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Preview: Gwangju FC vs Pohang Steelers

Friday night sees two form K League 1 sides compete looking to push on from mid-table. Gwangju FC host Kim Gi-dong's Pohang Steelers with both sides having won three in their last five. 

Last Time Out

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 1-0 Gwangju FC

Jose Morais' Jeonbuk retained their top spot by scraping past a well-organised Gwangju side whose four-match unbeaten run came to an end. Han Kyo-won's 87th-minute strike condemned the Yellows to a fourth defeat of the season with Park Jin-seop's side sitting in seventh position on 10 points after eight games. A respectable performance for a newly promoted side away to the champions, Gwangju deserved their share of the points and it could have been a different story had Felipe not missed an open goal early in the second half. Latching onto Willyan's through ball, the Brazilian rounded Song Beom-keun but somehow fired over the crossbar.

Recap: Jeonbuk edge past stubborn Gwangju
Pohang Steelers 2-0 Gangwon FC
Pohang moved up to fifth with their first home win since the opening day after three consecutive Steelyard defeats. After a lengthy VAR delay, Stanislav Iljutcenko kept his cool to slot home the opener from the penalty spot on the hour mark. Taking advantage of a Gangwon defensive lapse, Kwon Wan-kyu scored his first goal for the club since 2017 with a cultured finish. From close to the byline, Kwon chipped the keeper to seal the points with ten minutes remaining. 

Previous Meetings

Gwangju have lost their last four games against the Steelers and have never previously beaten Pohang. Sim Dong-woon got on the score sheet in their last meeting as Choi Soon-ho's side put four past the Yellows without reply. Other results in 2017 were closer but four defeats that season went towards Gwangju's eventual relegation. 2016 saw some memorable encounters with Jung Jo-gook a thorn in Pohang's side. A last-minute equaliser in November followed an incredible game in March as Jung's brace had 10-man Gwangju 2-0 up with three minutes remaining. Incredibly Pohang bagged three in as many minutes before Gwangju substitute Kim Jeong-hyun claimed a stoppage time leveler.

Team News

Since the return of influential wingers Eom Won-sang, Kim Jeong-hwan and Willyan, Park Jin-seop has been relatively lucky with injuries and suspensions so far this season. With a small squad to choose from, keeping it in tact is imperative should the Yellows avoid being dragged into a relegation scrap. Veteran defender Kim Chang-soo has taken over Park Jun-hui as regular right back Returning from injury against Jeonbuk, 21-year-old Eom Won-sang wasn't fully fit being taken off after 60 minutes.

Choi Young-jun returned to the midfield against Gangwon having been unavailable against parent club Jeonbuk the week before. Lee Seung-mo was the fall guy for Choi's return despite finishing a well-worked team goal against the champions. Aleksandar Paločević is a key absentee and is expected to be out until late July. Sim Dong-woon came into the starting 11 to replace the Serbian last time out as manager Kim Gi-dong looks to fill the creative void.

The Adversary

Midfield maestro Paločević has really stepped up this season putting in significantly more key passes than any other player in K League 1. Forming partnerships with fellow attack-minded players, the 26-year-old has four goals to his name and his left-footed ingenuity is also benefiting Iljutcenko up front, who stands as the league's second top scorer on six goals. His absence will really be felt by Pohang and give Gwangju hope of controlling the midfield. One man's timely recovery from his own injury troubles is Australian Brandon O'Neill. Having now played 90 minutes for three consecutive games, his performances are steadily improving. 

Pohang have been hitting teams on the break this season, having only put together over 400 passes twice this season and not since round three of K League 1. Restricting Gangwon to just one shot on target, the Steelers allowed Jeonbuk just three shots on Kang Hyeon-mu's goal but conceded twice in defeat after being far too lax in defending a 91st-minute corner. Culpable for poor marking as Kim Min-hyeok took advantage, Manuel Palacios has divided opinion this season. While ranking high in terms of K League dribbles, the Colombian's end product hasn't been the best.

Pohang's Iljutcenko is joined by Song Min-kyu to celebrate against Gangwon.

What To Watch - Ashurmatov's calming presence 

Coming into a run of three straight home fixtures including an FA Cup tie with Gimpo Citizen, the Yellows home form is set to keep them up this season. Park Jin-seop's men have been much more confident at the Guus Hiddink Stadium and even posed Ulsan Hyundai plenty of problems in their 1-1 draw with them. A bolder style starts from playing balls from the back and the player entrusted with that task is Rustam Ashurmatov. Into his second season at the club having signed from Uzbekistan Super League side Bunyodkor, the 23-year-old is forming a good partnership with Hong Joon-ho this season. Something missing in an all too shuffled back line last term, Gwangju have profited from a sturdy back line and Ashurmatov's incisive balls from centre back. His passing stats are usually the highest on the team, showing that boss Park trusts him in possession of the ball.   


Prediction - Gwangju FC 1-0 Pohang Steelers

In its final season of use for footballing purposes, Gwangju's World Cup stadium has garnered seven points from a possible 12 this season. This home advantage might have been diminished for other sides around the world in 2020 but the Yellows still seem to be feeling it. Gwangju should be able to take advantage of Paločević's absence and claim a tight win. 

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