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FA Cup Writers' Chat: Pohang Steelers vs Jeonnam Dragons

FA Cup Preview: Pohang Steelers vs Jeonnam Dragons
In one of only two all K League ties, Pohang Steelers host Jeonnam Dragons for the second time in the space of a four days. This Wednesday's FA Cup 4th Round fixture sees Jeonnam travel to Pohang once more as they look to avenge Saturday's 3-1 loss in the K League. The Dragons will be hoping the cup can provide some respite for their current league struggles away from home. But will find the Steelers in a more confident mood than they were a mere week ago having picked up two victories on the bounce. Columnists Ross Davis and Aodan Halligan chatted about this week's coming fixture.
(Image via K League)

Aodan Asks, Ross Answers

Aodan Halligan: Pohang Steelers started off so brightly this season  but have been inconsistent since so. at this stage, what would be considered a good season for the Steelers?

Ross Davis: Certainly a top half finish is a must. Having spent the past two seasons in the relegation group post-split, the club will be desperate to avoid a third and remain amongst the pack in 7th position despite their inconsistencies. An excellent season would be bringing the cup back to the Steelyard for the first time since 2013 and in doing so would also bring back Asian Champions League football.

AH: Pohang defeated Jeonnam  3-1 last Saturday  and also triumphed after netting another three goals in  the other meeting between the two sides this season in March. Do the Steelers now have a mental hold over the Dragons and why do they find it so easy to score against them? 

RD: It would appear so, although I certainly think fatigue and squad injuries played a major part in the second half turn around at the weekend. Pohang were able to rely on the young and freshly recruited Lee Jin-hyeon, as well as the youthfulness of Lee Keun-ho to exploit the spaces, especially behind the back three, of a tired-looking Jeonnam. The fact that they also scored from a set-piece, which they had done earlier in the season in Gwangyang suggests that Pohang do indeed have Jeonnam's number at the present moment.

AH: How serious will Pohang take the cup this season and do you expect to see lots of changes in their team lineup this Wednesday?

RD: Their inconsistencies in the league are unlikely to be an issue in the cup. In fact, their turnaround in league form coincides with this Wednesday's fixture so I'm sure Pohang will be taking it ever so seriously. Although only two points adrift of the top four in the league, it doesn't look likely that AFC qualification can be secured through it, and so Pohang will see their biggest hope of qualifying as being through the FA Cup. This is especially so given the draw. As both 4th and 5th Rounds are at home and if they were to beat Jeonnam they would face lower tier opposition in the shape of Chuncheon Citizen or Daejeon Korail. However, I would still expect to see some rotation in the lineup, but not a complete overhaul of the team that played at the weekend.

AH: Which Pohang players should Jeonnam be most wary of?

RD: Lee Jin-hyeon was the danger man on Saturday; he finished neatly after a one-two inside the box to complete the scoring and controlled the tempo for most of the second half. He remains fresh after just re-joining the team at the beginning of this transfer window, and has slowly grown into his position on the right or left of the midfield three. A general lack of goals from Pohang's front three means they are more reliant on goals from other areas of the pitch. So, for Lee to get his first K League goal is sure to give him even more confidence and he could prove a problem for the Dragon's defence once more this Wednesday.

AH: Score Prediction?

RD: Again, I would expect Jeonnam to score no matter what lineup they put out, but ultimately I see Pohang coming out on top with a similar if not the same scoreline as the weekend. I imagine Pohang will field the stronger lineup out of available players and so would be able to dispatch of their opponents with relative comfort.

Ross' Predicted Score: Pohang Steelers 3-1 Jeonnam Dragons

Ross Asks, Aodan Answers

RD: Jeonnam have taken the lead in the last two games but faded in the second half and ended up losing both. Can those defeats be put down to fatigue or is there another underlying cause to their away-day woes?

AH: Having played five matches in 14 days, undoubtedly, the Dragons’ squad is stretched, players are fatigued, and injuries are starting to pile up. However, most teams are in the same boat and thus I think there’s another underlying cause to their current malaise: mental strength. And this has been evident right from week one when Jeonnam took the lead against Suwon and were pegged back. Fortunately, they scored a second right at the death that day and claimed all three points, but on several other occasions this year, they haven’t been so lucky.

RD: How much a part do you see fatigue and current injuries affecting team selection for this Wednesday’s game?. 

AH: Heo Yeong-joon was substituted in the 26th minute last Saturday after picking up what looks like a nasty ankle injury and he now joins Croatian midfielder Vedran Jugovic on the Dragons’ injury list. Jugovic’s injury was most likely caused by fatigue, Heo’s wasn’t though, so the Dragons have probably gotten off lightly considering the amount of games they’ve played this month. Still, the players must be tired; therefore, even though the Dragons are traditionally a good cup team, I think head coach Yoo Sang-chul needs to rotate his side heavily on Wednesday, especially with Saturday’s match in mind - a home tie against relegation rivals, Incheon United.

RD: Han Chanhee got the goal at the weekend and also put a peach of a through ball over the Pohang defence in the first half. How influential do you think he will be and were you surprised he wasn’t in the Asian Games squad? 

AH: Han Chan-hee’s been deputising for Jugovic in the middle of the park lately and being doing a very good job there. Of course, he’s dangerous on the left wing too, but I prefer to see him operating centrally and think that if Pohang give him time and space again on Wednesday, they could suffer once more. However, even though Han has played for the national under 19 side and was selected for the Under 20 World Cup last year, I’m not really surprised that he wasn’t brought to the Asian games as he started off the season quite slowly and has only come into his own over the last few games.

RD: Will Saturday’s 3-1 league defeat spur the team on for Wednesday’s FA Cup game?. 

AH: I don’t think it really will, to be honest. If anything, that result could demotivate them as it was their second defeat in succession and another game in which they coughed up a lead. I also think both sides will make a lot of changes, so it should be a totally different game. And some of the fringe players could have the biggest say on this cup tie so Jeonnam, who’ve a lot of talented youngsters on their roster, will be hoping their guys step up on the night.

RD: Score Prediction?

AH:  The Dragons will be scarred after Saturday’s game as they had several chances to put the game to bed when they were one nil up and then ended up losing 3-1. And since they’re going to be involved in in a huge relegation six-pointer with Incheon in Gwangyang on Saturday, I don’t think they’ll be as motivated as Pohang so the hosts should prevail.

Aodan's Predicted Score: Pohang Steelers 2-1 Jeonnam Dragons

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