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Preview: Busan IPark vs Gwangju FC

K League 2 Preview: Busan IPark vs Gwangju FC

After five draws in a row, second place Busan IPark have one final chance to keep their K League 2 title dreams alive. League leaders Gwangju FC are the visitors on Monday evening, and they bring with them an eight-point advantage as the season enters its final stages. Anything other than a win for the home side will all but end the race for automatic promotion and confirm Gwangju's crown.

Last Time Out

Daejeon Citizen 0-0 Busan IPark

Busan continued their run of dropping points against the division's basement clubs with a disappointing draw against bottom side Daejeon last time out. With Park Jong-woo suspended and Lee Dong-joon, Romulo, Kim Chi-woo, and Lee Jeong-hyeop on the bench, Busan struggled to dominate against a stubborn Daejeon team that recorded its fourth consecutive clean sheet.

In a pedestrian first half, both sides struggled to create clear-cut chances, and it wasn't until 36 minutes that either goalkeeper was called into action. The ball broke kindly for Busan's Soma Novothny on the edge of the box, but Daejeon keeper Park Joo-won stood up well to block the Hungarian's shot. The away team then went close through Park Soo-il, the defender's dipping shot from all of 40 yards forcing an excellent fingertip save from Choi Pil-soo.

Chances remained at a premium in the second half, and although substitute Lee Dong-joon brought some much needed pace and urgency to Busan's play, the away team failed to seriously test Park Joo-won. Daejeon went close through another long-range effort, this time from An Sang-hyun, while Busan's Kim Moon-hwan fired wide after breaking forward from full-back as the game finished goalless.



Gwangju FC 1-0 Bucheon 1995

After a stuttering string of results through the summer, Gwangju recorded their second win on the bounce last weekend at the expense of Bucheon.

The away team threatened early on with a series of efforts from distance, but Gwangju looked dangerous in the opposition half with moments of slick interplay between the front players. Doo Hyun-seok shot narrowly wide from the edge of the area, and Kim Ju-gong was denied by Bucheon keeper Choi Cheol-won after breaking into the box. Bucheon almost went into the break ahead, however. Marlon's drive from 25 yards was initially spilled by Yoon Pyeong-gook, but the Gwangju keeper recovered just in time to prevent the ball from squirming over the line.

Gwangju started the second half brightly, with Willian forcing a flying save from Choi, but the Bucheon custodian could do nothing about Gwangju's next attempt. On 54 minutes Bucheon cleared a corner only as far as Ratinho, and the Brazilian struck a sweet half-volley into the net from 18 yards. Gwangju looked the team more likely to score next, but Lim Min-hyeok and Kim Ju-gong were denied by Choi, and Lee Eu-ddeum's free-kick sailed narrowly over. Bucheon had half-chances to equalize late on, but Marlon and Lim Dong-hyuk both failed to hit the target with headers under pressure, and the match finished 1-0 to the hosts.



Previous Meetings

Of the 17 games played out between Busan and Gwangju, nine have ended in draws, and Busan have only recorded three wins to Gwangju's five. Remarkably, each meeting between the clubs so far this season ended in a 1-1 draw, and in all three games Busan took the lead and surrendered it, twice to last-gasp goals.

If Busan miss out on promotion once again this season, they will look back on their late collapses against leaders Gwangju as one of the key factors. They have finished second in each of the past two seasons, and their mental strength, especially late on in games, has been brought into question on several occasions. This season has been no different.

With Busan seemingly destined for another second place finish, they will not only rue their current run of five straight draws. Felipe's 93rd minute equalizer in May, and Lee Eu-ddeum's 88th minute free-kick in the previous encounter in August will go down as two of Busan's defining moments of the 2019 season.

Team News

Busan IPark coach Jo Deok-jae has a near full-strength squad to choose from for the visit of Gwangju. Right-back Kim Moon-hwan and playmaker Romulo both returned from injury last weekend and should start, while holding midfielder Park Jong-woo returns after missing the draw with Daejeon through suspension.

Kim Chi-woo is likely to replace Park Joon-gang at left-back having been rested last weekend, and Lee Jeong-hyeop could make a return to the starting lineup after featuring only as a substitute in the previous two games. Lee Dong-joon, Han Ji-ho, Kwon Yong-hyun, and Diego Mauricio will compete for starting places on the wings.

Centre-back Cha Young-hwan returned to the club after completing his military service with Sangju Sangmu FC this week. The 29 year-old was a regular at the heart of Busan's defence in the 2016 and 2017 seasons, but injuries restricted his playing time at the army club and he is unlikely to be fit for Monday's clash.

The Adversary

Gwangju's Ratinho has scored in each of the last two games.
For the first five months of the season, Gwangju FC looked untouchable in their march to promotion. They went unbeaten in their first 19 games, winning 13 and conceding only eight goals. A bizarre game in mid-July then threatened to derail their season, a shock 7-1 defeat to FC Anyang providing the first doubts about Gwangju's title credentials.

After that game, Gwangju went on to win only one of their next six, opening the door for second place Busan to close the gap to the top. Busan, of course, went on their own disappointing run, and it looks like normal service has now been resumed at the top of the table. Gwangju looked back to their best in the previous two games, even without their talismanic striker and K League 2 top scorer, Felipe.

Gwangju currently hold an eight point lead over Monday's opponents, and anything other than defeat would all but wrap up the league title and automatic promotion. This Gwangju team is not unbeatable, but their well-drilled defence and exciting attacking play mean that another shock result like the drubbing by Anyang is unlikely to occur again this year.

What To Watch

The Final Five Minutes

Busan's Australian centre-back Aleksandar Susnjar will need to be at his best for the visit of the league leaders.

With so much at stake in this match, Busan cannot afford to sit back and play for a draw. They will need to be at their free-flowing best for this game, and they have the players to do the job. They have guile and experience in the middle of the park in Romulo and Park Jong-woo, goalscorers in Lee Jeong-hyeop and Soma Novothny, and quick, clever creators in Lee Dong-joon and Kim Jin-gyu, among others. No one would bet against Busan taking the game to Gwangju and scoring first, but goalscoring isn't Busan's problem.

Having dropped so many points from winning positions this year, and in all three of their games against Monday's opponents, all eyes will be on Busan's defence in the dying stages of the game. Aleksandar Susnjar and Kim Myung-joon have looked a reasonably solid defensive pairing for large portions of the season, but individual errors have plagued their partnership, and they are not the only culprits in this talented but fragile side.

If Busan are to keep their automatic promotion hopes alive, they will not only need to find a way past Gwangju's watertight defence, but also do what they have failed to do so many times this season: show mental strength in the final few minutes.

Prediction

Gwangju look to be back to their best in recent weeks while Busan have been floundering, but this is the kind of game where form could go out the window. Busan are sure to throw the kitchen sink at their opponents in the hopes of keeping their title hopes alive, but Gwangju won't be easily rolled over. I expect the away team to salvage another draw, and that should be enough to wrap up the title.

Predicted Score:
Busan IPark 2-2 Gwangju FC



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