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Preview: Pohang Steelers vs Ulsan Hyundai

Ulsan Hyundai make the short trip up the coast to Pohang's Steelyard Stadium this Saturday afternoon for the first East Coast Derby of 2019. The visitors, who sit in second spot just behind Jeonbuk on goals scored, will want to keep their unbeaten away record intact, but they will have to be at their best to beat a Pohang side on a high having registered their first win under the stewardship of new manager and club legend Kim Gi-dong. 

Last Time Out

Pohang Steelers 1-0 Suwon Bluewings
New Steelers manager Kim Gi-dong got his managerial career off to a winning start with victory over fellow surprise strugglers Suwon Bluewings last Friday night. Kim Seung-dae bagged the only goal of the night; a lovely curled effort from the corner of the box. Pohang's first win in four matches meant they climbed above the visitors and now sit in eighth place. Kim Gi-dong's new charges may be unbeaten in four at home, but he will know they must improve quickly if they are going to break into the top half any time soon.

Ulsan Hyundai 2-0 Gyeongnam FC
The Horangi showed their title credentials with a deserved victory over last year's runners-up Gyeongnam FC. The result was particularly impressive as the pressure was on Ulsan to respond to Jeonbuk's dramatic injury-time win over FC Seoul. The two goals that sealed the win were equally well-worked - the first, a tap in from Junior after some good interplay at the top of the box, the second, an incisive breakaway finished off by a tricky diving header from Kim In-sung. Both sides had to make changes to their lineups following important ACL ties earlier in the week, but it was the hosts who showed they have both the strength and depth to challenge for K League honours this year.

Previous Meetings

Ulsan have a pretty good record when they travel up the coast to the Steelyard. They have five victories in their last nine visits dating back to 2013, whereas Pohang have won just twice in that time. The last time these teams met was on the final day of the 2018 season when goals from Lee Keun-ho, Lee Chang-yong, and Junior saw the Horangi come out on top with a 3-1 win. The Steelers last derby win was in March last year when they beat their East Coast rivals 2-1 - Jung Won-jin and Kim Seung-dae scored before Junior pulled one back with his first goal in Ulsan colours.

Team News

Kim Gi-dong will welcome winter-signing Vladan Adžić back to the starting lineup for Saturday's derby. The Montenegran defender missed the Suwon Bluewings game due to a one-match suspension. However, Pohang's joint-top scorer David da Silva is still sidelined as he serves the second of a two-match ban after his red card against Daegu two weeks ago.

Lee Keun-ho made his long-awaited first appearance of the season for Ulsan as an injury-time substitute in last weekend's win over Gyeongnam. The club captain looked ecstatic to be back on the field and received a warm welcome from teammates and fans alike. He could feature again on Saturday, although it is doubtful he will start. Central defender Dave Bulthuis remains a concern after sitting out the Gyeongnam game with a knee injury. Kim Su-an filled in in defence for that match, but he may, in turn, be replaced by the veteran Kang Min-soo. Elsewhere, Shin Jin-ho returns from a two-match ban.

Who To Watch

The pacy attacker Kim Seung-dae is obviously the key man for the hosts. The 28-year-old has now started an amazing 53 K League games in a row for Pohang dating all the way back to October 2017. Elsewhere, it should be worth keeping an eye on exciting young midfilder Lee Jin-hyun. The former Austria Wien player is yet to score this season, but netted five times in his seventeen first-team appearances last year, including a goal in the last East Coast derby on the final day of the 2018 campaign.

The Horangi were excellent all-round against Gyeongnam last Sunday, making it hard to single out any particular dangermen at the moment. But Pohang know that they will have to keep Ulsan's wide men quiet if they hope to get a result in this match. Kim Tae-hwan is certainly in a rich vein of form in his new attacking role. The right wingback set up both goals last weekend, leaving himself tied with Daegu's Cesinha as the league's top assist-maker. On the other wing, Kim In-sung has now joined the long list of K League players with four goals this season. His fantastic headed finish last Sunday means he has already passed his goal record for last season.

Prediction

Pohang legend Kim Gi-dong has finally taken over the reins at the club he made 184 appearances for as a player before his retirement in 2011. He, more than anyone, will know what the derby means to the Steelers fans. But with the two rivals seemingly heading in opposite directions this season, Pohang are sure to have their work cut out if they are to get anything from this game. Ulsan are still unbeaten away from home with two wins and two draws. Kim Do-hoon has made his side rock solid on the road, while the Horangi also boast an electric counterattack that defences across the league are finding hard to stifle. That being said, Pohang have picked up three wins and a draw from their four home matches this season, so clearly the Steelyard remains a tough place for visiting teams to go. Allegiances mean I have to go for an away win, but on derby day the form book often counts for nothing.

Prediction: Pohang Steelers 1-2 Ulsan Hyundai



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