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ACL Preview: Ulsan Hyundai vs. Melbourne Victory

Ulsan Hyundai play host to Australian outfit Melbourne Victory tomorrow night knowing that a win for either team will be enough to see them qualify from Group F, knocking the losing team out in the process. A draw would mean it goes down to the final group game in two week's time.  For Ulsan it's a chance to forget their disastrous league form for one night and strive for that positive result with which to turn their season round.  Ulsan columnist Daniel Croydon previews this crucial contest below.
(image via uhfc.tv)

Last Time Out

It's been three weeks since Ulsan lost at home to Shanghai SIPG on Matchday 4, but in a way the Korean FA cup holders are still reeling from the nature of that defeat.

The Horangi dominated the first half, squandering several gilt-edged chances, most notable of which was a real howler from Japanese striker Yohei Toyoda.  As soon as his effort ballooned up and over the bar from inside the 6-yard box Ulsan heads seems to drop, and from that point on it was clearly going to be one of those games.

Most worryingly for Ulsan though, they have had nothing but those games ever since.  With his team severely lacking in confidence, manager Kim Do-hoon has endlessly tinkered with his starting lineup, picking 24 different players in four league games, hoping to find a combination that would magically gel. But it's been to no avail, as Ulsan remain rooted to the bottom of the K League table with zero points, and just one win in eight in all competitions.

Despite this awful run of results Ulsan still have a great chance to qualify from their ACL group tomorrow night. The visit of Melbourne Victory will be a welcome distraction for the 2012 ACL Champions. A win could be just the shot in the arm Kim Do-hoon's men need to turn their form around.

Team News

Ulsan have been fielding full strength teams throughout this year's tournament and with no new injury worries, Kim Do-hoon is only missing midfielder Jeong Jae-yong through suspension.  Centre-back Richard Windbichler and winger Kim Seung-jun are available again having missed last weekend's 2-1 loss to rivals Pohang.

Kim is likely to stick with his usual 4-5-1 formation, rather than go all out with a 4-4-2 from kick-off.  Korean international Park Joo-ho looks set continue his role in central midfield despite impressing at wing-back in the national team's recent friendly defeats to Northern Ireland and Poland.

There is a question mark over who will start up-front for the Tigers.  Yohei Toyoda has been first-choice in all four ACL games so far but is yet to score in Ulsan colours. So Brazilian Junior Negrao may get the nod after he bagged his first goal for his new club last weekend. (Indecently this was also Ulsan's first league goal of the season, an indication of just how poor they have been domestically.)

Previous Meetings 

Ulsan's remarkable 3-3 draw at Melbourne may seem like a faint dream to fans of the Korean club.  Kim Do-hoon looked to have shirked his reputation for conservative tactics as his team engaged in a tit-for-tat goalfest Down Under, Ulsan thrice taking the lead only for Melbourne to equalise each time within minutes.



The pick of the goals that evening came from Croatian winger Mislav Orsic whose two long range efforts dipped and swung like a late-day delivery at the MCG.  What the Tiger's wouldn't give to see him do the same tomorrow.

Ulsan fans may have been frustrated not to take home three points that night, but they were full of optimism thanks to the promise of more high tempo, entertaining football from the Tigers.  However, fast forward a month or so and that optimism is long gone. Whilst the goals seem to have dried up, some of the defensive issues remain unsolved.

One To Watch

With an Ulsan goal being rarer than hen's teeth, the Tigers go into tomorrow's game knowing they need to keep things tight at the back if they are to stand any chance.

Luckily the one bright spot so far this season has been the rise of goalkeeper Oh Seung-hoon. The 29 year-old was signed from Daejeon Citizen in the winter having spent the last two seasons on military duty at fellow K League 1 outfit Sangju Sangmu.

Oh has found himself between the sticks for all four of Ulsan's ACL games this season as part of Kim Do-hoon's rotation policy, and has rewarded his manager with excellent performances, particularly during the 2-2 draw in Shanghai. Oh pulled off a string of excellent saves, and despite being beaten by two Oscar strikes, was singled out for praise from his manager.

Oh Seung-hoon will likely start again tomorrow night and will have a huge role to play if Ulsan are to progress.

The Adversary

Melbourne Victory travel to Ulsan on a high after qualifying for the A-League Final Series with an impressive win over West Sydney Wanderers last weekend.  And they will be hoping that confidence survives the long haul flight to Korea's south coast. 

Victory Head Coach Kevin Muscat will no doubt be aware of the potential significance of a win in Korea.  Late goals against Kawasaki Frontale, both home and away, have given his side a golden opportunity to qualify from the ACL group stages for just the second time in the club's history.  However, Victory will need to record their first ever away win in continental competition if they are to go through.

Prediction

All this makes a draw look the most likely result, as neither team seems able to do things the easy way. Despite their shocking league form, Ulsan Hyundai might just have enough to hang on and fight another day.

Dan's Prediction: Ulsan Hyundai 1-1 Melbourne Victory

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