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Preview: Ulsan Hyundai vs. Suwon Bluewings

Ulsan Hyundai welcome Suwon Bluewings to Munsu Stadium this Sunday for a key game in the race for Asian Champions League qualification.  Victory for the hosts would see them move within a point of Suwon in third place, but if the Bluewings could come away with the three points, they would put real daylight between themselves and Ulsan. Daniel Croydon previews this crucial top half tie with help from Scott Whitelock.

Last Time Out

Jeonnam Dragons 1-2 Ulsan Hyundai
Video Highlights here
With difficult games against Suwon and Gyeongnam to come, this was something of a must-win tie for the Horangi.  And despite making tough work of it they managed to snatch victory and dispel any lingering memories of last year's 5-0 thrashing at the hands of the Dragons. Winger Hwang Il-soo won it for Ulsan with the goal his recent good performances have deserved. The ex-Daegu and Jeju man cut in from the right and managed to steer his left-foot shot beyond the unsighted Jeonnam keeper. The win means Ulsan now have some breathing room in fourth spot, three points ahead of Jeju and Pohang, and can concentrate on clawing their way up into ACL contention.

Sangju Sangmu 1-1 Suwon Bluewings 
Video Highlights here
Suwon dropped points again last Saturday, which was made all the worse by Gyeongnam's surprise victory over Jeonbuk.  The draw made it one win in six on the road for the Bluewings, a real change in fortune considering they won their first four away games of the campaign.  Following a first half of few clear cut chances, the game came to light just before the hour mark when the ever alert Dejan latched on to a sloppy back pass and rounded the keeper before coolly slotting home.  It looked like Suwon would go on to take the win, but in the 78th minute it was Suwon's turn to make a mistake; Choi Seung-guen committing a needless foul on the edge of the box. Sangju midfielder Yoon Bitgaram made the resulting free kick look easy as he curled it inside the far post. So it ended all square - one mistake, one goal, and one point for each side.  Suwon will be hoping they can find their form on the road quickly before Gyeongnam climb any further out of sight. 


Previous Meetings

This will be the fourth time these two K League rivals have met this season.  The first league game came back at the beginning of March when they played out a completely forgettable 0-0 draw in front of under 3000 fans at the Big Bird.  That game came just a week before the two would meet again in the Champions League Round of 16, so perhaps neither side wanted to show their hand too early. Infuriatingly for Ulsan fans, their side never actually seemed to play their cards over two legs as they crashed out 3-1 on aggregate thanks to a far more inventive Suwon Bluewings performance in the second leg.  That ACL encounter will certainly add a little extra spice to Sunday's match. A win could help salvage some pride for Kim Do-hoon and his team, whereas a loss would let Suwon rub a bit more salt into Ulsan's wounds.

Team News

Ulsan Hyundai
Ulsan made it through to the last eight of the KFA Cup for the fourth year in a row last Wednesday night. Kim Do-hoon chose a relatively strong eleven for that 2-0 win at Busan, showing again just how seriously he takes the domestic cup competition. Most notably, top scorer Junior Negrao was an unused substitute meaning he should be raring to go when he returns on Sunday.  Centreback Richard Windbicher has missed the last two games with a slight knock, but is expected to be fit to start this match, as is nifty attacker Han Seung-kyu, who should replace Sergio Escudero in the number 10 role.

Lee Jong-ho and Park Joo-ho remain on the injury list.

Suwon Bluewings
The midweek FA Cup game against Cheonan City FC gave Seo Jung-won the opportunity to rest a number of his first team. But with the game going to extra-time and with Saric, Dejan and Yeom Ki-hun all being used from the substitutes bench there may be some tired legs come Sunday evening.  However, Seo Jung-won is still expected to name the same players that have been performing so well as of late and the likes of Ki-hun, Dejan, Saric, Choi Seung-geun, Lee Ki-je, Han Eui-kwon and Cho Won-hee should all be welcomed back to the starting lineup. Captain, Kim Eun-sun, and winger, Waguininho, still remain sidelined with long-term injuries and will not feature.

The Adversary

After a defeat at home to Jeju United in the game proceeding the World Cup break, a good run of form has seen Suwon cement their place in the race for Champions League football in 2019. Victories against Jeonnam, Incheon and Gangwon were supplemented by a solid away draw at Gyeongnam, and a return of eleven points from the twenty-one on offer since the K League restarted is not a bad return. The horiffic injury to Waguininho (the winger is out for the remainder of the season) seems to have galvanized the whole squad, and the shrewd acquisitions of Elvis Saric and Park Jong-woo, in the summer transfer window, have added some much-needed creativity in the center of the park. In fact, the only disappointment for Suwon, throughout July and August, has been the phenomenal form of Gyeongnam FC. The second placed team and Suwon's main rivals for automatic ACL group stage qualification appear to be going from strength to strength and Suwon are in a real battle to claim the runners-up spot in the league.

Two victories in the FA Cup see Suwon unbeaten in six games, but the away trip to Ulsan is their most difficult fixture since they succumbed to Jeonbuk in mid-July. Like Ulsan, Suwon have struggled when facing the top 5 teams from last season, winning only one out of the last 6 league meetings and failing to perform in games against the bigger names in K League this season. If Suwon are to keep pace with Gyeongnam then this is the game where they need to lay down a marker and the only way to do that is to win.

by Scott Whitelock

Who To Watch

Mix Diskerud
The US international has slotted straight into the Horangi midfield and has already impressed in a deep-lying playmaker role.  'Mix' as the name on his shirt reads, was brought in as a cool head in the center of the park to help Ulsan retain the ball for longer periods of the game - something Kim Do-hoon's side have struggled with, especially against their top half rivals.  This makes the Suwon game the first real test for arguably Ulsan's highest profile summer signing. Watch for the 27-year-old dropping deep to collect the ball off the back four before swiping an accurate raking pass into the feet of wingers Hwang Il-soo or Kim In-sung.  Mix has also shown great technique and some neat positive balls in the final third, although in his current role he often doesn't get into advanced attacking positions.

Prediction

Both Ulsan and Suwon are on good unbeaten runs, but they both struggle to see off top-half opponents (Ulsan have a total of zero wins, three draws and four losses against Jeonbuk, Suwon, Jeju, and Gyeongnam in the K League this season. Their last win against 2018's top 3 came at Jeonbuk more than 12 months ago).  So this is a crucial game for both sides then as a win would represent a massive psychological boost ahead of the do or die encounters of autumn.

Having said that I'm going to stick with form and go for a score draw in this one. I expect late drama as both these teams have scored around a third of their goals in the last 15 minutes. So it will finish 1-1, with Suwon getting a last-minute equalizer to break Horangi hearts all over again.

Ulsan Hyundai 1-1 Suwon Bluewings 

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