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Preview: Suwon Bluewings vs Ulsan Hyundai

Suwon come into this must win game having shot themselves in the foot last weekend, when they succumbed to Pohang, and they now face an uphill battle to qualify for the ACL. Ulsan, on the other hand, can go into this game relaxed, and quietly content knowing that they are virtually guaranteed to be playing in continental competition next year. Ulsan will see this game as ideal preparation for their upcoming FA Cup final clash against Daegu. 

Last Time Out

After a disastrous end to October, in which they crashed out of two cup competitions at the semi-final stage, Suwon may have thought that November could bring about an upturn in fortunes. But those thoughts proved to be fleeting as they were embarrassed by Pohang on their own patch. Pohang took the lead midway through the first half when Kim Do-hyung scored his second goal of the season. A fine strike from Han Eui-kwon brought the home team level just before half time, only for Pohang to strike back in the second half.

Former Austria Wien forward, Lee Jin-hyun, fired Pohang ahead in the 77th minute. And with Suwon pushing for an equaliser, Lee Seok-hyun pounced upon some poor defending to send Pohang home with all three points.

Highlights can be found here.

Meanwhile, Ulsan, uncharacteristically, were comprehensively beaten by runaway leaders, Jeonbuk. First half goals from Son Joon-ho, Han Gyo-won and Kim Jin-su did for Ulsan. Although the away team were able to get a consolation goal, through Junior Negrao, 'the other' Hyundai team were well beaten as they lost vital ground in the fight for second place.

Highlights can be found here.

Previous Meetings

Suwon's woeful league form against Ulsan has continued this season and they are yet to beat Ulsan in the league this year (their only victory against their Hyundai rivals came in a 3-0 victory in the ACL). Suwon have only been able to draw their home games, in the league, whilst Ulsan subjected the Bluewings to two away defeats earlier this year. This was doubled with another recent loss when Ulsan avenged that ACL defeat by knocking Suwon out of the FA Cup, two weeks ago.

It's now three years since Suwon beat Ulsan more than once in a season, and with Suwon on the decline, and Ulsan improving over recent years, that trend looks likely to remain going into 2019.

Team News

Suwon have now lost their last three games and have looked completely lost as a team since their loss to Kashima Antlers in the ACL. The bizarre return of Seo Jung-won, after the manager had resigned his post in September, doesn't appear to have helped matters either. The manager's erratic decisions and constant tinkering with the team has plagued Suwon all season, and it doesn't appear that Seo has learned from any of his earlier mistakes.

On the odd occasion when both Dejan and Park Ki-dong have been played alongside each other, they have been devastating (see the 3-0 victory over Jeonbuk and the rousing 2nd half comeback against Kashima) and the team has performed well as a collective unit. But despite this, Park, a target man with limited mobility, was put out on the right-wing for the majority of the game against Pohang, and as a result, Suwon struggled to get any forward momentum in the game.

That loss, barring some unlikely results over the next few weeks, saw Suwon's season effectively ended. They now lie one point behind Pohang, but with games against Ulsan, Gyeongnam and Jeju remaining it is difficult to see how they can finish in 4th place in the table.

Seo Jung-won arrived back just in time to preside over Suwon's elimination from the ACL and FA Cup. If he had managed to win one of those cups then he would have most likely have continued in his role, much like he did in 2016, despite Suwon finishing 7th in the table. But now that he has lost those he surely must pay with his job. The time is up on Seo and these three last games of the season should be his final with the club.

The Adversary

Last weekend did not go entirely to plan for Kim Do-hoon's Ulsan. Their meeting with Jeonbuk was supposed to be a tight affair which would act as a preview to a much closer title race in 2019.  But if this game was indeed a microcosm of next year's campaign,  then it looks like we are in for a remarkably familiar story. Early on a combination of lackadaisical defending and disjointed attacking meant the Horangi were 3-0 down at halftime with a mountain to climb. Stop me if you've heard this before... Ulsan did improve in the second half after the introduction of Han Seung-kyu, who forced a string of excellent saves from Son Bum-keun, but in truth, Jeonbuk were never really in any trouble of losing their lead. This was Ulsan's first defeat in six but it meant that they have taken just one point from four games against the Champions this season.  And so, the gulf between the Hyundai clubs is clear to see. And unless the loss of Choi Kang-hee triggers a winter exodus at Jeonbuk, it seems likely to remain into 2019.

The one positive to come out of the weekend's results for Ulsan was Pohang's victory at Saturday's opponents Suwon. It means Kim Do-hoon's men are within a hair's breadth of qualification for the Asian Champions League for the third straight season. The Horangi need just one point from their last three games to be guaranteed of at least a third-place finish, but even if they lost all their remaining fixtures, Pohang would need to win their last three, scoring twelve more goals than Ulsan in the process.

Kim Do-hoon has made it clear though that he is aiming for second place, and so will be fielding his strongest eleven for his side's fourth and final trip of the year to Suwon.  In terms of team news, the Tigers have no suspensions or new injuries to report. Kim Tae-hwan and Lee Myung-jae are likely to return to the fullback slots, while Kim Seung-jun could replace Lee Keun-ho on the left wing.  Meanwhile, Ulsan fans will have been happy to see Lee Jong-ho return to the matchday squad last weekend.  The talismanic striker has been sidelined for much of the season with a knee injury sustained at the tail-end of 2017, playing less than thirty minutes in just two appearances this year. His presence on the field may be just enough to take them above Gyeongnam in the final standings.

Prediction

Ulsan might be focusing on their important FA Cup tie and may well not be prioritising this game too highly. However, given Suwon's current form and the recent meetings between these two teams it is difficult to see Suwon being victorious on Saturday. If Suwon are lucky, they may be able to battle towards a draw, but even that will be too little. Suwon must win this game and that is a result that is highly unlikely.

Suwon Bluewings 0-0 Ulsan Hyundai


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