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Jeonnam Dragons 2 - 1 Ulsan Hyundai

(photo via kleague.com/eng)

Dragons edge calamitous Ulsan Hyundai to stay undefeated in six straight and climb to season high third place.

In front of Korea National Team manager Uli Stielike and a raucous 4,370 Jeonnam faithful the Dragons landed a killer blow in the second half to secure their fourth win in six league games. After failing to put the nail in the coffin in back to back draws against Jeonbuk and Pohang, the Dragons kept the pedal to the floor and forced in the game winner in the second half. Because Jeonnam's been in tremendous form of late, it's easy to forget the last time they scored second half goal was all the way back on June 17th in a 2-1 win against Seongnam. Finding that late killer instinct is what may help them secure an ACL birth at season's end.

As for this match, the Dragons came out in their usual strong fashion and looked to take the lead right away. Early shots from Lee Seul-chan, Ristić, and the tremendously in-form Oršić were well worked, but not much trouble for Ulsan keeper Kim Seung-gyu. It wasn't until the 20th minute that Jeonnam would find their breakthrough on a run started down the left wing by Oršić that drew three defenders to him. With all the attention he slotted a cross that Ristić beautifully dummied and let go to Ahn Yong-woo who made one sharp cut left to avoid a sliding defender and slotted it inside the near post. The Dragons continued to earn opportunities on crosses both from the run of play and set pieces, but couldn't notch another goal before the half.

Ulsan looked like they were going to get on the board in the 51st when their beast of a forward Jung Seung-hyeon headed a ball low. Kim Byung-ji made a fantastic kick save to keep the ball out... but it was called offside anyway. Still, the save was something that seemed to bolster the backline's confidence in the stalwart keeper. Less than two minutes later, Oršić really should have put his name on the scoresheet with a wide open look from the middle of the field on a cross from Ristić. Unfortunately it seemed his run up left him slightly wrong-footed and he couldn't get much on the shot he sent directly at Kim Seung-gyu.

Having scored only three goals on the season from the 60th-75th minute, I was pleasantly surprised with one by the Dragons in the 68th. On what felt like his tenth dead sprint up the middle to join the counter, Lee Jong-ho was played a beauty of a lob by Stevo and made no mistake heading home his 5th of the season. The pacey midfielder undoubtedly increased his chances at the National team with Stielike in attendance not only with the goal, but also with his pace and dedication to get involved in every attack. What didn't help his chances was a foolish yellow card picked up a few minutes later for delaying an Ulsan free kick. After doing well to get under the skin of Lee Chang-yong and forcing the Ulsan defender into a yellow with an ill timed outburst, Lee Jong-ho then needlessly stood over the ball for far too long and picked up a yellow completely undoing the fine dark arts work he had just done. The good news is that things like this and his dives from last week and be taught out of him.

Ulsan went on to pick up their lone goal of the evening with a converted PK by 32-year-old Uzbekistani Server Djeparov in the 86th. It was hard to gripe with the call as Lee Ji-nam had a fistfull of shorts and pulled the forward down as he was attempting to turn toward goal in the six yard box. Lee Ji-nam simply lost his footing, panicked, and pulled instead of realizing he had help coming from centerback Lim Jong-eun, who would have shut the play down. Luckily Jeonnam had already scored their rare second half goal at this point and the PK didn't matter much, but it was a needless penalty to give and took away an otherwise well earned clean sheet. With some fine holdup play the Dragons were able to stave off the remaining four minutes plus stoppage time to pick up a deserved win.

One of the more interesting lineup choices of the game was Lee Seul-chan getting the starting time I was hoping he would... but at right back. With the injury to Choi Hyo-jin still lingering on, it would seem Noh Sang-rae is pulling out all stops to fill the position and Lee Seul-chan's number was the one called Sunday night. Though Ulsan had a 54% to 46% advantage in possession, their attacks were few and mostly manageable when they did happen, so another start for the youngster on defense will give more insight.

The Dragons victory sees them to third place on the table tied with 4th place FC Seoul at 31 points, but ahead on goal difference and goals scored. Unfortunately even this tremendous run hasn't done much to increase their chances of a league title as Jeonbuk has regained their form and is all alone in first place with 43 points. The 12 point gap will likely be insurmountable for the Dragons this year, but Suwon with 36 points have slightly odds of catching the runaway leaders. The Bluewings and Dragons face off in the battle of second and third this Wednesday in a match that will likely decide if Jeonbuk will feel any pressure at all the rest of the way. For Jeonnam's part, they'll simply be looking for the win to help cement their spot in the top three with an eye on next year's ACL.

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