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Preview: Ulsan Hyundai vs. Sangju Sangmu

Ulsan Hyundai have a chance to go clear at the top of the K League 1 table when they face Sangju Sangmu at the Sports Complex this Wednesday evening.  Will the Horangi make it four wins a row on their home turf? Dan Croydon previews this one for us.

Last Time Out

Ulsan Hyundai 2-1 Gangwon FC
A hard fought win for Ulsan last Sunday evening saw them keep pace with league leaders Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.  The Horangi had to come from behind after a headed goal from the excellent Kim Ji-hyun gave Gangwon the goal that their bright start deserved.  That goal made it eight for the season and four in three games for the impressive 23-year-old midfielder.

However, with the second-half introduction of Kim Bo-kyung alongside playmaker Mix Diskerud, Ulsan stepped up a gear. The two gifted midfielders put together a couple of glorious moves as Ulsan finally overwhelmed the Gangwon defence. First, Kim Bo-kyung picked out Hwang Il-soo on the left, who delivered a low cross for Mix to side foot home; then Mix returned the favour with a sublime back-heeled assist that gave Kim the space to pick his spot from the edge of the box.  Despite conceding a lot of possession to Gangwon, the hosts held on to the lead and came away with three more vital points. 
Highlights here

Sangju Sangmu 2-0 Daegu FC
Sangju's unpredictable form continued Sunday night when they ran out comprehensive winners against a faltering Daegu FC. A goal either side of the break gave the hosts their first win in four and condemed Daegu to their first away loss since mid-May.

Korean international Jo Hyun-woo started in goal for the Sky Blues, despite near-constant rumours of an imminent move abroad -- and he looked to be Daegu's hero again on 13 minutes when he stopped a weak penalty for Sangju's top scorer Park Yong-ji.  But he wasn't able to keep out a second spot-kick ten minutes later, this time from the talismanic Yoon Bit-garam.

The military men doubled their lead just after the break with a well-worked goal -- Park Yong-ji slipped Lee Tae-hee through Daegu's offside trap and the full-back nicked the ball over Jo before tapping home from close range.  It was no more than Sangju deserved, as their progressive play and constant runs in behind the Sky Blue defense thoroughly entertained the 3000 in attendance.   
Highlights here

Previous Meetings

The Horangi have by far the better record overall -- 29 wins home and away, compared to just six for Sangju.  Most recently, Ulsan have won four of the last five league meetings between these two clubs, including a slender 1-0 victory in Sangju back in April.  Joo Min-kyu bagged his first goal for the Horangi that day against the side he spent two of his most productive years with. It is safe to say Joo loves this fixture, having scored a brace for the military men at Munsu back at the end of the 2017 season, and the second goal in a 2-0 win at the beginning of 2018 -- Sangju's last victory in Ulsan.

Joo Min-kyu celebrates scoring for Sangju against Ulsan back in March 2018 

Team News

Joo Min-kyu may not start this Wednesday though, as the sweltering heat of the Korean summer could convince Kim Do-hoon to use his squad depth and rotate his first XI.  Junior Negrao, who was an unused substitute against Gangwon, is waiting in the wings to add to the eight league goals he already has to his name this campaign.   Full-backs Park Joo-ho and Kim Tae-hwan were both suspended last time out, but are eligible again for Sangju.  However, midfielder Shin Jin-ho picked up another yellow, so he will not be featuring. Expect Kim Bo-kyung to start in his place, flanked by U22 player Lee Sang-heon and either Hwang Il-soo or Kim In-sung.

Finally, it was announced this week that Dave Bulthuis will not be featuring in the K League All-Stars game against Juventus this Friday due to injury.  So obviously, he will not be taking to the field on Wednesday either, meaning Kang Min-soo will most likely play alongside Bulthuis' replacement in the All-Star squad, Yun Young-sun.

The Adversary

Sangju currently sit solidly mid-table in seventh spot.  Although many tipped the military club to struggle this year, their eight wins, four draws, and nine losses put them well above the drop zone at this point.  However, their recent form, particularly on the road, has hinted at weaknesses at both ends of the pitch.  Kim Tae-wan's men have lost four of their last five away from home and have kept only one clean sheet on their travels all season, which came in a 0-0 draw back in April against a Suwon Bluewings side that was really struggling at the time.

Sangju don't score many on the road either -- they have eight away goals all season, with only Incheon United scoring fewer.  Bearing in mind then that Ulsan have not conceded more than a single goal in any home game this season, it seems Sangju certainly have their work cut out for them on Wednesday night.

Yoon Bit-garam has appeared in all of Sangju's games this season, scoring five goals in the process
If Sangju are to get anything out of this game, they are going to need big performances from their central midfield duo of Yoon Bit-garam and Lee Gyu-seong.  With head coach Kim Tae-wan often preferring two upfront, the ever-present midfielders will have the job of stifling Ulsan's creative core.  That certainly won't be easy though, considering Ulsan's squad depth, and the oppressive humidity of summer evenings here in Korea.

Prediction

Early on in the season, Ulsan fans would worry about their side conceding first  -- did the Tigers have the mental strength to drag themselves back into matches?  This concern stemmed from two years of watching Kim Do-hoon's side struggle to find a way to grind out results. However, after recent comebacks at Seoul and Jeonbuk, coupled with Sunday night's vital win over an impressive Gangwon team, the Horangi faithful are starting to believe their team can find ways to take something from every game, even if they are not firing on all cylinders for the full ninety.

This may be the case again this Wednesday night. Although they have had a hard time of things away from home, Sangju are definitely no push-overs.  Moreover, Ulsan will be nervous, knowing they have an excellent chance to go clear at the top.  So I'm not expecting an easy night for the Horangi -- but I do think Ulsan have the mentality to take the three points, perhaps by a single goal margin.

Prediction: Ulsan Hyundai 1-0 Sangju Sangmu



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