Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Sangju Sangmu
|Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors right winger Lopes helped himself to three goals in the recent Jeolla-Derby. Will he be able to repeat his accomplisment when Sangju Sangmu visit on Wednesday? (Photo Credit: Hyundai-MotorsFC.com)|
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors are on the home straight as they play their first of their last two league games in Jeonju against Sangju Sangmu on Wednesday evening. Win both of these games, and the title will extend it's residency in Jeollabuk-do. Their objective could not be any clearer.
Five Star Performance
After a dismal run of lacklustre performances, Jeonbuk finally decided to step into gear to ensure that FC Seoul did not gain an advantage in this title race. After bemoaning Choi Kang-hee's selections against Jeju and Ulsan, a relatively strong line-up was finally selected and three points were obtained away to local rivals Jeonnam Dragons in emphatic fashion. The reigning champions left Jeonnam's temporary home of Suncheon with a scoreline of 5-0, their biggest in any competition this year and potentially a warning shot to FC Seoul ahead of thi Sunday's defining clash.
Critics will point out that perhaps Jeonnam had little to play for in addition to not playing at their usual home ground for the third time this season. This would be doing Jeonbuk a disservice though who came into this game with an objective to win and who carried it out in ruthless style.
Talking points before the match had focused on Leonardo's position on the bench, with this year's Player of the Year nominee being replaced by 2013's Young Player of the Year Ko Moo-yeol. Ko's time at Jeonbuk has certainly not been as advantageous to his development as he would have first hoped, yet when he received the ball just within the box on the stroke of half-time, he made sure to slot home at the far post to open the scoring.
It only took six minutes after the break for the visitors to double their lead. Lee Jae-sung played a ball through to Lopes on the half-way line, allowing the Brazilian to break free unchallenged and run towards the Jeonnam goal. Turning the on-rushing Choi Hyo-jin as he reached the opposition's box, Lopes then proceeded to slot comfortably past keeper Han Yoo-sung.
Despite leading comfortably by two goals, Choi Kang-hee opted to bring on Kim Shin-wook and Leonardo at the hour mark for Lee Jong-ho and Ko Moo-yeol respectively. Perhaps the Jeonbuk manager had learnt his lesson from when these two sides met in Jeonju six weeks prior. The two were to link up immediately when Leonardo's free-kick on the right flank was cleared only for the Brazilian to send it back in for Kim Shin-wook to head home at the near post.
The Jeonbuk fans were still celebrating when, just two minutes later, Leonardo drove a low ball into the six yard box which Lopes only had to run onto in order to push it over the goalline. The team were not finished at 4-0 however and, as the full-time whistle neared, Lopes completed his hat trick when Leonardo once again assisted, this time deep from his own box, allowing his compatriot to latch onto the ball at the half-way line, outpace two defenders and once again convert.
With the number of goals scored being the first tiebreaker if points are level in the league, Jeonbuk's five obtained in Suncheon were much needed, providing them with a positive margin of three goals once all the weekend games had been played. The gap between Jeonbuk and FC Seoul is still incredibly tight, but Jeonbuk did exactly what was required of them in this particular fixture; win and score often. If only they had considered this philosophy in their last few league games.
Highlights from Jeonnam Dragons vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors can be viewed on SPOTV here.
It has been over two months since Sangju Sangmu last tasted victory, a whole eleven games ago. While there has been some memorable draws against Jeonbuk and FC Seoul, they have struggled to keep the goals out with one clean sheet in the last thirteen matches. Since the release of most of their players once their military duty had finished in September, the team has understandably struggled but managed to battle through into the championship round.
Despite this, it has been quite the season for the military side, achieving their first top six position in their history and something that should rightly be applauded given their enforced recruitment and release policy. The fact that manager Cho Jin-ho has not been considered amongst the nominations for the K-League's Manager of the Year award is simply baffling to me.
With the team unable to qualify for the AFC Champions League due to their status as a military side, and also too far behind to catch up with the title chasers, one could be led to believe they have given up as their is nothing remaining to play for. This would be hugely patronising however given the fight they have demonstrated just recently in their 2-2 away draw to FC Seoul and their narrow 2-1 loss at home to Ulsan.
In their defeat to Ulsan at the weekend, they put in quite the performance, arguably having the better chances of the two sides. Despite their numerous chances, they fell behind near the half hour mark when Ha Sung-min's shot bobbled over the foot of Sangju's Yoo Jun-su and snuck in. Sangju did quickly equalise however, with Park Hee-seong scoring a header two minutes later. It was the FC Seoul man's third goal for the military, latching on to the cross provided by another Seoul name, Shin Jin-ho. Both played well for the ninety minutes and will be looking to help their parent club from afar this Wednesday evening.
Sangju were unable to keep Ulsan out however, allowing the visitors to retake the lead just as half time was approaching. Again, there was a hint of good fortune as a clearable cross slipped past defender Lee Kyung-ryul and into the path of the awaiting Kim Seung-jun.
With the second half amounting to nothing, Sangju Sangmu are now playing for pride with fifth place three points out of reach with two difficult matches against Jeonbuk and Jeju ahead. That said, there is still enough evidence to suggest that they have not given up on improving on what is already a record breaking season, and will they are unlikely to offer either of these two sides an easy ride.
Highlights from Sangju Sangmu vs Ulsan Hyundai can viewed on SPOTV here.
Providing a strong line-up is selected, with key players ideally featuring despite FC Seoul's visit on the horizon, then I fully expect Jeonbuk to keep control in this title race going into the game on Sunday. However, if Choi Kang-hee underestimates Sangju Sangmu here by fielding a weakened team (and I really would not put it past him), then it could very well be victory or nothing on the final day of the season.
Assuming Jeonbuk put in a performance similar to that which they demonstrated against Jeonnam, Sangju should easily be pushed aside. Sangju's record against Jeonbuk this season is impressive though in comparison to how other teams have faired. They have drawn twice in Sangju and narrowly lost 3-2 in Jeonju after leading by two goals with twenty minutes left to play. They have caused the champions numerous headaches this season, and FC Seoul will be listening in from the stands of Sangam to see if they can do it just one last time.
Predicted Scoreline: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-0 Sangju Sangmu
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