There was no change at the top of the table last weekend with the top three teams drawing, Seoul holding Ulsan to a draw and Jeonbuk unable to break down a plucky 10-man Pohang Steelers. The bottom six seen Seongnam leapfrog Bluewings after a victory over Sangju in their last match in Moran on the Friday night while Jeju picked up a point in Daegu as Incheon lost at home to Gangwon. We now have a 10pt gap between Seongnam in 8th and Jeju in the play-off spot in 11th, and while it’s too early for The Magpies to be dreaming of safety just yet you do get the feeling the relegation battle is quickly becoming a three donkey race.
We have an action packed Saturday this weekend as eight teams will take to the pitch, with Champions Jeonbuk being the only top six side to play on Sunday. Ulsan kick things off as they host Incheon in a match which has more than caught the eye of their Marketing team as they continue their movie-themed promotions,calling this one ‘Uladin’ (the epic poster is below). Ulsan were seconds away from feeling duly aggrieved with the referee last Sunday against Seoul as everything seemed to go the way of the Capital club. Kim Bo-Kyung did rescue a point with the final touch of the ball as he headed home a 95th minute equalizer to earn the Hyundai boys a more than deserved draw. They sit 3rd with a game in hand and will probably view this weekend’s visitors as a team they should be beating. Incheon travel South having blown an 8th minute Stefan Mugosa lead against a Jung Jo-gook inspired Gangwon. That defeat leaves them bottom of the table with 11pts and 10 goals from 18 matches and given that they’ve just transferred Nam Jun-jae to relegation rival Jeju United the future is looking bleak for the Neroazzurre.
If most ‘Naver eyes’ will be watching proceedings in Ulsan then without doubt the largest attended match of the day, if not the weekend, will be at Seoul World Cup Stadium with Gangwon the next team to try and inflict a home defeat on high-flying FC Seoul. This time last year the beleaguered GS club were staggering their way to the playoffs with all the class and guile of a soju-soaked ajossi trying to navigate his living room furniture in the dark whilst hoping not to wake the wife.
This year though, with the undoubted aid of some “interesting” refereeing they are sitting in 2nd spot and don’t look like rescinding that without a fight. There’s no taking away what they have achieved this season (as much as I want to) with Osmar already a contender for Player of the Year while Uzbekistan internationalist Alibaev continues to score the kind of long range efforts that were only possible in Sensible Soccer. In Gangwon they face a team that are unbeaten in the last four K-League matches and who, of course, knocked them out the FA Cup earlier this year. Gangwon crashed out of said FA Cup midweek at the hands of Daejeon Korail and given the fact that Jung Jo-gook never plays well against his old club you would struggle to imagine them returning southwards with 3pts under their arms.
The remaining two games on Saturday are not exactly ‘slammers’ as Daegu host an injury and confidence ravaged Gyeongnam while Sangju and Pohang battle it to see who’ll be sitting in 6th position come 9pm on Saturday night.
The main event on Sunday night will see Jeonbuk lock horns again with Seongnam FC after their earlier 0-0 in Moran back in May. Despite topping the table Jeonbuk haven’t looked the team of the last few years and seem to have lost that fear factor that they so easily instilled in even the most rugged of opponents. Last week’s 1-1 was a prime example of this as Pohang just simply refused to lie down after being reduced to 10 men. They still boast a squad that is the envy of every other team in Korea but do seem to find themselves in a fight to retain their title and given how poorly they perform when the pressure is on in penalty shoot-outs you do have to question if they have the bottle for a season-long title fight. Seongnam have got back to wining ways and have now won two in a row which added to their previous two draws has hoisted them to 8th in the league. They defeated the Army last weekend with Kim Hyun-sung the hero on the night, although the makgeolli seller outside was my own personal hero. Seongnam’s record in Jeonju is, as you can imagine, pretty poor with them only winning 12 of 22 clashes the last of which was back in 2013, Lim Chai-min and Server Djeparov the heroes that day.
The final match of the weekend sees Bluewings host Jeju United in a clash that few could have imagined would be taking place at the bottom of the table when the fixtures came out in February. Both teams have been very poor this year and neither have been able to rise to the occasion when it most needed it. Suwon Bluewings being awful in the Supermatches and Jeju being…..well awful. The hosts were taken to extra time and penalties midweek by the K3’s Gyeongju KHNP and to be honest for 99% of the match there really was nothing between the two teams. They both drew last weekend with Jeju unlucky to concede in the 93rd minute against Daegu while Bluewings huffed and puffed at home to Gyeongnam for 90 minutes. This game has all the hallmarks of finishing 0-0 as both teams struggle to create chances.
Predictions for all the games below….