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East Coast Derby Preview: Pohang Steelers vs. Ulsan Hyundai

Pohang host Ulsan in the first East Coast Derby of the season this Saturday, but there's a lot more at stake than just local pride. The rivals have made polar opposite starts to the campaign with unbeaten Pohang sitting pretty in third place, while Ulsan prop up the table, pointless, goalless and seemingly rudderless. Will things get worse before they get better for Ulsan manager Kim Do-hoon?
(image via sports.donga.com)

Last Time Out

Ulsan Hyundai 0 - 1 Jeju United (March 18th)
(full recap here)

After losing at home to Shanghai SIPG in a game they really should have won, the visit of Jeju was supposed to get Ulsan back on track.  But even before Jeju bagged a last-minute winner, it was clear to all 4,500 fans in Munsu Stadium that Ulsan were well off the pace.  Post-match, Kim Do-hoon had to admit once again that his team simply didn't create enough chances.  Time after time the Ulsan midfield shifted the ball side to side before lumping it forward in the general direction of the earnest Orsic or flatfooted Junior.  So much possession and absolutely nothing to show for it. Some diehards may excuse yet another loss by pointing to the VAR decision that saw Kim Seung-jun harshly dismissed for a stamp that looked accidental. But the facts speak for themselves: Ulsan are bottom of the league with zero points, they have lost 7 of their last 8 league games, and have yet to score a league goal this year, having made only 8 attempts on target in three games.  The campaign is barely a month old, but it is already crunch time for manager Kim Do-hoon.

Late VAR controversy as Kim Seung-jun sees red
(image via uhfc.tv)

Team News

Kim has used an unbelievable 24 different players in just three K league matches.  Whether you call this policy by it's polite name: 'rotation', or by it's more accurate name: 'lack of a clue', Ulsan's lineup has been as difficult to predict as the half-time lottery (and probably chosen in the same way).  And the team is unlikely to stabilise any time soon. Ulsan have that crucial Champions League fixture on Wednesday night at home to Melbourne Victory - crucial because a win for either team will see them qualify from the group, knocking the loser out of the competition in the process. While Kim may wish to rest key-players against Pohang, another K league loss may be one too many for his employers.  Is an ACL run really worth a bottom-half league finish? It's quite the dilemna Kim has given himself, and, given his track record, one he doesn't seem capable of solving.

One thing is for sure is that there will be no Richard Windbichler or Kim Seung-jun for Ulsan this weekend. Both are suspended after their late red cards in the 1-0 loss to Jeju.  Elsewhere, Park Joo-ho is doubtful as he returns from international duty. The wing-back started both friendlies for the Korean national team last week,  putting in impressive displays that Horangi fans will hope he can replicate for the club soon.

Previous Meetings

The one glimmer of hope for Ulsan is that they are unbeaten in four against their rivals from the Steel City. The Horangi won the corresponding fixture last season 2-1 - Kim Seung-jun scoring a last-gasp winner to give Ulsan fans the bragging rights. Indeed, Pohang's last derby victory came by way of a 4-0 win in June 2016.  Tigers fans will also be glad to see striker Yang-Dong-hyun left Pohang over the winter - he netted goals in all three derbies in 2017.

The Adversary

The loss of Yang Dong-hyun to Japanese side Cerezo Osaka was one of the reasons Pohang were not widely tipped to do well this year. But they have started brightly sitting third in the table and playing with real enthusiasm. The Brazilian new boys Leo Gamalho, Chico and Getterson seem to have adapted to the league quickly, meaning scoring has not been the issue many thought it would be. At the other end, stalwart centreback Kim Gwang-seok is already forming a strong partnership with Ha Chang-rae who has looked very solid since his move from Incheon United.  All in all, Pohang are in good form having lost just once in twelve matches. Contrast this with Ulsan's one win in ten in the league and it's not looking good for the away team.

Leo Gamalho scores on his debut against Daegu
(image via news1.kr)

Prediction

Ulsan are in desperate need of a positive result, but Kim Do-hoon will almost certainly have one eye on the ACL showdown with Melbourne.  Pohang, on the other hand, have no such distractions. They are a side brimming with confidence and will look to attack from kick-off.  Ulsan fans can expect another tough day.

Daniel says: Pohang 2-0 Ulsan

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