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For All The Marbles: Three Takeaways

Now a few days removed from the end of the regular season in K League 1, and with K League 2 hurtling toward the playoffs, it is time to reflect on what is to come in the near future as there is still a lot to be decided.  Gangwon FC sneaked into the top six on the final day needing a win to do so, and got the job done against Jeju United, while the title race is tight once again as the gap at the top is just five points.  While it looks like Gwangju FC have all but guaranteed safe passage back to the first division for next season, the elimination phase is sure to provide some tantalizing football.  KLU's Branko Belan looks ahead at what's in store.
 

No One Wants to Face Gangwon in the Top Six

Gangwon FC had only one alternative to get into the top half before the split - defeat Jeju United at home, which they did, but they also needed league leaders Ulsan Hyundai to beat Suwon FC, and that also happened.  Their almost win-loss form since the summer began has rendered them inconsistent, but they are a team capable of executing when they are on form.  Kim Dae-won led the league in assists in the regular season with thirteen, and young starlet Yang Hyun-jun, who was just selected to the senior national team for friendlies against Costa Rica and Cameroon contributed eight goals and four assists in his first full campaign.

A closer look at how they fared against the other teams in the top six is warranted.  While they lost all three of their matches to Ulsan Hyundai, they managed an even record against Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors with a win, a draw, and a loss in 2022.  They did not fare quite well against Pohang Steelers, accumulating a pair of losses to go with one draw, while they managed a win in three matches against Incheon United.  Where they struck it big was against Jeju United, who they beat to make the top half, taking seven of a possible nine points from the Tangerines.  While they had their ups and downs, three wins in their past five matches suggests they will be a difficult opponent for all and are certainly capable of playing spoiler to potential title and continental football hopes of the rest of the sides in Final A.

Five Point Gap Separates Title Contenders

Lee Chung-yong confirmed an important win for the Horangi to maintain their lead in the title race.
Both Ulsan Hyundai and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors won at the weekend, with the league leaders foiling Suwon FC's chances of a Final A appearance with a 2-0 victory at home, while the Green Warriors traveled to Suwon where they bested ten man Suwon Samsung Bluewings 3-2 thanks to a pair of goals from Modou Barrow, who has been on a bit of a hot streak lately with six goals and one assist in his past five matches.  While the post-split schedule is yet to be released, one thing is for sure - whoever has home field in the head-to-head fixture could well have a leg up for the title this year.

One major point of concern, however, is the status of Jo Hyeon-woo, who sustained a left knee injury in the match against Incheon United on September 14th and had to be substituted at halftime.  Currently, there is no timetable for his return, which means that Jo Su-huk will take his place between the sticks in the meantime.  He should not be overlooked, however, as he was the first choice goalkeeper for the team when they won their second Asian Champions League crown, two years ago in Doha, so he has big match experience.  Now, all depends on how the schedule will play out and who is willing to roll the dice to wrap up the title race.

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An Eye on the Playoff Race in Division Two

The race for the final playoff spot will be a fight to the finish.
With Gwangju FC all but assured to have clinched the K League 2 title thanks to FC Anyang's scoreless draw against Chungnam Asan on the weekend, the focus now turns to the playoff race and the battle for positioning on two fronts.  FC Anyang, Bucheon FC 1995, and Daejeon Hana Citizen sit second through fourth in the table and are separated by only five points.  The difference is that the Violets have five matches remaining on their schedule, while Bucheon have only four.  The Purples have six matches to play, including their midweek tussle with their second-placed rivals.

Chungnam Asan's point on the weekend put them one ahead of Gyeongnam FC, who also play a midweek fixture against Seoul E-Land, in a re-scheduled match because of the East Asian Football Championship in July.  The Reds can jump into fifth with a win and gain a two point advantage in the process if they can manage to secure all three points.  The Owls have the more favorable schedule heading down the stretch, with matches against Gimpo Citizen, Seoul E-Land, and Busan IPark in their next three fixtures before having to face Gwangju FC on the final day.  Their fellow playoff chasers face Daejeon Hana Citizen, a rejuvenated Jeonnam Dragons, Gwangju FC, and FC Anyang to close out their regular schedule.  One thing is for sure - it looks to be a photo finish in the making.     

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