he stuck out a leg to block the fierce follow-up shot. 

It meant that Incheon took the three points which gave them a chance of survival going into the final game. On Saturday, United picked up the necessary 1-0 win at FC Seoul to stay up with Mahazi coming off the bench to help pull off one of the greatest escapes.

Jason Davidson (Ulsan Horangi - 2nd)

It was another season that ended in heartbreak for an Ulsan team that threw the title away on the final day last year and should have won this. Instead, the Tigers collected a record eighth runner-up spot. 

Ulsan Hyundai v FC Tokyo - AFC Champions League Group F
Weverson Leandro Moura of FC Tokyo competes for the ball with Jason Davidson (R) of Ulsan Hyundai
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Davidson played earlier in the season as Ulsan sprinted out of the blocks and he impressed in those early days but that was as good as it got.

Injuries meant that playing time was limited and when he returned to full fitness last month, it was all too late to make any difference.

Brandon O’Neill (Pohang Steelers - 3rd)

The midfielder settled in Korea well and by the time the season was getting into a rhythm, he was starting to earn positive reviews.

Coaches and journalists talked of his intelligence and selflessness, and his team-mates jokingly wondered on more than one occasion whether the former Sydney star would break his goalscoring duck in South Korea.

 

In the end, however, none of his nine shots found the back of the net but surely there would have been one or two successes had he returned to the pitch following injury in the East Coast Derby against Ulsan in August.

It was unfortunate as O’Neill had been looking good though at least Pohang booked a spot in the 2021 AFC Champions League by finishing third.

Terry Antonis (Suwon Bluewings - 8th)

The midfielder was in and out of the Suwon line-up all season and struggled to find much fluency. Fans appreciated his hard-work and his teamwork of the valuable squad player.