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K League 1 Round 31: Three Takeaways

The top three in K League 1 remain unchanged as Ulsan Hyundai picked up an all-important victory over Pohang Steelers in the latest installment of the East Coast Derby, while Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors remained only a point behind with a 2-1 win over Gwangju FC.  Daegu FC kept their place in the top three, snatching a late victory over Jeju United.  There is little room for error with the final split just around the corner.  The top eight still have a chance of finishing in the top six, while the relegation battle is hotter than it has ever been in 2021.


Ulsan Keep Hold of the League Lead, Just Barely

Pohang could have been in front inside the first ten minutes of the match but Ko Young-joon was unable to make the most of his scoring opportunity after picking Kim Kee-hee's pocket, with the Ulsan defender able to recover and keep matters even.  That would spur Ulsan into attack mode and they were finally rewarded on 38 minutes when Oh Se-hun put them in front with a shot from just inside the area that Steelers' 'keeper Cho Seong-hoon should have done better with as he spilled the ball into his own net.

The visitors would double their advantage just minutes into the second half after Lee Dong-jun was fouled in the area and Valeri Qazaishvili converted from the spot.  Ulsan would go down to ten men in the latter stages of the match when Won Du-jae was given a straight red for what was deemed to be a rash challenge on Kang Sang-woo.  Alex Grant would get a goal back for the hosts but Ulsan still managed to hold on to a winning result at the final whistle.  Ulsan will almost certainly need to win all of their remaining matches before the league splits off in order to keep their momentum but the loss of their captain certainly will not help the cause.

Jeonbuk Still Just a Point Behind

Song Min-kyu provided the late heroics for Jeonbuk who keep pace in the title race.
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors secured an important win away to Gwangju FC, allowing them to stay just a point off the pace at the top of the division.  Gwangju did not make it an easy first twenty minutes and should have taken the lead but could not bury their chances.  Reis clanged a penalty off the crossbar after Lee Yong fouled Eom Won-sang in the area after nineteen minutes and Kim Ju-gong saw his shot flash just past the post shortly thereafter.

Both teams continued to trade chances until the deadlock was finally broken by Paik Seung-ho on the hour mark.  Three points were not guaranteed, however, as Koo Ja-ryong scored an own goal with ten minutes remaining.  Just when it seemed that both sides would leave the pitch with a share of the spoils, Song Min-kyu won it for the defending champions thanks to a dreadful goalkeeping error by Yoon Pyung-guk, who failed to corral a long ball into the box and Song deposited the ball into the gaping net.  It was by no means a convincing performance but with the title very much on the line, Jeonbuk found a way to get the job done.  Winnable matches against Incheon, Gangwon FC, and Jeju United await them before the A final commences in just over a month from now.

Daegu Leave it Late Against Jeju

With their latest win, Daegu continue to occupy third in the table.
The Sky Blues have picked an ample time to go on a bit of a run but needed some late heroics from Edgar to claim all three points from the islanders on Wednesday afternoon.  They were the better side overall and now have a three point edge over Suwon FC in fourth.  Neither team really impressed as they combined for only three shots on target despite combining for 33 total attempts.

They still have their fate in their own hands with Asian Champions League qualification for next season not yet out of the question.  After falling out of the competition at the Round of 16 stage to J League side Nagoya Grampus, they would dearly like to make it back to Asia's premier football competition after making the knockout stage for the first time in club history.

Saturday evening's match with direct challengers Suwon FC could be telling but there is still a lot of work to be done before the end of the season and they can ill afford to lose their focus now.  Every chance for points will be critical and nothing is assured.  Every match from this point on until the end of the season will be a difficult one but they have shown they have the quality to win tight matches as was the case in midweek.

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