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Preview: Ulsan Hyundai vs. Gangwon FC

Ulsan Hyundai will be desperate to get back to winning ways this Sunday after a frustrating run of results have seen them slip three points off the top of the table.  Meanwhile, two home wins on the trot for Gangwon FC mean they travel south high on confidence and very much in the hunt for Champions League qualification. Ulsan columnist Daniel Croydon previews his high-stakes encounter for us. 

Match: Ulsan Hyundai vs. Gangwon FC
Venue: Ulsan Sports Complex
Kickoff: Sunday September 22th, 2019; 17:00 KST

Last Time Out

Gyeongnam FC 3-3 Ulsan Hyundai
It was a nasty case of deja vu for Ulsan last weekend as, for the second game in a row, the Horangi conceded an injury-time equaliser to relegation-threatened opposition, dropping more valuable points in the process.  This time they had to come from behind as Gyeongnam took the lead first through Deric and then Osman either side of a strike from in-form Ulsan striker Junior.  Lee Dong-kyeong, the Horangi's young attacking midfielder, levelled the tie again before half time, then Junior got his second of the match to give Ulsan a 2-3 lead on the hour.
Ulsan's wild celebrations were short-lived after referee Lee Dong-jun ruled out Kim In-sung's last-gasp strike
The visitors looked to be home and dry as the clock ticked down, but they were left to rue missed chances when Kim Bo-kyung conceded a soft penalty in the 90th minute.  Uros Deric placed the spot-kick high to the right, giving Kim Seung-gyu no chance of any late heroics.  There was still time for the most controversial moment of the match though when Ulsan's Kim In-sung slammed home what he though was the winning goal from a last-ditch corner kick.  Referee Lee Dong-jun initially gave the goal, but chalked it off after looking at the video replay; captain Kang Min-soo was penalised for interfering with play from an offside position, despite the Gyeongnam keeper having a clear sight of Kim's shot.

Video highlights: here

Gangwon FC 2-0 Jeju United  
Meanwhile, Gangwon put a little more daylight between themselves and the bottom half of the table with a fairly routine home win over struggling Jeju.  A first-half brace from the excellent Kim Ji-hyun, the first a close-range volley, the second a neat slotted finish, was enough to seal the three points for the hosts. With ten goals to his name, 23-year-old Kim is now the second top-scoring Korean in the league behind Ulsan's Kim Bo-kyung and is rightfully the current favourite for this year's Young Player of the Year award.

Video highlights: here

Previous Meetings

Ulsan's remarkable record against Gangwon has continued so far this season.  The Horangi bagged a point in Chuncheon early on in the campaign and then took three points in a 2-1 home victory back in July -- Mix Diskerud and Kim Bo-kyung getting the goals on that occasion. Those results meant that the Horangi have managed nine wins and three draws in this fixture since Gangwon's last victory all the way back in May 2012.  The overall record is as one-sided as can be with Gangwon registering two wins, four draws and fifteen losses to Ulsan over the years.   

Team News

Sunday marks the last game of Kim Do-hoon's five-match touchline ban, and if there was any lingering doubt as to whether the manager's absence has had any effect on Ulsan's results, it disappeared totally when the final whistle sounded in Changwon last weekend. Uros Deric's late penalty meant the Horangi have now conceded equalising goals in the last ten minutes against Daegu, Incheon (twice), and Gyeongnam -- all whilst their manager looked on helplessly from the stands.  Meanwhile, Ulsan have slipped three points behind Jeonbuk in the title race, with just one win in their last five outings.

Fortunately, Kim Do-hoon's players have kept their discipline of late as Ulsan have no players suspended for this match.  Brazilian striker Junior has hit some good form again after being given a run in the team; he has four goals in two matches, although a first K League hat trick still remains elusive.

Injury-wise there are no fresh concerns, with longer-term absentees Dave Bulthuis and Jason Davidson unlikely to make an appearance this weekend. 

The Adversary

If any Gangwon team is capable of ending the club's miserable run of results against Ulsan it is this one. Manager Kim Byung-soo has stuck to his ethos of attacking football while successfully melding a mixture of youth and experience.  Kim Ji-hyun has caught the eye of many a K League follower for his hot streak in front of goal, but the midfield trio of Kang Ji-hoon (22), who is eligible again following a one-match suspension, Kim Hyeon-uk (24), and Lee Hyun-sik (23) all deserve a mention too.  The latter will miss this match after a sixth yellow card of the season last time out, but Kim Byung-soo has a ready replacement in the vastly experienced Lee Jae-kwon. Speaking of experience, veteran striker Jung Jo-gook is an option in attack having been rested for the win over Jeju, but the manager may be loathe to disrupt a winning formula. 

Gangwon manager Kim Byung-soo has quietly turned the Chuncheon-based club into top four contenders this year

Prediction

Ulsan haven't been playing that badly of late -- but despite scoring for fun, they have struggled to put daylight between themselves and their opposition due to a combination of lackadaisical defending and some very questionable refereeing. It is easy to see, therefore why the Horangi have dropped behind Jose Morais' impressively tedious Jeonbuk side.

Gangwon caused Ulsan some real problems when they went to the Sports Complex a coulple of months ago, and I wouldn't be surprised if they push the Horangi all the way again on Sunday. But, for all their impressive football, Gangwon have not traveled well of late and find themselves without a win from their last five away trips.  With all that in mind, I expect Ulsan to concede more ground in the title race this weekend, with a third score draw in a row the most likely result.

Dan's Prediction: Ulsan Hyundai 2-2 Gangwon FC



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