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Time to Do the Business: Three Takeaways

Ulsan Hyundai took advantage of idle Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors to extend their lead at the top of the table to nine points following their victory over Gimcheon Sangmu at the weekend, while the race for ACL qualification remains in the balance after Incheon United and Pohang Steelers managed just a 1-1 draw in their head-to-head encounter.  In division two, Gwangju FC continue to motor along after another convincing showing against Seoul E-Land, their lead at the summit now at eleven points.  KLU's Branko Belan recaps the weekend and what's to come.
 

Horangi Unbeaten in Eight

K League 1 leaders Ulsan Hyundai extended their current unbeaten run to eight matches following a 2-1 win over Gimcheon Sangmu this past weekend.  Kim Jun-beom gave the hosts the lead after 36 minutes, but Martin Ádám, the recently signed Hungarian international, responded with a pair of goals to ensure that the Horangi took all three points at the final whistle.  The result is an important one as the top two have now both played twenty-seven matches and Ulsan now lead by nine points.  With six matches to go until the split, they have things well in control, but Final A could still paint a different picture if they allow their rivals back into the race.

Ulsan next face Jeju United, who they have had considerable success against over the past several seasons, but they will be on the road so they will have to play their best brand of football if they are to achieve a maximum result - there is no chance of them taking their foot off the gas with such a big advantage at the moment.  The rest of their schedule up to mid-September looks playable, but they have to be wary of the final East Coast Derby against Pohang Steelers on September 11th, as their rivals also have a lot at stake at this point in the season.  Three at home and three on the road provides them with a bit of balance, but they can ill afford to slip up if they want to carry their momentum into the stretch run.

ACL Race Still Undecided

Incheon United and Pohang Steelers played to a stalemate.
Currently, there are three teams in the hunt for third place and the final qualification spot for next year's Asian Champions League, although if one of Ulsan Hyundai or Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors were to win it, fourth place would then also be in contention.  Pohang Steelers and Incheon United played to a 1-1 draw at the Steelyard on the weekend, meaning that Pohang still have only a three point lead on the Durumi in fourth, while Jeju United are a further point back, having squandered an opportunity to close the gap with their 2-1 loss to Suwon Bluewings at home on Saturday night.

Things do not get any easier for the islanders as they host Ulsan Hyundai at home in the upcoming round, a team they are currently winless against in their past ten matches.  The island club had a considerable advantage in the head-to-head series up until 2018, but things have completely flipped since then.

Pohang's remaining schedule for the regular season is not favorable, as they next travel to face Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in a match that has been pushed to Monday of next week due to the Champions League semi-final match the Korean champions will play against Urawa Red Diamonds.  They also only have two remaining home matches, against Daegu FC on September 3rd, and against Suwon Bluewings on September 14th.

Incheon United have three critical matches left, starting with the Gyeongin Derby against FC Seoul this coming weekend, with four of the past seven decided by just a single goal and the last three, including both previous matches this season ending in draws.  The latest edition of the big clash is likely to be decided by nuances as it usually has been in recent years.  Does Incheon have what it takes to be relevant in the race come playoff time?  They will also travel to Jeju on September 6th and host Ulsan Hyundai on September 14th.

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Yellows in Cruise Control

The Yellows continue to roll toward automatic promotion.
Gwangju FC put forth another convincing display, dispatching Seoul E-Land by a final score of 4-0 on the road, courtesy of a pair of goals from Reis, who garnered Round MVP honors for his efforts, while Lee Kun-hee and Eom Ji-sung also got their names on the scoresheet. Even though they have a double digit lead at the top of the division, all is not quite said and done just yet as second placed FC Anyang has a match in hand, while Daejeon Hana Citizen in third has two matches in hand and will be playing with some urgency to try and get back into the race.

The Yellows have had a solid season to date, with just three losses since the start of the season. Only Gyeongnam (51) have scored more goals than them, with the leaders just one off the pace in that regard.  They play last placed Busan IPark this coming weekend at home, which should net them three points, but then they travel to face Bucheon FC 1995 in midweek next week.  

September will be critical in the final outcome of the season as they host Gimpo FC on the 3rd, away to Jeonnam the following week, face a critical test against the Violets on the road on September 14th, and finish out the month at home against Ansan Greeners on the 26th, which will leave just three rounds until the end of the current season.  By then, they could already have their ticket back to K League 1 confirmed.

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