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Preview: Pohang Steelers vs Gyeongnam FC

Two of K League's most in-form sides face each other this Saturday as fifth placed Pohang Steelers take on second in the table Gyeongnam FC at The Steelyard. Gyeongnam will look to close the gap on the leaders while at the same time putting more distance between themselves and the chasing pack. This includes their weekend opponents whose upturn in form has seen them climb the table and the Steelers find themselves just three points off third.


Last Time Out

Pohang Steelers 5-2 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Pohang came away with a superb victory from an entertaining round of Week 23 fixtures this midweek. They repeated the feat of defeating the defending champions by three goals, which they did in a three-nil victory away at Jeonbuk earlier in the season.

And it is the number three that was certainly the key number when analysing Wednesday's game. Three of the Pohang's five goals were scored from outside of the box including a superb unstoppable 30-yard strike from young rookie forward Lee Keun-ho, who had returned to the starting line-up after dropping to the bench following the Sangju defeat three games previous. This was the striker's third goal for Pohang and doubled the side's lead in the game following Lee Seok-hyun's opener in the 33rd minute, in what was the ex-FC Seoul midfielder's third game for his new club. Lee Seok-hyun's drilled his shot into the bottom corner from just outside the box after a questionable decision to punch by Jeonbuk's stand-in keeper Hwang Byeong-keun.

Pohang took a two-nil lead into the break and didn't have to wait long to add their third as Lee struck again in the 53rd minute; this time curling the ball into the back of the net from outside the box, although it was aided by a deflection. Half-time Jeonbuk substitute Han Gyo-won reduced the deficit to two until Pohang's new midfield talent bagged himself his hat-trick when he ran straight through the Jeonbuk backline and produced a cool finish this time just inside the box in the 73rd minute. Each goal coming in the third minute of 20 minute intervals since the first in the 33rd minute - bizarre.

There was still time for each team to get on the scoresheet once more with Kim Shin-wook scoring from close-range and then Kim Seung-dae completing the home side's rout with a well-struck shot inside the box. The somewhat surprising victory and certainly the emphatic nature of it will have sent out a warning to the team's currently holding third and fourth position in the league as the east coast side now find themselves just three points off them on 33 points.

Highlights here

Gyeongnam FC 3-3 Ulsan Hyundai

Changwon was the venue for another goal fest last Wednesday night as Gyeongnam hosted Ulsan with the game ending in a high-scoring draw, but how Ulsan didn't come away with all three points will baffle the east coasters. Ulsan Hyundai took the lead in the 24th minute when Junior superbly guided a header into the top corner across the goal from a Jeong Dong-ho cross from the right flank for his tenth goal of the season. The Horangi then doubled their lead with a swift counter attack, which was finished off by Kim Seung-jun for his first of the season.

Ulsan came out for the second half in confident fashion and further added to their lead with what they would have thought had clinched the tie when Junior tapped in his second of the evening in the 69th minute.

Gyeongnam FC correspondent James Edrupt picks up on the action.

The Reds’ came back to rescue a point from being 3 down and totally out played with 80 minutes on the clock.  Captain Choi Young-jun reduced the arrears with 10 minutes remaining.  A Marcao scrambled effort on the 90th minute mark made the home side believe and then in the 4th minute of stoppage time Marcao rose highest to plant a header into the bottom corner to draw things level.  It was truly remarkable. 

Highlights here

Previous Meetings

Historically, Pohang dominate the fixture with 19 victories to Gyeongnam's five out of the 29 meetings between the pair. Gyeongnam have won just twice away from home and only once was in the league, and that was back in 2012.

The last five meetings between the two have been more even and in fact have been symmetrical with both having two wins and the other game being a draw. The wins do tend to be for the home side though; the winning home side in the past four occasions have scored at least two goals in the process.

The most recent fixture between the two sides was the first game back following the World Cup break and saw Gyeongnam cruise to a two-nil victory against a mistake-ridden visiting Steelers. The first goal came as early as the third minute when midfielder Jo Jae-cheol steered home a dangerous cross. Negeba took advantage of some generous defending to waltz in on goal and seal the victory, but in truth the Steelers were lucky to get away with a 2-0 loss.

Team News

Pohang will be without holding midfielder Connor Chapham who unfortunately picked up his sixth booking of the campaign in the 93rd minute of game when the game had already been decided. Also on the suspension list is fullback Kang Sang-woo. On the positive side Brazilian duo Teixeira and Gamalho are back in training after injury, with the latter returning to the bench in the last match, but I wouldn't expect either to start at the weekend.

Instead, the ever versatile Lee Sang-ki will fill in at right back for Kang as he has done on numerous occasions this season. Lee Hoo-kwon is the likely candidate for the midfield berth replacing Chapman, which he did in the most recent fixture with Gyeongnam, a two-nil defeat. Lee, and the whole midfield that night, were overrun and will have to perform much better this weekend if Pohang are to take anything from the game.

Gyeongnam travel to The Steelyard with a full bill of health and can welcome back striker Kim Hyo-gi who served a one game suspension midweek for accumulating three yellow cards.

The Adversary

Gyeongnam FC go into the game on Saturday still unbeaten since being beat by Gangwon FC back in the middle of May.  The club is enjoying its best unbeaten run in Korean top flight history at the moment.  Manager Kim Jung-boo has come in for constant praise with all media outlets in recent months with his tactical awareness and the way he has rotated his squad has truly paid dividends in these turgid conditions.  Jung-boo has all the squad knowing their role in the team and every player’s position is up for grabs which in turn is making players who do make the starting eleven play to their full potential.  If a player has an off day the gaffer has no hesitation in dropping that player.  This has been clearly evident when the unfortunate first choice keeper Son Jung-hyun who played the first 19 competitive fixtures and hardly put a foot wrong was replaced by Lee Bum-soo who has been a revelation after coming back into side.

When in the side together, star players Marcao, Kunimoto, and Negueba play some breath-taking football. The understanding with between their games is a pleasure to watch. That togetherness is pushing them to their limits in every game. On paper Gyeongnam shouldn’t be 2nd in K League 1, but the tight knit will to play for each other has pulled The Reds through this campaign.  An Asian Champions League place is a serious proposition now for the southerners. This was truly unthinkable after promotion to the top tier just this year. Simply avoiding relegation was on the agenda back in March when Gyeongnam kicked off against army outfit Sangju Sangmu.

Gyeongnam truly used their get out of jail card on Wednesday night against Ulsan. On the other hand, Pohang put Jeonbuk to the sword and hit five past them. This will be a tight affair, but Gyeongnam may just nick it.

Prediction: Pohang Steelers 1-2 Gyeongnam FC

James Edrupt

Prediction

Pohang put in a stellar performance against the runaway leaders this midweek and will have to put in a similarly enthusiastic performance if they are to get anything from the league's most in-form side.
Their opponents have won their last three away games, though just by the odd goal each time. So I would expect an equally close encounter this weekend, and in the end I expect the spoils to be shared in what is sure to be an entertaining goal-fest.

Pohang Steelers 2-2 Gyeongnam FC


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