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Preview: Ulsan Hyundai vs. Gangwon FC

Ulsan Hyundai can take a step closer to their first league title since 2005 when they host fifth-placed Gangwon FC this Saturday evening.  The Horangi still top the table by a point over Jeonbuk, but with Gangwon coming from behind to beat FC Seoul last weekend, the visitors will be no pushovers. Ulsan columnist Dan Croydon previews this crucial top-half matchup.

Match: Ulsan Hyundai vs. Gangwon FC
Venue: Ulsan Sports Complex
Kickoff: Saturday, October 26th, 2019; 18:00 KST

Last Time Out

Daegu FC 1-2 Ulsan Hyundai 

With Jeonbuk reclaiming top spot earlier in the day thanks to a 3-0 win over Pohang, the pressure was piled on Ulsan to match that result at Daegu.  This was already looking to be a tricky tie for the Horangi though, as they had not beaten Daegu at the last five times of asking.  The eventual hard-fought victory then was of huge relief to Kim Do-hoon's men, and will have bread even more belief that Ulsan can go on to lift the trophy that has evaded them for fourteen years.

Ulsan had a golden chance to take the lead inside the first six minutes when Daegu defender Kim Woo-seok clattered into Junior as the Brazilian bore down on goal, but Ulsan's top scorer couldn't find a way past Jo Hyeon-woo from the spot.  The Horangi did take the lead on 23 minutes when Mix Diskerud robbed the hesitant Jeon Tae-wook and found the bottom corner with a neat finish.
Heartbreak and joy as the final whistle sounded at DGB Arena last weekend
Daegu created chances throughout the match, and they finally drew level early in the second half thanks to a great run and strike from Brazilain playmaker Cesinha. But Ulsan were not to be denied, and they found a winning goal in the 80th minute when Joo Min-kyu, fresh off the bench, side-footed home a Kim Bo-kyung cross with his first touch of the game.  The traveling contingent had their hearts in their mouths in the dying moments when Daegu's Edgar headed over from close range, but it was pure elation at the final whistle as the Horangi returned to the top of the K League, holding a slender one-point advantage with just four matches remaining in this remarkable season.
 
Video highlights here 

Gangwon FC 3-2 FC Seoul
In the earlier kickoff, Gangwon kept their dreams of Asian Champions League qualification alive by staging a late comeback against third-placed FC Seoul.  The visitors had the lead twice—first through a debut K League goal from 19-year-old attacker Lee In-gyu, then the veteran Park Chu-young. Park's goal, a well-placed header in the 83rd minute, looked to have taken the capital club a step closer to cementing third place, but Gangwon found a way back into the game minutes later thanks to a sublime freekick from summer signing Lee Young-jae.  Seoul's international midfielder Ju Se-jeong then saw red after something he said to the ref, before Lee Hyun-sik, who had scored Gangwon's first equaliser early in the game, popped up with a 92nd-minute winner to end his side's miserable run of four matches without a victory.

Video highlights here

Previous Meetings

This will be Gangwon's third trip to Ulsan this year, the last of which came earlier this month.  The Horangi recorded a 2-0 victory that night in the midst of Typhoon Mitag, thanks to goals from Junior and Kim In-sung. That was Ulsan's second win of the season over Gangwon, the first being a 2-1 victory in the heat of July. 

Kim In-sung grabbed Ulsan's second goal when the two sides met on a night of heavy rain earlier this month 
The overall record between these two clubs is very much in Ulsan's favour; the Horangi have lost to Gangwon just twice in their entire history, and they remain unbeaten in this fixture since 2012. Gangwon's last win did come in Ulsan, but the Horangi have won all six home meetings since then.

Team News

Kim Do-hoon will be without one of his most creative players this Saturday as Kim Bo-kyung serves a one-match suspension for his sixth booking of the season.  Lee Keun-ho, Hwang Il-soo, and even Joo Min-kyu are all options to replace the on-loan playmaker.  Meanwhile, central defender Dave Bulthuis took a heavy blow to the knee at Daegu last weekend and may be rested, with Yun Young-sun the likely partner for Kang Min-soo at the back.

The Adversary

Bosnian striker Nemanja Bilbija was a surprise inclusion in the Gangwon lineup for their win over FC Seoul last weekend. The former Zrinjski man has yet to score in Korea having made just three appearances in eight months in Chuncheon.  However, his manager Kim Byung-soo may elect to start him again as Gangwon are without their breakout strike partnership of Kim Ji-hyun and Cho Jae-wan for the rest of the season.

Midfield maestro Lee Young-jae has taken some of the goalscoring responsibility left by Kim and Cho in recent weeks. The former Ulsan man has netted six times in his ten appearances in orange following his move from Gyeongnam in the summer.  Lee, who made 62 league appearances in three seasons at Ulsan, would surely love to put one over on his former employers. 
Lee Young-jae (c) has quickly become a fan favourite since his move to Chuncheon
Elsewhere, club captain Oh Beom-seok returns from suspension, as does Japanese full-back Nakazato Takahiro.

Prediction

Gangwon have proven to be full of surprises this season.  A few pundits (myself included) had them down as relegation contenders at the start of the campaign, but with their never-say-die attitude and no shortage of technique, Kim Byung-soo's side are still in a position to qualify for continental competition next year. 

However, it is no secret that Gangwon continue to struggle away from home.  They have taken just two points from their last seven games on the road, meaning Ulsan must be firm favourites for Saturday's game.

The Horangi kick off later than Jeonbuk for the second week running, but whatever the result in Jeonju, Kim Do-hoon will have one simple message for his players—win this game.  As we saw in Daegu last time out, Ulsan tend to make life difficult for themselves at some point during the ninety minutes, but with so much on the line, and with the quality they have in the squad, Ulsan will most likely come out on top again. 

Dan's Prediction: Ulsan Hyundai 2-0 Gangwon FC



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