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Preview: Gyeongnam FC v Ulsan Hyundai

An in form Ulsan Hyundai make the short one-hour trip south on Sunday to play against a Gyeongnam side who are finding life in the top flight tough of late. After an truly remarkable start of four wins in four, Gyeongnam's season has come to an alarming halt after picking up a lone point in their last three fixtures. In stark contrast Ulsan have begun to play some great football after a woeful start to the season and are now unbeaten in five matches in all competitions.


Game: Gyeongnam FC vs. Ulsan Hyundai
Kick off: Sunday, April 22nd. 16.00 KST
Venue:  Changwon Football Center, Changwon.

Last Time Out

Last Sunday Gyeongnam came away from Pohang empty handed after a 2-1 defeat. But it wasn't for the want of trying from The Reds. Luck certainly wasn't on their side in the second half having struck the woodwork twice through Negueba and Kunimoto. If it wasn't for their over-cautious approach in the first half, they could have come away with something from the game. A double from Brazilian striker Gamalho handed Pohang all three points. The first coming from the spot, confidently sending the away team's goalkeeper Son Jung-hyung the wrong way after just 14 minutes. His second was a low effort from just outside the box five minutes after the break. It crept its way into the bottom right hand corner just past the desperate dive of Gyeongnam's number one.

But to the away side's credit, they never gave up and pulled a goal back from super sub Kim Hyo-gi who had come on just moments earlier in the second half.  It was a stunning goal; Kunimoto floated the ball in from the right wing, in hope more than anything, but it was met with an acrobatic effort from Hyo-gi who, first time, in a scissor kick motion, struck the ball in off the post to pull a goal back for The Reds with twenty minutes left on the clock. Thereafter Gyeongnam laid siege to the Steelers' goal, getting into great goal-scoring positions but were kept at bay by the ever-lunging Pohang defenders. In the end, it was the width of the post that prevented The Reds from taking home a point. Pohang did have a few opportunities to extend their advantage as Gyeongnam were committing so many men forward gaps became evident. If Pohang's finishing was better, then they could have put the game to bed late in the second half.


Ulsan Hyundai, on the other hand, beat an out of sorts FC Seoul side 1-0 at the Munsu with Brazilian forward Junior Negao getting the lone goal from the penalty spot. The game was played in terrible, wet and windy conditions making it hard to play good football and will perhaps be seen as a game of two halves. In the first half Ulsan dominated possession and Seoul were fortunate to only be one down. I don't know what was said at half time by gaffer Hwang Sun-hong, but FC Seoul came out a different side in the second. Despite having a lot more of the ball and looking threatening going forward at every opportunity, they just couldn't break down the Ulsan defence; which was well marshalled by Kang Min-soo and Richard Windbichler. The game petered out in the end and the home side came away with all three points to continue their steady rise up the league after a truly disastrous start to their 2018 campaign.

Previous Meetings

Ulsan without question have had the better of Gyeongnam over the years.  They have played each other 25 times since Gyeongnam were formed in 2006, with Ulsan winning 17 of those games.  There have been just three draws alongside Gyeongnam only winning on five occasions. In more recent memory the two sides me last season in the 5th round of the FA Cup at Changwon Football Center.  Ulsan won the tie 2-1 with an injury time winner from Korean National Team striker Park Young-woo. 

A more notable (and rare) victory for the Reds was an away FA Cup semi final victory in 2012.  Gyeongnam won 3-0 with goals from Kim Do-hyeop, Caique and Yun Il-lok. Gyeongnam went on to lose 1-0 in the final to Pohang in heart breaking fashion with a goal in stoppage time.

Team News

Gyeongnam FC

The home side this week have been rocked by news that marauding left back Lee Jae-myeong has suffered a season-ending cruciate knee ligament injury. He picked up the injury in an innocuous coming together with Jeonbuk's right winger Lopes a week ago. The experienced and more defensive minded Choi Jae-soo will have to deputize as the first choice left back from now on. There are no other injury worries for manager Kim Jung-boo to be concerned about.


Ulsan Hyundai

Having already steered his side into the last 16 of the ACL a couple of weeks ago, Ulsan manager Kim Do-hoon very sensibly opted to leave much of his senior squad at home for Wednesday night's game at Kawasaki Frontale. None of the XI which started against Seoul last weekend made the trip to Japan, giving a very strong indication of what Kim considers to be his strongest lineup. Barring late injury news, expect no changes from the team that won 1-0 last weekend.

The Adversary 

The impact of that emphatic 6-2 ACL victory over Melbourne last month continues to be felt around Ulsan. Not only did it signal a massive change in league form for the Horangi, but it also meant the pressure was off when Ulsan traveled to Japan this week for the last game of the group stage. Kim Do-hoon will be very pleased he could give his first choice XI a rest as there were signs in the second half of the victory over Seoul that Ulsan's busy schedule of recent weeks was starting to take its toll. Drops in tempo and some sloppy defending almost handed Seoul an equalizer on numerous occasions.

By Dan Croydon

Who To Watch

Takahiro Kunimoto

The pint-sized Japanese wonderkid has looked the part in games this season. On Sunday against Pohang he took the game by the scruff of the neck and nearly earned The Reds a valuable away point. The former Avispa Fukuoka forward struck the post with a delightful effort, bending away from Pohang's goalkeeper.

He has a low centre of gravity and drifts around the pitch. He possesses a wand of a left foot and has an eye for a pass to unlock any defence in this league. Kunimoto can find pockets in the attacking third and can hurt teams that way. With the 20-year-old starting to adjust to K League and showing an ability to be a match winner on any given day, Ulsan will have to keep their eye out for him this Sunday.

Junior Negao

Ulsan come into this game in very decent shape looking to record their fourth league victory in a row. And who would bet against them with in-form striker Junior leading the line? The 31-year-old Brazilian looks to be enjoying his new more mobile role of late. Kim Do-hoon has given his top marksman license to roam the channels and drop deeper to pick up the ball, making him much more of a threat to opposition, while also creating space for the likes of Oršić and Hwang Il-soo to run in behind. Junior will be looking to score for the sixth game in a row this weekend, and knowing the open style of play Gyeongnam have become known for recently, there is every chance he will get it.

By Dan Croydon

Prediction

If history is anything to go by, Ulsan should be favourites for this clash. The form of both sides couldn't be more different either. Ulsan are playing very well of late, have just qualified for the latter stages of the AFC Champions League, and haven't been beaten in five games. The Horangi played midweek, but rested all of their big guns for this match as they had already qualified for the knockout stages.

Gyeongnam on the other hand are in a bit of a rut with no win in three. The second half performance against Pohang however was a positive one and the confidence clearly possessed in the early part of the season still appears to be in tact.  I am going for a score draw here.
  
Gyeongnam 2-2 Ulsan


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