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Preview: Ulsan Hyundai vs. Gwangju FC

For the second year in a row, Ulsan Hyundai's pursuit of the K League 1 title goes down to the final day of the season. But a win over sixth-placed Gwangju FC would not be enough to see the Tigers lift the trophy, as they will need a huge favour from Daegu FC over at Jeonbuk to stand a chance. Dan Croydon previews another nail-biting conclusion to a K League season for the Horangi.  

Last Time Out

Ulsan Hyundai 0-1 Jeonbuk Hyundai
Ulsan's downward spiral over the last few months culminated in a heartbreaking, yet all-too predictable loss to title rivals Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors last Sunday. 

Kim Do-hoon's side had been running out of steam for a while, and with key foreign talents Dave Bulthuis and Bjorn Johnsen missing through suspension, Kim's tactics had to be on point if they were to stand a chance.

True to form though, the Ulsan manager came up short in a make or break game, as his side were unable to muster any sustained attacking threat. Yoon Bit-garam hit the woodwork with a curling freekick early on, but it was the visitors who squandered the best chance of the opening forty-five when striker Gustavo hit a tame penalty at 'keeper Jo Hyeon-woo after Kim In-sung was harshly adjudged to have handled the ball in the box.

The decisive moment came just after the hour mark, when stand-in central defender Kim Ki-hee undersold a header back to his keeper and Jeonbuk sub Modou Barrow pounced ahead of Jo to prod the ball home.

Kim Do-hoon chased the game by bringing on experienced attacker Lee Keun-ho to play alongside a partially-fit Junior Negrao, but Jeonbuk, who have based their entire title run on defending a narrow lead, saw the match out. There was just time for Yoon Bit-garam to hit the bar with one more freekick though, adding yet another tragic moment to Ulsan's autumn collapse.

Gwangju FC 0-1 Sangju Sangmu
The Yellows made it four losses from four post-split with a narrow defeat to military side Sangju Sangmu. Park Dong-jin, a summer arrival from FC Seoul, got the only goal of the game for the visitors on forty minutes when his diving header guided home Shim Sang-min's whipped cross.

Not even the return of top scorer Felipe could spur the home side on as they failed to make any chances of note after the break. This result left Gwangju with no wins and only three points from their last nine games at home -- a miserable run of form relatively unnoticed due to the protection of being in the top half of the split.

[Video: Weekend Preview]

Previous Meetings

Gwangju have had a decent time of it against Ulsan in their first season back in the top flight. The two matches earlier this year ended in 1-1 draws -- in fact, this has been the scoreline in five out the last six encounters.

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The most recent game, back in September, was arguably the turning point of Ulsan's season. Kim Do-hoon's side had taken 22 of the previous 24 points available, but they struggled to find the energy to break down a resilient 10-man Gwangju. Last minute heroics from keeper Yun Pyeong-gook denied Ulsan the three points that would have seen them move seven clear of Jeonbuk, and the Horangi have since gone on a run of just two wins in seven.  

Team News

Ulsan Hyundai
It was clear to anyone at Munsu Stadium last Sunday at Golden Boot winner-elect, Junior Negrao, is playing through the pain at the moment. The 33-year-old has arguably had the best season of any striker in K League history, scoring 25 goals in 26 appearances, but those hot summer evenings and midweek cup games appear to have taken their toll on the Brazilian marksman.
Still, with Bjorn Johnsen suspended and three points an absolute necessity if the Tigers are to stand any chance of a final day shock, Junior will almost certainly start in attack. Likewise, Kim Do-hoon is likely to stick with experienced centreback Kim Ki-hee, despite his disastrous mistake last time out, as he awaits the return of Dave Bulthuis.

Star winger Lee Chung-yong was a surprise inclusion last weekend as returns from a knee injury, so he may be rested ahead of the FA Cup Final first leg next Wednesday; Lee Dong-gyeong could be the man to take his place in midfield.   

Gwangju FC
The cliches about Gwangju already being on the beach seemed to start mere seconds after the newly-promoted side crept into the top six on the final weekend of the regular season. But manager Park Jin-seop will want to end a overall successful year on a positive note, especially as a defeat could see Gwangju finish on fewer points than the team that finishes bottom of the league.

Therefore, Park is expected to name his strongest lineup with Brazilian pair Felipe and Willyan carrying most of the threat, alongside breakout young winger Eom Won-sang.


Kim Do-hoon has spent the last week stressing the fact that the title race is not over yet. And he should know; Ulsan were in the exact same situation as Jeonbuk are currently in, only needing a point from their final game to seal the deal.

While Ulsan did the unthinkable and threw it away against Pohang, Jeonbuk ducked at the tape with a typical 1-0 victory over Gangwon. 


But if the last few years have taught us anything, it is that Ulsan are not Jeonbuk when it comes to scenarios like this; it is difficult to foresee Kim guiding his team to a routine 1-0 home win this weekend. 

So much will be riding on the first goal, something that has evaded Ulsan in both their meetings with Gwangju this year. If the Horangi net first, the odds are they will see it out. However, everyone should be aware of Ulsan's appetite for self destruction by now. Even if a shock is unfolding over in Jeonju, don't expect things to be any calmer at Munsu Stadium.

Prediction: Ulsan Hyundai 2-2 Gwangju FC

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