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Preview: Ulsan Hyundai vs. Gangwon FC

Ulsan are looking to finally get some points on the board in K League 1, and they get that chance this Sunday when Gangwon FC travel south to Munsu Stadium. Can the Horangi replicate their excellent performance against Melbourne Victory midweek? Or will Gangwon bring them back down to earth with a bump? Daniel Croydon previews this 4p.m. kick off below. 

(images via uhfc.tv)

Last Time Out

In my midweek Champions League preview, I said an Ulsan goal was as rare as hen's teeth.  Well after the completely unexpected scoreline against Melbourne Victory, I get to trot out another well-worn cliche - Ulsan goals are like London buses. After scoring just once in four games, six come on the same night.

Yes, Ulsan Hyundai, without a point to their name in K League 1, beat Group F rivals Melbourne Victory by a whopping 6 goals to 2, booking their place in the last 16 of Asia's premier club competition and knocking out the embarrassed Aussies in the process.  The scoreline did not flatter the Horangi either, as they could, and perhaps should have piled on a couple more.

It's hard to know how good Ulsan were when weighed against how bad Melbourne performed once they had gone behind.  Suffice to say Kim Do-hoon's side were able to shift up a gear or three from their K League levels and this intensity did not waver once all night. The stand out players were Orsic and Junior, both bagging braces and both running opposition defenders ragged all night.

Junior gets on the scoresheet for the second game in a row Wednesday night

Now the Tigers' attention must turn back to the K League and a home game with Gangwon FC.  We can't forget how badly Ulsan have struggled domestically during the opening weeks of the campaign, and Gangwon are bound to be less accommodating defensively than the Victory were.  But surely some of the confidence and desire will translate now into an improved run of results for the Boys in Blue.

Previous Meetings

The two teams have played each other 16 times in Korea's top flight since Gangwon joined the K League in 2009.  Ulsan have had by far the better of these encounters winning 12, drawing two, and losing just twice. In fact, you'd have to go back to May of 2012 to find Gangwon's last victory; a 2-1 victory at Munsu with Kim Eun-jeong (no, not the banana munching curler) getting the winning goal.

In this fixture last season Lee Young-jae won the game for Ulsan with a trademark long-range effort in the 90th minute, giving his side their first win in three after they had lost to Jeju and Sangju in the two previous games. Sounds familiar.

Team News

Kim Do-hoon pulled another surprise with his lineup midweek when he moved Richard Windbichler out of defense and into a central midfield role alongside Park Joo-ho. The two players pulled the strings in the middle which allowed Orsic, Kim Seung-jun, and Hwang Il-su to float between the Melbourne lines.  Given the success of this formation, Kim may well try the same again on Sunday.

In terms of personnel it seems everyone got out of that crucial ACL game unscathed, although Kim may elect to rest the likes of Park Joo-ho and Junior after their recent exertions. Having said that, Junior would be disappointed to lose his place after scoring three in two games.

The Adversary

Gangwon have continued where they left off last season and find themselves in fourth after amassing an impressive 9 points from their first four games.  Since their return to K League 1 Gangwon have been consistently underestimated by some opponents, but most would now acknowledge that the East Coast side are genuine contenders for the ACL places.

Gangwon's top half finish last year was built on genuine quality upfront.  They were the fourth highest scorers in the league, and with the likes of Diego, Jung Jo-gook and Lee Keun-ho in the side, it was not hard to see why.   New signing Uros Deric, who has already scored twice for his new team, makes Gangwon's forward line even more of a threat.  They may struggle defensively on the road, but it would not come as much of a surprise if Gangwon's attractive attacking style earns them another top half finish this year, or maybe even higher.

Who To Watch 

For Ulsan it is hard to look past Mislav Orsic.  The Croatian wizard put in another stellar performance in against Melbourne that won him plaudits across the entire continent.  Orsic does suffer somewhat from the added attention this draws from K League defenses, but the diminutive winger is always capable of a moment of magic to win any game.

Another foreign winger attracting more and more attention is Diego Mauricio. The 26-year-old former Flamengo forward arrived at Gangwon last season and quickly adapted to his new surroundings, scoring 13 in 36 appearances in his first season.  Having already added two more to that tally this season, Diego's powerful forays into the box will be something for Ulsan to watch out for when Gangwon visit Munsu this weekend.

Diego has continued his good form from last season


Ulsan will be riding a wave of optimism after that extraordinary ACL result, but they should be aware Gangwon are likely to be a much better-organized outfit than the Melbourne Victory side that almost literally fell apart on live TV.  That being said the Horangi have a good record in this fixture and I can see them scoring a couple of early goals to help them run out comfortable winners.

Prediction: Ulsan 3-1 Gangwon FC

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