Just five rounds remain before the league splits into two heading into this weekend's Chuseok football and the title race is as close as ever with just one point separating Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Ulsan Hyundai. Jeonbuk face Sangju on Saturday before Ulsan make the short trip to Gyeongnam. Elsewhere, the battle for places rages on in K League 1; FC Seoul will be hoping to maintain their lead over fourth place for that last AFC Champions League spot when Incheon United head to the capital for the third Gyeongin Derby of the season. At the other end of the table, Jeju United have a tricky trip to Gangwon. For all that and more, K League United Associate Editor Paul Neat provides a comprehensive rundown of K League 2 Round 29.
Saturday 14th September
#DAEvPOH: Daegu FC (5th) vs Pohang Steelers (8th) 19:00
A 1-1 draw with North Gyeongsang Province neighbours Sangju Sangmu prior to the international break meant that Daegu FC slipped to fifth in the table. Although,manager Andre Gaspar may see it as one point gained rather than two points dropped thanks to Edgar's 87th minute equaliser. Pohang, on the other hand, are knocking in the door of the top six. With the split approaching at the beginning of October, the Steelers have a genuine chance of sneaking into the Championship Round for the second time in as many seasons but a win over Daegu will be seen as a must. On Saturday Pohang will make the 42 mile trip to Daegu on the back of two straight victories with six goals scored, helped by the 5-3 win over Incheon two rounds ago.
Ahead of Saturday's clash just six points separate these two teams and so if Kim Kidong's side are to close the gap between themselves and Daegu then they will need to pick up a first win over Daegu this term having lost 2-0 and 3-0 in the two previous meetings in 2019. However, last season, Pohang won all three meetings, the most recent being a 2-1 win at the Steelyard at the tail end of September. The Sky Blues have just five home wins over Pohang but a sixth may just put them back in the hunt for fourth place, should another foray into continental football be a realistic possibility. Both teams like to leave it late to find the back of the net; Daegu have scored 38% of their goals in the last 15 minutes of matches, Pohang 27%. Daegu will be without defender Kim Wooseok out through suspension whilst Steelers midfielder Lee Kwanghyeok is also banned after picking up a third caution of the campaign last time out.
#GYEvULS: Gyeongnam FC (10th) vs Ulsan Hyundai (2nd) 17:00
Last season these two sides were vying for the runners up spot with the league title already sewn up just before the split. However, 12 months on and a Marcão-less Gyeongnam are battling just to say in the division whilst Ulsan have gone one better and remain in the title hunt. This Saturday the two meet in Changwon desperate for the three points, for the Reds a victory could put further daylight between themselves and Incheon United and Jeju United below, for Ulsan it's a chance to reclaim top spot. In the Korean media the relegation battle has been described as 'GyeongInJe', depending on the order of the three teams embroiled in this frenzied scrap to avoid falling through the trap door. Gyeongnam are three points above Jeju United, but just two over Incheon meaning that a Gyeongin Derby win for United could drag Kim Jongboo's side back into the dreaded relegation playoff place. Both teams like to leave it late to score but Gyeongnam often struggle to get going with only 6% of all goals coming in the first 30 minutes.
For the two previous meetings this season Ulsan have come out on top on both occasions, winning 2-0 at the Munsu in April, and 3-1 in Changwon in early July. However, if Ulsan are to make it three wins from three over Gyeongnam this season, then they will have to do so without manager Kim Dohoon in the dugout as the former striker still has two matches to serve on his touchline ban following an incident with an official during the 3-0 away defeat to Jeonbuk. Heading into this weekend's must win match, the Horangi have one defeat in five but just two wins during that time after failing to keep hold of a lead not once, but twice away to Incheon and the stalemate with Daegu. Ulsan were two goals to the good with 53 minutes on the clock against the Durumi but a late fight back from Yoo Sangchul's side, lead by Stefan Mugoša meant that the spoils were shared and Ulsan slipped to second. Gyeongnam will be without regulars Kim Jongpil, Lee Gwangseon, and Woo Jusung through suspension but should have Takahiro Kunimoto back in contention. Ulsan, meanwhile, will continue to be without Dave Bulthuis but fellow defender Kang Minsu is in contention again.
#JHMvSAN: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (1st) vs Sangju Sangmu (6th)
Having regained the lead at the top of the K League 1 table, Jose Morais' Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors side will be determined to stay there. Several of Jeonbuk's stars were in involved in Korea's matches this week and last with Lee Yong, Kim Jinsu and Kwon Kyungwon all finding some playing time in either the friendly with Georgia or the World Cup qualifier with Turkmenistan. Thus, the gruelling nine hour flight from the Turkmenistan capital Ashgabat may come into consideration for Jose Morais with his internationals having just a few days to recover and prepare for the visit of Sangju. At this stage of the campaign, though, anything less than a win will feel like a defeat given the one-point gap between Jeonbuk and Ulsan. Jeonbuk have an excellent record against Sangju, though, having suffered just one defeat in 19 meetings since the army team moved from Gwangju to Sangju in 2011. That defeat was almost exactly two years ago and at Jeonju Castle where goals from Joo Minkyu and Kim Honam gave Sangju a 2-1 win.
