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Preview: K League Challenge Round 31


With just six rounds remaining before the playoffs, things are much closer than anticipated at the top of the table. Gyeongnam FC's seemingly impenetrable lead has been whittled down to just five points and they have to fend off 3rd place Bucheon to keep it. Similarly, the battle for the final playoff spot in 4th place is narrower than current placeholders Seongnam would like. They're just three points ahead of Asan Mugunghwa and the two teams square off Sunday evening. These table-defining match ups and more in your  K League Challenge Round 31 preview.
(Photo Credit: facebook.com/SFC.Seongnam)

Saturday 23rd September

Suwon FC (6th) vs Daejeon Citizen (10th) 19:00

With just six games left before the end of the regular season, Suwon FC find themselves nine points back from the final playoff spot and even winning out may not be enough to push them past Seongnam in the table. Even so, that has to be the goal for this side as they welcome last place Daejeon to town Saturday night. Unfortunately for the hosts, the historical matchup between these teams isn't on their side. In eight matches, Suwon FC have only beaten Daejeon twice and have lost five times. Something the Citizens will unquestionably be looking to Saturday night along with their first back to back wins in nearly a calendar year. Coming off their truly shocking short-handed, come from behind 2-1 victory over league leading Gyeongnam, the Purples look to continue their morale boosting run with an eye firmly on a stronger 2018. Team heroes Hwang Inbeom and Levan Shengelia will need to come up big again if Daejeon are to pull off yet another upset as the team tends to leak goals on the road. They have yet to hold a clean sheet away from Daejeon World Cup Stadium and have conceded two or more goals in 7 of their 12 away games thus far. On paper Daejeon seem primed to fall back to Earth, but after beating playoff teams in consecutive matches this doesn't seem like the same ol 2017 Citizen side. For a 6th vs 10th this late in the season, this one is oddly intriguing.

Prediction: Suwon FC 1-2 Daejeon Citizen

FC Anyang (7th) vs Ansan Greeners (9th) 19:00

Anyang enter Saturday night having won just two of their previous ten with both wins coming against the same side (Seoul E-Land). The team that looked so promising early in the season has continued its downward spiral due to conceding a league worst 51 goals this year. 17 of Anyang's 30 matches have seen them pluck the ball out of their own net at least twice, and 8 of those games were at Anyang Stadium. The same home ground where Anyang have only managed to hold four clean sheets. The trend continued again last weekend when they had the opportunity to take advantage of a largely unproven Asan Mugunghwa side, but instead lost 3-1 courtesy of 25-year-old Kim Hyun's first career hat trick. Aside from salvaging some pride, Anyang will also be looking to take the season series between the two clubs that currently stands at 1-1-1. Similarly, the Greeners will be looking for their first back to back wins in club history to keep themselves distanced from the rock bottom of the table. Their Uruguayan leader Raúl bagged his fifth brace of the season to push his season total to 13. He may still be five goals away from Golden Boot leader Marcão from Gyeongnam, but should Raúl continue this run of form to end the season, he could certainly find himself with several suitors come the winter transfer window. If he has indeed found his form again, Anyang seem doomed to have another multi-goal game on their hands at home.

Prediction: FC Anyang 1-1 Ansan Greeners

Gyeongnam FC (1st) vs Bucheon 1995 (3rd) 19:00

What seemed like a safe game just a week ago suddenly feels a bit nervy for the league leaders. Coming off an astonishing 2-1 loss to bottom of the table Daejeon, Gyeongnam have now won just one in four and are in danger of losing the automatic promotion that has seemed like a guarantee for months. With just five points now separating them and 2nd place Busan, GFC need to win Saturday night to prove to themselves as much as anyone that they're the rightful number 1. To do so they'll look to Golden Boot leader Marcão to lead the team in doing what they've done better than anyone all year: score in droves. GFC have scored two or more goals in 18 of their 30 matches thus far with a league best 29 coming at home. The attack has been sputtering of late, but the trend is nothing new to the league leaders after having suffered through it midsummer as well. It took them five games to finally pick up a win then, and they simply don't have that luxury now. The home fans will be hoping last weekend's embarrassment serves as a quick wake up call to a suddenly sliding Gyeongnam team welcoming a quality Bucheon side. Also coming off a road loss, Bucheon will be far less shaken as the result had little affect on their season and was to a side higher in the table. Having just won four in a row and sitting firmly in a playoff position, Bucheon won't be pleased to have dropped points, but losing to the 2nd place team on the road isn't the end of the world. Should the losing streak slide to two in a row, however, and there may be a problem. Additionally, being held scoreless for just the sixth time this season can't be sitting well with the team. Looking to rebound quickly, Bucheon may smell blood in the water with a suddenly very human Gyeongnam looking out of sorts. Watching two of the league's top three scorers in Bucheon's Waguininho and the aforementioned Marcão duke it out should be good fun for two sides in need of a win.

Prediction: Gyeongnam FC 2-2 Bucheon 1995

Sunday 24th September


Seongnam FC (4th) vs Asan Mugunghwa (5th) 19:00

While 1st vs 3rd will likely be considered the marquee match of the weekend, this one has some very real playoff consequences after Asan snapped their four game losing streak and Seongnam failed to find a winner last weekend. Sitting just three points behind Seongnam in the table, Asan has the chance to leapfrog the Magpies into the final playoff spot if they win by two or more goals; something they've done only five times this year. One such win came last weekend when former Jeju and Jeonbuk striker Kim Hyun burst onto the scoresheet with a hat trick in just 29 minutes of game time. Asan will need a similar performance from him or another unlikely hero this week if they're to take all three points. Though it's difficult to consider season long stats for a team that just lost nine players due to their military service ending, Asan has had a relatively solid defense on the road. They have allowed two or more goals in just four of their 15 away matches this season, but worryingly for them, two of those four have come in the past month. Additionally, the police squad has only managed three clean sheets on the road this year and only averages about one away goal per game played. So, just two goals may do the trick for Seongnam to get the win and solidify their playoff spot; a mark they've achieved in four of their previous six matches. Buoyed by the emergence of Filip Hlohovsky as a true goal scoring threat, Seongnam have been scoring with much more regularity at the right time of year. With their last scoreless affair coming all the way back on June 3rd, the Magpies seem well positioned to do just enough to keep Asan on the outside looking in.

Prediction: Seongnam FC 1-0 Asan Mugunghwa

Seoul E-Land (8th) vs Busan I'Park (2nd) 19:00

E-Land's four game winning streak has been followed by a three game winless streak, and the team find themselves back in familiar territory towards the bottom of the table. However, the team continues to surprise at the tail end of the season and did so again last round. Down 2-0 at the half on the road, Seoul could have packed it in and started looking towards the next match. Instead they came out fighting and a Choi Chiwon second half brace was enough to earn a point in a match many would have already written them out of. Busan will certainly have that in mind this weekend, but will likely be more focused on the fact that Seoul failed yet again to hold a clean sheet, something they've done only seven times this year. In fact, 16 of E-Land's 30 matches have seen them concede at least twice and a visit from a red hot Busan isn't likely to see that number stay the same. Emboldened by their narrow victory over 3rd place Bucheon, I'Park will look to continue their 10 game unbeaten streak and keep the pressure on Gyeongnam. And they'll likely look to do it in the same manner. Busan hasn't charged up the table by blowing teams out of the water as much as they have been playing smart soccer and doing just enough to get the win. Winners of three of their last five road games, and remaining unbeaten during that stretch, would suggest they're more than capable of doing just enough against a plucky Seoul team.

Prediction: Seoul E-Land 0-1 Busan I'Park 

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