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Preview: Ulsan Hyundai vs. Incheon United

Third placed Ulsan Hyundai take on bottom club Incheon United this Saturday evening in their first match at their temporary home of Ulsan Sports Complex. Horangi manager Kim Do-hoon will want to get back to winning ways quickly after last weekend's frustrating draw in Seoul.  And, with Incheon registering just one win in their last sixteen outings, he will see this as an ideal opportunity for three points.  Ulsan columnist Dan Croydon previews this match for us.  

Last Time Out

 FC Seoul 2-2 Ulsan Hyundai
In a highly controversial game, Ulsan managed to salvage a deserved point late on thanks to an equaliser from midfield maestro Kim Bo-kyung.  Victory for either team would have seen them take top spot in the league, so this was always going to be a tense affair.  But few would have predicted just how much drama would be crammed into the ninety plus minutes.

Ulsan created most of the early chances and took the lead inside ten minutes thanks to a long-range strike from Kim Tae-hwan.  Hwang Il-soo missed a golden chance to make it two nil shortly after, when he hit the bar in a one-on-one with Seoul 'keeper Yoo Sang-hun.

The Horangi were left to rue their profligacy, as ruthless finishes from Alibaev and Park Dong-jin saw the hosts go into the break 2-1 up.  In an uncharacteristic move, Ulsan's Kim Do-hoon threw caution to the wind early in the second half by bringing on Junior to play alongside Joo Min-kyu in a 4-4-2. The move soon paid off though, as the Horangi piled the pressure on the Seoul defence.

Then, in a frantic final half an hour, referee Jeong Dong-sik took centre stage, as he twice ruled Junior offside when Ulsan thought they had brought the game level.  Both of those calls were incredibly close, but there seemed to be no question when Jeong went to VAR a third time; the footage showed Seoul defender Kim Won-sik clumsily swiping a cross away with his arm before it could reach the waiting Junior.  The stadium braced itself for a penalty - but to the astonishment of everyone, Jeong waved play on.

There was a mixture of joy and relief from the Ulsan bench then when Kim Bo-kyung's header hit the back of the net on 90+7 minutes; Ulsan definitely warranted something from the game.  But those emotions quickly turned back to frustration and anger, as it became clear that the officials had yet again played an unwanted role in this year's title race.

Highlights here 

Incheon United 1-2 Gangwon FC
Incheon failed to win at home for the seventh time in a row after they gave away an early lead against in-form Gangwon FC last weekend. Stefan Mugosa marked his return to the starting lineup with a well-taken opener inside the first ten minutes, but the hosts were their own worst enemies again, as Kim Jin-ya inexplicably blocked a cross with his hands to give away a penalty early in the second half.  Veteran striker Jung Jo-gook slotted home from the spot, and was then on hand to give Gangwon the lead just after the hour with a lovely run and finish.

It was Gangwon's second comeback win in a row, following on from their spectacular 5-4 victory over Pohang Steelers.  Meanwhile, Incheon would love a win of any sort, as the bottom club have taken maximum points just once in sixteen K League matches.

Highlights here

Previous Meetings

Incheon have won three, drawn one, and lost just one of the last five trips to Ulsan - a fact that manager Yoo Sang-chul is bound to point out to his side as he tries to breathe some belief into them. In fact, the overall record when the teams meet in Ulsan is pretty close, with the hosts registering ten wins to Incheon's eight.

Ulsan did win the first meeting this season back in mid-April by a score of three to nil. An early goal from Junior settled the visitors into the game, then a late brace from this season's most improved Horangi, Kim In-sung, sealed the win.

Team News

Ulsan welcomed back their familiar back four last weekend, with Lee Myeong-jae and Kim Tae-hwan playing either side of first-choice centre halves Yun Young-sun and Dave Bulthuis.  It is a solid defensive unit that will probably only be unsettled by new signing Jason Davidson. However, the Australian left back may still be a few weeks from full match fitness.

Midfield playmaker Mix Diskerud looked to be in pain when he left the pitch midway through the second half at Seoul last week.  If he is not fit for Saturday, expect Park Yong-woo to return alongside Shin Jin-ho and Kim Bo-kyung.  In attack, Hwang Il-soo was preferred to Kim In-sung last time out, and Joo Min-kyu was picked ahead of Junior.  Both players looked dangerous but were guilty of missing good chances, so Kim Do-hoon may elect to drop them to the bench for this one.

The Adversary

There was some good news for Incheon last weekend; ex-Ulsan defender and marquee winter signing Lee Jae-sung finally got his first start of the season against Gangwon FC.  Incheon fans will be hoping the 30-year-old centre back, signed from Jeonbuk in the offseason, will provide some much-needed leadership to United's inexperienced backline.

Lee Jae-sung has a huge role to play in Incheon's relegation battle

The main problem for United this season has not been in defence though; the issue is they can't find a way to put the ball in the net.  Incheon have scored just ten goals this season. For comparison, the next worst team is Seongnam with 16, while fellow relegation candidates Jeju have 19. Incheon's top scorer last season Stefan Mugosa has clearly been starved of service, while Jiloan Hamad has only shown glimpses of his ability since his arrival.

On that note, Incheon striker Nam Jun-jae officially made his way to Jeju in exchange for the midfielder Kim Ho-nam in a move that seems inexplicable taken on its own merits. Incheon fans must be hoping it is part of a wider squad shake-up as Yang Sang-chul aims to improve his underperforming attack.  If further transfer are planned, they will come too late for this game, so Yoo will be limited to the usual suspects this Saturday.

What to Watch

Junior or Joo?
Ulsan's Brazilian striker has been going through something of a dry spell recently.  Last year's third highest scorer in K League 1 started this campaign well enough, but has netted just two times in his last ten appearances.  Junior will be desperate to get back amongst the goals this weekend, but he may have to do it off the bench, as ex-Seoul E-Land striker Joo Min-kyu has started ahead of him twice in recent weeks - away at Urawa and FC Seoul.  Junior still appears to be Kim Do-hoon's first choice, especially when Ulsan are at home.  But it will be interesting to see who the manager picks for this match, with the Horangi expected to find the net at least a couple of times.
Joo Min-kyu has scored one goal in nine appearances for his new club

Yoo Sang-chul returns to Ulsan 
Incheon United's manager knows his opposition well, having made over a hundred appearances for the Horangi during three different spells in the mid-90s and early-2000s.  The World Cup 2002 hero is also the former coach of Ulsan University, who have close ties to the Hyundai club.  Yoo has returned to Munsu Stadium twice as a manager, first with Daejeon Citizen back in 2012, when his relegation-threatened team lost 2-0; and then again last season when his team, the Jeonnam Dragons, managed to take home a point.  Yoo is remembered very fondly by the Ulsan faithful and is sure to receive a warm reception this Saturday.


Prediction

With no continental distractions and a chip on their shoulder following last weekend's controversy, Ulsan will go into this match hungry to get back to winning ways.  Add to that the fact that their last home match in the league was three weeks ago, and they have a (sort of) new stadium to christen, the Horangi fans will be out in force, so there are no excuses whatsoever for Kim Do-hoon's men this weekend.

Incheon have done well against Ulsan in recent years, but with a paltry five goals away from home this season, United are sure to find it incredibly hard to get back into the match if they concede.

While I do not expect Ulsan to steamroller their opposition this weekend - they rarely do - I cannot see anything other than a home win - most likely by a two-goal margin.

Dan's Prediction:  Ulsan Hyundai 2-0 Incheon United    



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