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Preview: Pohang Steelers vs Sangju Sangmu

It's third vs fourth in the last round of the regular season in the K League 1, when Pohang Steelers will lock horns with Sangju Sangmu at the Steel Yard on Sunday, September 20. Can Pohang pick up three valuable points to end the regular season on a high, or will Sangju dent a major blow in the Steelers' dreams of securing AFC Champions League qualification? Pohang Steelers columnist Shibajee Das previews the match.

Last Time Out

Suwon Samsung Bluewings 0-0 Pohang Steelers

Pohang was coming into this match on the back of an impressive three-game winning run. It was a cagey start to the contest, with Manuel Palacios creating the first real opening in the 19th minute but Stanislav Iljutchenko headed his cross narrowly wide. A slick move then put Han Seok-hee clean through on goal, before he was denied twice by Kang Hyeon-mu. That was the closest either side came to breaking the deadlock in the first half.

The hosts started the second half with more purpose, with a penalty being awarded to them before the decision was overturned by the Video Assistant Referee (VAR). This was followed by Han Seok-hee hitting his shot just past the post and Adam Taggart coming off the bench to curl his effort just over. However, the best chance of the match fell to Iljutchenko and the Russian striker somehow failed to hit the target with the goal at his mercy. Kang Hyeon-mu made a series of smart saves towards the end of the contest to keep his clean sheet intact. Ultimately, both sides had to be satisfied with a point each, but it did little in helping the cause of either sides' respective aims for the season.      

Gwangju FC 0-1 Sangju Sangmu

Visitors Sangju was coming into this match on the back of a three-match unbeaten run. However, it was the hosts who had the first notable chance of the match, when Felipe's shot from the edge of the box was tipped over. Sangju were largely restricted to long-range attempts in the first half, as the second half promised a lot more action at both ends of the pitch.

Felipe started the second half, the way he started the first, shooting wide with a powerful effort. The visitors grew into the match as it wore on, without really testing the goalkeeper. But the military team's persistence paid off when Jeong Jae-hee tucked home from close range in stoppage time. Sangju had to wait long as the VAR checked for a potential handball, but it could not dampen Sangju's mood as the military men picked up yet another three points to stay third in the league table.

Previous Meetings

Pohang and Sangju have faced each other on 45 occasions. The Steelers have a much superior record, having won 29 matches and losing nine matches, while seven matches have ended in a draw.

The two teams have already faced each other two times this season. The first of those clashes were played out in the K League 1 Round 6 fixture, which had taken place on June 13th, 2020. It proved to be a thrilling match in which Pohang won 4-2 away from home. Three players netted a brace, Oh Se-hun for Sangju, Stanislav Iljutchenko and Aleksandar Palosevic for Pohang.

Just over a month later, they faced again in the FA Cup Round of 16. The match was yet again played at the Sangju Civic Stadium and the result wasn't different either. Iljutchenko opened the scoring for Pohang before Jeong Jae-hee levelled for the hosts. Heo Young-joon put Sangju in front, but the lead didn't last long. Choi Young-joon brought Pohang right back in the contest, and as the game headed towards penalties, Park Byung-hyun gifted the Steelers the victory with a 119th-minute own goal.


Team News

The biggest team news in the Pohang camp is that top scorer Stanislav Iljutchenko will be suspended for this match, having picked up his fifth yellow card in the previous match against Suwon. As a result, Shim Dong-woon might be reinstated into the starting lineup, with Manuel Palacios starting upfront. Kwon Wan-gyu and Brandon O'Neill continue to be the usual names missing from the team sheet.

As for Sangju, Moon Seon-min was amongst the starters in the midweek win over Gwangju and is expected to keep his spot ahead of Lee Keun-ho. On the other hand, having scored twice since joining his new club from Suwon, Oh Hyun-gyu is again expected to lead the attack.

The Adversary

Sangju Sangmu will be automatically relegated from K League 1 at the end of this season, as they will be shifting their base next season. However, they have surprised everyone in the league currently sitting third in the standings. They are just playing for pride now and the lack of pressure has certainly helped them to punch above their weight. The standout performer for them this season has been Kang Sang-woo, who is now with Pohang. So, the man to watch out for will now be 28-year-old winger Moon Seon-min.

Despite losing six players at the end of August after they completed their military service (more details here), Kim Tae-wan has reshuffled his pack and his troops have continued to deliver fine performances. They are unbeaten in four league matches since those departures, having picked up 10 points from a possible 12. It will be engrossing to see if Sangju go all out to seek revenge against the Steelers on Sunday, having come up second best in both the previous clashes this season.

Who To Watch

Kang Sang-woo

All eyes will be on Kang Sang-woo. The 26-year-old had joined Pohang way back in 2014. This season he was sent out on loan to Sangju Sangmu, as he underwent his military service. The left-sided player has been a revelation and has earned plenty of plaudits, having already scored seven goals this season. Kang had been a pivotal part of Sangju's surprising form under manager Kim Tae-wan.

However, Kang returned back to his parent club Pohang at the end of last month. He was straightaway drafted into the left-back slot by manager Kim Gi-dong, in place of Kim Sang-won. Kang first started against Seongnam FC and has continued to feature from the start in matches against Daegu FC, Gangwon FC and Suwon Samsung Bluewings. It is fair to say that he has now made the left-back position his own. Due to the vast riches of attacking talents at Pohang, he will not be seen in an advanced role unlike his stint at Sangju. But nevertheless, he has proved to be a welcome addition at a crucial juncture in the season. It will be interesting to see how Kang Sang-woo gets on against the club he had recently represented. 

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The two teams seem to know each other very well this season, with this set to be their third meeting. They are also destined to face off for the fourth time in this campaign when the league splits up after this round. Pohang definitely has the edge having triumphed on both occasions against Sangju. This match promises to be yet another high-scoring affair, but it wouldn't be a surprise this time around if either of the teams can't be separated at the end of 90 minutes.  

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