[Recent News][6]

K League 1
K League 2
Classic
FC Seoul
Jeonbuk
Daejeon
Challenge
AFC
ACL
Featured
Interview
Ulsan
Korean National Football Team
Incheon
Podcast
Jeonnam
Busan
Jeju
Daegu
Seoul E-Land
Suwon
FA Cup
KNT Men
Transfers
Gyeongnam
Gangwon
K-League Classic
Pohang Steelers
K League Challenge
Fans
Ansan
Gwangju
Suwon Bluewings
Seongnam FC
Asan
Bucheon 1995
Anyang
Suwon FC
Gaming
Preview
Daejeon Citizen
Bucheon
KNT
Football Manager
Abroad
Sangju
Citizen
From The Stands
Pohang
K League Classic
FM2018
Busan IPark
World Cup
Awards
Gimcheon
Korean national team
Elimination Game
News
FIFA
KFA
Asian Cup
EAFF
FM2017
Events
KNT Women
Recap
K League All Star Game
Chungbuk Cheongju
Chungnam
K3
Russia 2018
East Asia Cup
K4
Qatar 2022
playoffs
FIFA16
Gimpo
Power Rankings
Cheonan
Away Days
CONIFA
Club World Cup
Busan Transport
Cheongju
Chungju
Goyang
Inter Korea
North Korea
Ulsan Citizen
Yangpyeong FC
Asian Games
Chiangrai United
Cho Hyun-woo
Final A
Final B
Final Round
Goyang Citizen
K5
Mokpo City
National League
Pocheon
Russia 2020
SoRare
Survivor
TNTFC
Winners Circle
Yokohama
scouting

Protests, villains, and Hwang Hee-chan. It's the East Coast Derby.

Ulsan Hyundai rolled into the Steel Yard last Saturday evening braced for a hostile reception off the field, and the sternest test of their bid to claim back-to-back K League titles on the field. They survived the brutal examination and now have one hand firmly on the trophy.

Moments before the players took the field, rain began to drop from the filthy clouds overhead. The Steel Yard was humming with the sound of drums spilling over the old ground's steel roof. The entry queues were long with eager and agitated fans. It was derby day on the east coast, albeit the two clubs are around 65 km apart.


I sent this message before kick-off.

"I hope Pohang stuff Ulsan here."

I had bought into the pre-match hype, but there was another reason for hoping Pohang would wipe the floor with the champions; this was the final chance for one of K League's supporting acts to mount a credible title challenge, and everyone inside the ground knew it. 


What better place to ignite a much-needed championship dogfight than the most atmospheric stadium in the land, a place where spilled Ulsan blood means that little bit more?

When you think of the best rivalries in football, a ticket doesn't carry the same value for both grounds. Where would you prefer to see Celtic v Rangers? Barcelona v Real Madrid? Boca Juniors v River Plate? Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund?

For Pohang Steelers v Ulsan Hyundai, the answer must surely be Pohang Steel Yard. The Steel Yard is a double-tiered, symmetrical stadium without a running track, temporary seats, or security moats. The overhanging upper tier is from a different era, giving the stadium a rather claustrophobic feel. The edge of the pitch is only four meters from the front row and the upper tiers are so steep, one must take giant strides to climb up.

The East and West stand (the long stands) both back up against a forest. There's barely enough room for the moss-covered concrete ramps as trees begin to encroach further and further into the stadium. In the distance, smoke rises from the POSCO steel plants and the gap between the roof and the last row of seats allows for unrivaled views over the surrounding area. 

Pohang Steel Yard only opened in 1990 but it is old-school and dripping with character. This point was further enhanced when a female fan brandished a knife from her bag to slice apples for her family members. Bags are checked when entering the Steel Yard, ya know?

When the pre-game formalities were coming to a close - which included a ceremonial kick-off featuring Korean national team forward Hwang Hee-chan side-footing the ball from halfway to a yard shy of the goal line - the north end turned up the volume with a banner calling for an end to racism. We've seen it all before, but then they administered the coup de grace seconds later, replacing two black words with red ones.

Welcome ulsan football club. Say no to racism 

became

Welcome ulsan racist club. Say no to ulsan

Get those cameras out! Pohang's fans are making a statement, not just to their rivals, but to the wider football community.



I'd love to know what the traveling players and management thought. Did they even see the banners? The Ulsan fans definitely noticed as the giant white banners faced them down from across the pitch. 

The origins of this Pohang welcome have been discussed before. Two of the three players involved, Park Yong-woo and Lee Gyu-sung, featured on Saturday. Park captained the side with every touch roundly booed. Although, admittedly, the voracity of the local protests began to trail off until he was lucky to avoid a yellow card before the break. Park picked up an injury and didn't return for the second half. Lee came off the bench shortly after the half-hour mark with considerably less anger.

Ulsan would have expected a severe test of their title credentials in any normal season, but the recent suspensions only added to the hostility. They rolled the punches and scored against the run of play midway through the first half. The evergreen Joo Min-kyu slotted home after good play down the left by Seol Yong-woo. Pohang had looked, by far, the most likely to open the scoring, with Oberdan particularly threatening.

In the final minutes of the first half, Pohang won a succession of free kicks. It was too much for the Ulsan bench, and one of their coaches was sent off. The visitors professionally wrapped up the half, especially Captain Park, who must have enjoyed playing the role of the pantomime villain. He ate up vital seconds by going down injured twice.

The game itself probably didn't live up to expectations, but then derby games rarely do. How different it could have been had Pohang dispatched one of their numerous chances, especially in the middle third of the second half. They hit the crossbar twice in quick succession and watched Jo Hyeon-woo pull off an incredible save from the influential Baek Sang-dong.

The majority of fans inside the old theatre spent much of the second half with their fingers interlocked behind their head. That universal expression when another good chance goes begging. Understandably, those around me were both cursing and complimenting the performance of the opposition goalkeeper.

Pohang enjoyed 56% of possession and had 13 shots to Ulsan's two. For the final 30 minutes, Lee Ho-Jae was summoned from the bench to partner Zeca up front. Hopes of an old-fashioned route-one bombardment of the Ulsan goal never materialized, despite two men standing almost 2 meters tall. As desperation set in, they resorted to long shots that didn't threaten Jo's goal.


The only regret was that they never mustered another clear opportunity during the five minutes of added time. If anything, Ulsan looked more likely to seal the deal with an undeserved second. When the final whistle came, the hosts slumped to the turf. They deserved at least a point but didn't get one. Pohang is now 16 points adrift of top spot but has an FA Cup semi-final and the AFC Champions League to look forward to.


For Ulsan, a fourth title is all but wrapped up. The Monday morning review might not have been fun, but they would be entitled to relax down the Donghae Expressway after the most hard-fought of three points. One step closer to successfully defending their championship.

FNR

No comments:

Post a Comment

Start typing and press Enter to search