However, for many Saturday's game is set to be their last as Sangju Sangmu players with a mass exodus due on September 17th. Of those set to depart, Kim Minwoo, Sim Dongwoon, and Yoon Bitgaram will be seen as the stand out names and, as well as the nine others if selected, may well be looking to go out in style. One player who isn't leaving Sangju just yet it is Park Yongji, on loan from Incheon United. Park has 10 goals this season, his career best, and without his goals, Sangju would be 11 points worse off. Four of Park's 10 goals this term have come against teams in the top half of the table.
Sunday 15th September
#GANvJEJ: Gangwon FC (4th) vs Jeju United (12th) 17:00
Since the FA Cup exit to Daejeon Korail at the beginning of July, Gangwon FC picked themselves up and managed to put together a string of results, winning three from five matches and just one defeat. However, since then, Kim Byungsoo’s men are now on a run of just one win in five outings, the 2-0 victory over Gyeongnam last time out enabled the Chuncheon-based side to bounce back after two straight defeats. Sunday’s visitors to Songam Sports Town, Jeju United, meanwhile, are without a win since July 10th, the 4-2 home victory over FC Seoul - a dismal run of form that has spanned eight matches.
However, the Jeju faithful can perhaps take solace in knowing that five of those eight matches have been draws - only Daegu have drawn more than Jeju this term. Out of the three main relegation contenders, Jeju have shipped the most goals with 53, an average of 1,89 goals per game. Heading into the split last season, Jeju had shipped just 40, an average of 1.21 goals per match. In the whole of 2018, Jeju conceded just 42 goals, conceding just two goals more post split. Finishing fifth was underwhelming for a side which ended the 2017 season as runners up but merely displays how far United have fallen. From the two previous meetings between Gangwon and Jeju this term, both teams have one victory each. Other than Nigerian target man Osaguona’s suspension, Jeju manager Choi Yunkyum will have a relatively full squad to choose from. Gangwon will have Yun Sukyoung back, but forward Kang Jihoon is out.
#SFCvSSB: Seongnam FC vs Suwon Samsung Bluewings
Seongnam FC will welcome Suwon Samsung Bluewings to Tancheon Sports Complex for the first time in three years. The Magpies' previous home fixture with the Bluewings was played at Seongnam Civic Stadium and, much to the delight of the Seongnam faithful, ended in a 2-1 win. In fact, the most recent meeting, at Big Bird in mid-July, ended in the same scoreline meaning that Suwon have to hark back to to the tail end of 2016 for their last win over Seongnam - a 2-0 home win with goals from Johnathan and Kwon Changhoon. This current class of Suwon finds itself in a similar position to that of 2016, precariously close to finishing in the bottom half of the split.
Sitting in seventh and just a point behind Sangju in sixth, a win for the Bluewings could be enough to leapfrog the military side and back into the top half of the table. Seongnam, though, are only four points behind Suwon meaning that a second home win over the fallen giants will put them in with a genuine chance of finishing in the top half of the split. Bluewings will be able to welcome Jeon Sejin back from suspension, the 20 year-old forward had picked up his third caution of the campaign in the 2-0 defeat to Gyeongnam. Midfielder Lee Jongseong made his return from injury during a reserve game in midweek after a long injury lay off but is unlikely to be involved. The 27 year-old hasn't made a first team appearance since December last year but is said to be close to a return. Elsewhere, Australian midfielder Terry Antonis could feature after recovering from a hamstring problem.
#GyeonginDerby: FC Seoul (3rd) vs Incheon United (11th) 17:00
The third Gyeongin Derby of the 2019 campaign will see FC Seoul host Incheon United in the capital this Sunday. It could be argued that FC Seoul haven't properly recovered from the 4-2 defeat away to Jeju United in July, having picked up just two wins since - one of which was away to Incheon United. Choi Yongsoo's men still hold onto third place but the gap between themselves and fourth is now just five points, adding some extra urgency to Sunday's match. In the absence of Aleksandar Pešić, who suffered a broken toe in the June Super Match, Seoul haven't been able to score more than two in a single match. Coach Choi, forever faithful to his back three and wing-backs, is seemingly running out of patients with certain individuals in his back line. Numerous combinations have been tried but Seoul seldom looked as assured ever since Osmar moved out of the back three and so the return of both Ju Sejong and Lee Myungjoo have come at the right time.
Despite being embroiled in their annual relegation scrap, United have once again begun to show signs of life, star striker Stefan Mugoša bagging five in his last two Incheon appearances. However, defensive frailties are hindering Yoo Sangchul and his men from really pulling away from Jeju United at the foot of the table. Scoring six goals in their last two outings but having just a point for their endeavours will no doubt frustrate the Sungui Arena Park faithful. To make matters worse, experienced central defender Lee Jaesung, once of Jeonbuk Hyundai, is suspended, whilst fellow centre back Gordon Bunoza is out through injury. However, before Seoul's 2-0 win in Incheon just a couple of months ago, United were proving to be something of a bogey team for the capital club. In 2018 Seoul failed to beat Incheon in four meetings and even heading back to 2017, Seoul's last win over Incheon was the 5-1 demolition that summer.
[READ: K League 2 Round 27 Preview.]