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Preview: Pohang Steelers vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors


The penultimate game of the season sees fourth placed Pohang Steelers host champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in what is their coach's final away fixture with the club. Pohang are in pole position for the final Champions League place, FA Cup result depending, but still have work to do to complete the job and the visitors will be keen to avenge their heaviest home and away defeats of the season. Pohang Columnist Ross Davis and Jeonbuk's Matthew Binns discuss this Sunday's Championship Group clash.
(image via K League)

Last Time Out

Gyeongnam FC 1-2 Pohang Steelers

Highlights here

The Steelers got the better of second-placed Gyeongnam FC in the fixture before the international break. It was the second time this season that the east coast came out on top by the same scoreline each time. Crucially, it was Pohang's second successive victory on the road and puts them in prime position to claim 4th placed, which ultimately could be the gateway to continental competition next season.

The hosts dominated possession in the opening half but were unable to make the breakthrough or even hit the target as some last-ditch tackling and wayward shooting prevented it. The visitors did manage to get a shot on target, the game's first, just before halftime and it was a beauty. An excellent one-two on the edge of the area, the type of intricate play that Pohang often attempt but rarely pull-off, between Lee Seok-hyun and Lee Keun-ho saw the former curl the ball in off the post for the midfielder's fifth of the season.

The second half saw a reversal in terms of possession but this did not prevent the hosts from equalising. A deep cross was nodded down by the towering Marcão to Choi Young-jun who in one movement controlled and volleyed it emphatically into the goal. With twenty minutes remaining the hosts continued on the front foot and were denied minutes late by a desperate interception by left back Kang Sang-woo. The full-back picked himself up and moments later had impacted at the opposite end, converting Kim Seung-dae cross after breaking away down the opponent's left flank. It was enough to earn the three points and keeps Pohang in the driving seat for fourth with Suwon three points behind them and on a similar goal difference.

Jeju United 0-0 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Highlights here

Jeju managed to hold league champions to a nil-nil draw on the island last round. It was Jeonbuk's third zero-zero of the season, all coming away from home, but it was a result that effectively ended Jeju's slim hopes of reaching the Asian Champions League next year.

Despite ending goalless the game had a fair amount of chances for both sides; the first half was most memorable for Jeju's number 13 Kim Ho-nam rounding Jeonbuk's Song but failed to find the target with the goal gaping. In the second half, the champions hit the bar from a free kick and had a late corner kick cleared off the line as they tried to clinch the three points as they have done so many times this season scoring over 35% of their goals in the last 15 minutes of games.

It wasn't to be however and the result sees Jeju stay in sixth on 48 points while the champions have almost double on 84. The Islanders are two points behind Suwon Bluewings but crucially five behind fourth-placed Pohang with the hope of a return to ACL most likely gone.

Previous Meetings

The Steelers have had the measure of the champions in the past two occasions with a winning margin of three goals each time. The last meeting at the Steelyard ended up 5-2 to the home side in a thrilling encounter with some spectacular strikes. Especially that thunderbastard of a strike from rookie Lee Keun-ho who also managed two assists in their previous encounter that time Pohang coming away from Jeonbuk with a 3-0 win.

The last five meetings have seen an average of five goals a game with the only game in that run having less the three goals being Jeonbuk's win in April at the Steelyard which ended 0-2.

Overall, Pohang is one of a few sides who have won more than they have lost against the Jeolla-do outfit. Pohang has 22 victories to Jeonbuk's 19 but they have come out on top in three of four of the last meetings away from home.

Team News

Pohang will have to make do with their lead defensive midfielder Connor Chapman who picked up his ninth yellow card of the season and so is suspended for the third time this season. The previous games Chapman resulted in two defeats and the hosts will have to find a defensive solution to the midfielder's absence if they wish to get something out of this Sunday's fixture. His replacement could be Lee Hu-kwon who has previously filled in or alongside Chapman, but is himself returning from an absence. Lee was lucky to escape a more serious injury in the Suwon fixture but a nasty gash should have had time to mend during the international break.

Expect Pohang to lineup as usual in the 4-3-3 and rely on the counter attack to test Jeonbuk's backline, which in their previous meetings had been suffering from an injury and selection crisis. Pohang's front three has been heavily rotated this season but mainstay and top scorer Kim Seung-dae is a sure starter most likely alongside Lee Keun-ho who has played well against Jeonbuk, and another.

The Adversary

This season has already proved record-breaking for Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, with the team claiming their highest ever points tally, whilst also surpassing the average points per game record set by FC Seoul in the 2012 season. They still are one goal off surpassing their scoring record in the league though (since it took the twelve team format), set last year at 73. This is also the highest average goals per game recorded in K League history. They are small records, but they are certainly worth breaking when they are obtainable, especially as this match will serve as the penultimate outing for long-serving manager Choi Kang-hee.

With Choi's successor reported to be announced next week, the K League veteran has an opportunity to set a difficult standard for his successor to match. It is Choi's departure that has often looked to have driven this team in their final six games, since wrapping up the title. His influence on his coaching staff and the players who serve him appears to be great, with them appearing to be pulling together to provide the best send-off possible.

Not only that, those who have served under him and think less highly of him know full well that these last few games offer them a perfect opportunity to show and convince the incoming manager that it would be worth retaining their services for next season. Overall, given that there really is nothing left to play for, the side look incredibly motivated.

Jeonbuk will have close to a full-strength squad to choose from, with Hong Jeong-ho the only likely doubt after he picked up an injury against Ulsan Hyundai two rounds ago. Given that the last two outings have seen them field understrength sides due to injuries, Champions League and Asian Games, not to mention the stinging defeats inflicted by Pohang on both occasions, expect nothing less that Choi Kang-hee's strongest eleven for this encounter.

Prediction

Jeonbuk will be keen to get a victory in coach's Choi Kang-hee's last away game as well as seeing an opportunity to enact revenge for the previous two heavy defeats handed out by their hosts this season. Pohang may see value in the draw in this game and pin all hope on the East Coast Derby, which is the final game of the season and comes three days before Ulsan's FA Cup final so they may be distracted in the league.

Predicted Score: Pohang Steelers 1-2 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors



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