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Preview: Gwangju FC vs Jeju United

The lone Classic action of the weekend sees bottom of the table Gwangju FC play host to 3rd place and red hot Jeju United in the make up match for their scheduled Round 13 encounter back in May. That match was cancelled so Jeju could focus on their ACL campaign and is the lone blip in K League's schedule. Will Jeju finally be able to take advantage of their game in hand and vault Ulsan into second place? Or will Gwangju pull themselves out of the gutter and start their quest to leapfrog Sangju and avoid an automatic drop? 
(image via facebook.com/gjfc2010)

Overview

(soccerway.com)


Last Time Out

Jeju were able to overcome a 50th minute red card and claim all three points against an inconsistent Jeonnam side that continues to leak goals when they met two weeks ago. ACL standout Lee Changmin got the scoring started for Jeju early with a wonder strike from well outside the box to continue his strong 2017. After his ACL coming out party, Changmin has somehow managed to keep expectations considerably high by banging in goals like this week after week. The 23-year-old's night wasn't done there either. After the newly returned Yoon Bitgaram was rightly sent off for a vicious elbow to Jeonnam's Hyun Youngmin in the 50th, Changmin found the back of the net from distance again. Unlike the first goal, Dragons keeper Lee Hoseung likely wants this one back, but credit to Changmin for continuing to shoot when defenders (foolishly) give him space. His brace proved to be the winner as late goals from Jeonnam (Han Chanhee) and Jeju (Magno) would cancel each other out. The victory pushed Jeju's unbeaten run to six and was their sixth win in eight games. A run that's been good enough to get them back into the title conversation they briefly exited after a poor stretch in June and July.

Similarly, Gwangju also kept their run of form going and were again unable to pick up a point against league leaders Jeonbuk. The Gwangju defense's inability to clear their box dropped the ball directly to recent Korean National Team starting centerback Kim Minjae who merely put the ball on frame and was rewarded with his second goal of 2017. Gwangju's Na Sangho got the underdogs back in the match just before halftime with a lovely run and slightly curled finish to the far post. However, the quality showed through in the end and Jeonbuk was once again able to capitalize on horrid defending from Gwangju. The entirety of their defense lost track of midfielder Lee Seungki who tapped home a Lee Jaesung cross for his third of the season. Kim Shinwook would later come on for Edu and do Kim Shinwook things to secure the win for the home side scoring on yet another one keeper Yoon Bosang should've done much better on. The loss was the Gwangju's fourth in a row and their 8th in the last 10, keeping them cemented to the bottom spot.

Previous Meetings

In spite of what the standings and history of these clubs would suggest, this is actually a rather even series. They played to a 1-1 draw in their only 2017 meeting, but Gwangju actually edge Jeju in recent times picking up three wins in the previous five meetings before this year. Perhaps freshest in the memory of United fans will be Gwangju's shock win over the islanders at Jeju World Cup Stadium in the 2016 FA Cup match. It may have taken extra time to do it, but Gwangju proved what they've done time and again historically against Jeju: they won't be intimidated. Having already pulled off a stunning win against Jeonbuk this year, it would be unwise for Jeju to underestimate a team that's traditionally had their number.

Will ANY Striker Please Stand Up?

We've been saying it on this site all year: Gwangju aren't as bad as their record indicates. I'm starting to have my doubts given how long they've stayed in 12th, but do think it still holds true. Gwangju can go toe-to-toe with any team in the league in the midfield, has occasional gaffs at the back (like most K League sides), but just can't score the goals they desperately need. Of their last 10 losses, only three have been by more than a single goal, and those were against Jeonbuk (twice), and Suwon. Gwangju has the quality to keep themselves in the game, but not much more. The man brought into alleviate this issue, Northern Ireland international Niall McGinn, hasn't exactly had a lot of chances to right the ship. With just 190 minutes in Gwangju colors, McGinn has yet to score, but that's not overly surprising given he came on board in what was his offseason at Aberdeen and had to adjust to an entirely new culture for the first time in his life. To his credit McGinn seems to be adjusting well and said all the right things in a recent interview with the Belfast Telegraph:
"Over here the players are fit and strong and there is not much time on the ball. It can be quite frantic early on in games. I’ve found the standard to be really good though and I have to say the stadium facilities are first class. We play in stadiums that were built for the 2002 World Cup when it was staged in South Korea and Japan."
However, McGinn is currently back home with Northern Ireland in the thick of World Cup Qualifying, so someone else is going to need to step up for Gwangju. Midfielder Song Seungmin leads the team with just four goals, but shouldn't really be the one relied upon to find the back of the net vs Jeju. Instead it would be ideal if McGinn's fellow foreign strike partner, the Brazilian Wanderson, could finally find his footing and at least threaten Jeju a bit.

Start of Something?

Both teams are looking to take advantage of finally making up their game in hand, and the timing couldn't be better. With the KFA extending K League's international break from one week to two, both Gwangju and Jeu should be happy to get on the pitch again. While team like FC Seoul are playing University sides to keep fitness up, and Ulsan invited Chinese side Yanbian Funde for a friendly, Gwangju and Jeju can actually get back to business a full week before the rest of their competition. Sure they're likely to be a bit rusty, but as long as it's not a lopsided beatdown both will head into the resumed play next weekend a step ahead of their competition. For Jeju that means being sharper for their long trek North to Seoul next weekend and potentially pulling within striking distance of Jeonbuk if results go their way. Gwangju's also making a long trek north for a relegation six pointer with Incheon United. Obviously both sides will want full points, especially Jeju, but any result will bode well for them with even bigger matches against potentially sluggish competition next weekend.

Prediction

It would be nice for Gwangju to pick up a win and pull all four of the bottom teams into the relegation scrap, but I just can't see them pulling it off. Jeju has been one of the better sides throughout this year's campaign and know a win puts them within four points of league leading Jeonbuk with plenty of time left to make up the gap. But, more than any future implications it's really quite simple: Jeju can score goals and Gwangju can't.

Gwangju FC 0-2 Jeju United

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