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Preview: Pohang Steelers Vs. Incheon United

Preview: Pohang Steelers vs Incheon United

High flying Pohang Steelers welcome basement boys Incheon United to the Pohang Steel Yard on Sunday, July 26. Can Pohang stretch their remarkable run of form against a winless Incheon side? Pohang Steelers columnist Shibajee Das previews the match. 

Last Time Out

FC Seoul 1-3 Pohang Steelers

The Steelers travelled to the capital to take on FC Seoul at the Seoul World Cup Stadium. The visitors were coming into this match on the back of a four-game unbeaten run in the league. Kim Gi-dong opted to start Lee Gwang-hyeok in place of Shim Dong-woon, whereas opposing manager Choi Yong-soo surprisingly left Park Chu-young on the bench. Pohang had the first meaningful chance of the game to open the scoring when veteran defender Kim Kwang-suk struck the upright from a corner. The visiting goalkeeper Kang Hyeon-mu then made a misjudgement of a long ball, and Cho Young-wook lifted the ball into the unguarded net in the 37th minute.

Pohang came out the more determined in the second half, and two of their in-form players combined to draw them level. Manuel Palacios laid the ball on a plate for Stanislav Iljutchenko, and the Russian striker scored an easy leveller in the 52nd minute. Palacios then produced one of his trademark runs, bulldozing past a couple of defenders, before being tripped by Seoul shot-stopper Yu Sang-hun. After a lengthy VAR check, the referee pointed to the spot and Iljutchenko made no mistake from 12 yards. It was the hosts' turn then to strike the post, albeit a deflected shot before Kang made a couple of smart saves. This was followed by the long-awaited return of Aleksandar Palosevic, who tested the goalkeeper with a well-struck free-kick. The points were confirmed in stoppage time when the Serbian midfield maestro set up Palacios, who produced a composed finish and register a goal that his performance richly deserved.

Incheon United 1-1 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Bottom club Incheon played hosts to defending champions Jeonbuk at the Incheon Football Stadium. Ji Eon-hak gave the Mariners a shock lead after he found himself free on the edge of the box and swept the ball past visiting goalkeeper Song Bum-keun, in the 6th minute. It was an end-to-end contest with both sides having an attacking impetus. Stefan Mugosa shot wide with a presentable opportunity for Incheon, whereas Jeonbuk clearly lacked the bite in front of goal.

The second half pattern saw, Jeonbuk committing men forward and Incheon trying to hit them on the counter. However, the home side failed to score a second goal, with a couple of decent chances on the break and Jeonbuk made them pay with Lee Seung-gi's perfectly placed shot that Incheon custodian Kim Dong-heon could only watch nestle into the net. But the hosts didn't let their shoulders drop and held firm to pick up a hard-earned point, that could come in handy at the end of the season.

Previous Meetings

Pohang and Incheon have faced each other on 49 occasions. Pohang has the upper hand in the head-to-head record winning 22 matches and losing 14, whereas 13 matches have ended in a draw.

The last match between these two teams took place on 31st May in the reverse fixture in the league this season. Pohang registered a comfortable 4-1 victory that day, with four different goalscorers getting on the score sheet.   

Team News

Kim Gi-dong could opt to start Lee Seung-mo in place of Choi Young-jun, and Shim Dong-woon could also be reinstated into the starting lineup. The manager could also throw Aleksandar Palosevic into the fray, for his first league start since his injury layoff. Rotating the squad will be key at this stage of the season, especially with another trip to Seoul for the FA Cup quarter-finals on the horizon.

For Incheon, Lim Joong-yong is currently assuming the role of a caretaker manager after the departure of Lim Wan-seop. Australian midfielder Rashid Mahazi continues to nurse an injury, so is club captain Kim Ho-nam. Song Si-woo and Lee Je-ho could return to the lineup and new arrival Oh Ban-seok could also make his bow. 

The Adversary

Incheon United have been the whipping boys of the league this season. They are yet to win a single match in 12 attempts and have picked up a meagre 4 points all season. Just 6 goals in 12 matches are not good enough. The black-and-blues had just managed to beat the drop last season finishing 10th, and a similar finish this time around would be termed as the 'Great Escape', particularly with the position that they find themselves now in.

However, Elias Aguilar's return has provided the much-needed solidity in midfield for Incheon, coupled with Ji Eon-hak's crucial goals. In the last couple of league matches, they have displayed enormous spirit and hardly looked like a team that are rooted at the bottom of the table. They had managed to bag an unlikely point against Sangju Sangmu, with a dramatic stoppage-time goal, after playing the last 30 minutes with nine men. Last week, they delivered a fearless performance against the mighty Jeonbuk, which showed that this side will fight for their lives till the very end.     

What To Watch

Can Kim Gi-dong utilize his in-form players wisely?

The Steelers are pushing the table-toppers in the league, and are currently just three points off second-placed Jeonbuk. However, with a FA Cup quarter-finals midweek trip to Seoul, followed by a massive away game against Jeonbuk in the league, Kim Gi-dong will have plenty to ponder upon. A return to the AFC Champions League next season is the dream for all Pohang fans. Utilizing the in-form players, so that they are not fatigued and stay injury-free, could make all the difference.

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If Incheon shows their never-say-die attitude again, it could result in a tighter contest than expected. But Pohang is in imperious form, and show no signs of slowing up. The Steelers should get the job done and pick up another vital three points, to continue their surge towards the top. 

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