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Preview: Pohang Steelers vs. Ulsan Hyundai

It's the third and potentially final East Coast Derby of the season this Sunday, and for both Ulsan Hyundai and Pohang Steelers there is more on the line than just bragging rights.  Ulsan currently sit two points clear at the top of the K League 1 looking to take a step closer to their first title in 14 years, while for Pohang it is all about a top-half finish and a late Asian Champions League qualification push. Ulsan columnist Dan Croydon offers his thoughts ahead of this much-anticipated game. 
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Match: Pohang Steelers vs. Ulsan Hyundai
Venue: Steelyard Stadium
Kickoff: Sunday, October 6th, 2019; 14:00 KST

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Last‌ ‌Time‌ ‌Out

Gyeongnam 0-1 Pohang Steelers 
The Steeler's made it three wins in three against Gyeongnam this year with a narrow victory at Changwon last weekend.  German striker Stanislav Iljutcenko got his seventh goal since arriving in Pohang four months ago when he applied a cool finish to a Wanderson through ball in the first half.  Gyeongnam were disappointing and were unable to muster any real comeback as Pohang's defence proved strong enough to repel efforts from Deric and Kim Hyo-gi.

The three points were enough to see Pohang move up into sixth place, two points ahead of Sangju Sangmu, meaning victory over Ulsan would see them into the top half of the split as we move into the final five rounds of matches.
Video Highlights: here

Ulsan Hyundai 2-0 Gangwon FC
As much of Ulsan was taking shelter from Typhoon Mitag, 1,568 hardy souls were at the Sports Complex to see Ulsan return to the top of K League 1.  That the game went ahead in such horrible conditions was amazing enough, but the fact the Horangi managed to put in such a measured and tactically astute performance was truly remarkable and a real testament to the quality of Kim Do-hoon's team.

After a goalless first half that saw both sides miss chances, Ulsan moved up a gear and took the lead on 50 minutes, Junior Negrao beating the offside trap and slotting home his sixteenth of the season⁠—the goal that sees him draw level with Suwon's Adam Taggart in the race for the Golden Boot.

Ulsan's Kim In-sung has now scored as many goals this season as in the previous three seasons combined 

Kim Seung-gyu continued his fine form by fending off several low shots in increasingly apocalyptic conditions before the Horangi sealed the points with ten minutes to go, Junior turning provider on the break as he squared the ball for Kim In-sung to net his ninth of the season.
Video Highlights: here
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‌ ‌ Previous‌ ‌Meetings

Part of the continuous appeal of this rivalry is that it has always been such a tightly contested fixture. Ulsan just edge the overall head to head with 21 wins to the Steelers' 19, and lead by the same margin at the Steelyard, 11 wins to 10. Both teams have tasted derby success this season: Pohang inflicted Ulsan's first away defeat of the season with a 2-1 victory in early May, Lee Jin-hyun and Kim Seung-dae getting the goals in a comeback win; while Ulsan had their revenge in the return fixture, a goal from Kang Min-soo being the only difference between the sides on that occasion. 

One extra little stat to bear in mind when these old rivals meet on Sunday: Ulsan have failed to score at the Steelyard just once in their last 13 visits, but have kept only three clean sheets in that same period⁠. Put simply, this game is usually good for a few goals.
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‌ ‌ Team‌ ‌News

Pohang are in their best form of the season at the moment, recording five wins in their last six games and four wins on the trot at home.  Manager Choi Soon-ho has the excellent performances of Wanderson to thank, along with the relationship the Brazilian winger has built up with new striker ⁠Stanislav Iljutcenko. The 6'2" German has netted seven times in 13 appearances since signing from MSV Duisburg in June, with Wanderson providing many of those scoring opportunities.

Without Iljutcenko (L) Brazilian winger Wanderson will be Pohang's main threat on Sunday

Ulsan fans will be happy to hear then that Iljutcenko will be missing on Sunday having received his third K League booking at Gyeongnam last weekend. It comes as a major blow from Choi Soon-ho, as amongst the players eligible for Sunday's match, only Wanderson has scored more than twice this campaign.

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‌ ‌ The‌ ‌Adversary

Ulsan will make the short trip up the coast to Pohang with sky-high confidence after they came out on top in their battle against both Gangwon and the elements last Wednesday night. Brazilian striker Junior Negrao and Korea's No. 1 Kim Seung-gyu continued their fantastic form, while rock-solid defender Dave Bulthuis came off the bench to make his long-awaited return from injury.  There was also an impressive debut from summer signing Jason Davidson who showed his versatility by switching to midfield once Bulthuis came on.

One of the few negative points from Wednesday night's victory came just minutes after kick-off when midfielder Shin Jin-ho twisted his right knee in a pretty innocuous-looking tussle.  He now looks unlikely to play against his former team this weekend, but with Mix Diskerud and Kim Bo-kyung ready to return to the first XI, Kim Do-hoon has some top-notch cover.

Kim In-sung will also miss out after collecting three yellow cards, while Park Joo-ho is still a doubt as he recovers from a gash to the knee suffered late on in the win over Seongnam last weekend.
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‌ ‌Prediction

Pohang know that a win would guarantee them a top-half finish for the second year in a row, and could keep them in the running for a Champions League spot if the FA Cup goes to Suwon.  There is no denying they are in great form, especially at home, and they won't need telling what victory over Ulsan would mean to the fans.

The Horangi are on an equally stellar run though, with wins over Seongnam, Suwon, and Gangwon making the slip-ups at Incheon and Gyeongnam a distant memory.  The return of Bulthuis should shore up Ulsan's defence, while the varied goal threat from Kim Bo-kyung, Junior, and Joo Min-kyu will keep Kang Hyeon-mu busy in the Steelers' net.

The East Coast Derby is always a tough game to call, as these matches are often decided by a single goal, but the manner of Ulsan's win over Gangwon last time out has convinced me that Ulsan have enough to get the result they need to stay top as we go into the final rounds of this rollercoaster K1 season.

Dan's Prediction: Pohang Steelers 1-3 Ulsan Hyundai 
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