Just three matches remain before K League 1 splits into two and with the battle the sixth place so tightly contested, the likes of Pohang Steelers, Suwon Samsung Bluewings, Sangju Sangmu, and Seongnam FC will be looking for positive results in this midweek round of fixtures. Elsewhere, the top two are in action as Jeonbuk host Daegu whilst Ulsan have a tricky trip to Suwon. K League United Editor Paul Neat previews K League 1 Round 31.
Tuesday 24th September
#POHvJEJ: Pohang Steelers (8th) vs Jeju United (11th) 19:30
Both Pohang Steelers and Jeju United head into Tuesday's Round 31 clash on the back of victories at the weekend. K League's August Player of the Month, Wanderson, struck late for the Steelers to seal a victory over FC Seoul, making it 2-1 after Park Chuyoung had cancelled out Aleksandar Paločević 81st minute spot kick. Jeju, meanwhile, picked up a huge win over Seongnam - their first in nine matches, despite the adverse weather conditions on the island. Typhoon Tapah seemed to have a huge hand in Jeju's first of the evening when Magpies goalkeeper Kim Dongjun was caught off guard and bundled in Kim Sungju's corner from the right. A spot kick from Magno Cruz, and a first in Jeju colours for Lee Keunho sealed the win.
The two meet at the Steelyard on Tuesday night both in need of another three points. For the Steelers, a place in the top half of the table could be within their grasp after Suwon Bluewings' draw with Sangju Sangmu on Saturday, meaning that Pohang move to within just a point of the top six . For Jeju, moving off the bottom of the table will have given the team a huge moral boost. However, Jeju have one just one away game this term, a 1-0 victory against Gangwon in June and so a second, against a Pohang side unbeaten in four with three wins and a draw, will be a tall order. The two previous meetings ended in 1-1 draws, the most recent in July in Seogwipo, whilst Jeju's last trip to Pohang saw Lee Seokhyun restore parity for the Steelers after Aguilar had given United a 20th minute lead.
Wednesday 25th September
#JHMvDAE: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (1st) vs Daegu FC (5th) 19:00
It wasn't just Jeju United's match which was effected by Typhoon Tapah as Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors' away fixture with Gyeongnam was also called off due to the adverse weather conditions in the South Gyeongsang area of the country. The outcome is a well-rested Jeonbuk side ready to take on Daegu at Jeonju Castle this Wednesday. Daegu head into the match having let a 1-0 lead slip in the last few minutes away to Incheon to draw one-apiece - the Sky Blues' third stalemate in a row. For Jeonbuk, Jose Morais' side are unbeaten in 18 having not lost since the 2-1 away defeat to title rivals Ulsan Hyundai in May. The Green Warriors are three points clear and will know that a win over Daegu is an absolute must.
This fixture was of course the 2019 K League 1 curtain raiser with Jeonbuk, the current champions, facing 2018 FA Cup winners Daegu FC. On March 1st the two sides played out an enthralling 1-1 draw with goals from Edgar for Daegu on 23 minutes before Lim Sunyoung equalised just six minutes later. However, the most recent meeting was in July at DGB Bank Park where Jeonbuk ran out comfortable 4-1 winners, Moon Seonmin with a hat-trick for the visitors. Both teams head into Wednesday's fixture unbeaten in six, Jeonbuk with four wins and two draws, Daegu with four draws and two wins.
#SANvINC: Sangju Sangmu (7th) vs Incheon United (12th) 19:00
Despite an exodus of players, FA Cup semifinalists Sangju Sangmu will steel believe they are in with a genuine chance of finishing in the top half. On Saturday, Sangju faced fellow top six contenders Suwon Bluewings and fell behind thanks to a Kim Minwoo strike in the 37th minute, Kim making his first appearance for Suwon since departing Sangju just last week. Then, seven minutes after the restart, Kim Gunhee, on loan from Suwon, levelled for Sangju to seal the spoils shared. The draw, though, means that Sangju are without a win since Round 26, a 2-1 home win over Pohang.
Incheon, meanwhile, battled back from a goal behind to salvage a draw at home to Daegu FC. An Edgar penalty gave the visitors a 77th minute lead but the Durumi were able to restore parity in the last minute with Myung Junjae finding the net after Korean international goalkeeper Jo Hyeonwoo's punch from the edge of the box failed to clear the danger. A valuable point it may have been but Incheon now slip to the bottom of the table following Jeju United's 3-0 win over Seongnam on Saturday. The army side have two wins over Incheon already this season, a 2-1 win at Sungui Arena Park in May as well as a 2-0 victory at home in March.
#SSBvULS: Suwon Samsung Bluewings (6th) vs Ulsan Hyundai (2nd) 19:30
Suwon Samsung Bluewings cling to sixth place in K League 1 but only on goals scored. The Bluewings and Sangju Sangmu are both on 40 points heading into the midweek action but Suwon have scored one more than Sangju. Under fire manager Lee Limsaeng will be desperate for his side to get back to winning ways as the former Home United boss searches for a winning formula. In the FA Cup semifinal first leg defeat to fourth tier Hwaseong FC, Hong Chul was deployed as central midfielder in a diamond with Antonis at the top, behind a front two of Dejan and Taggart. However, despite the gulf in wages between the two sides, Hwaseong ran out 1-0 winners. Coach Lee then opted for a back four against Sangju, recalling ball-playing centre back Ko Myeongseok and giving the returning Kim Minwoo a first Suwon start since 2017 in the number 10 role. Suwon dominated possession and and 18 shots, more than three times that of Sangju, and seven on target but could no find a way through. Yet, legendary striker Dejan Damjanović remained on the substitute's bench, even when Taggart was forced off due to injury.
Up next at Big Bird is the visit of Ulsan Hyundai who will have had a few days extra rest after the Horangi's home fixture with Gangwon FC was called off due to Typhoon Tapah. With Jeonbuk's match away to Gyeongnam also falling victim to Typhoon Tapah, the state of play at the K League 1 summit remains unchanged with Ulsan trailing by three points. At home Suwon have just three wins in their last ten. Ulsan, however, just have one away defeat in their last 10. The Horangi have come out on top in the two previous meetings this season, winning 3-1 at Big Bird the last time these two K League giants faced one another in May. For Wednesday's clash, Han Euikwon, who helped set up Kim Minwoo against Sangju, is suspended for Suwon, Ulsan though do not have any suspensions of which to concern themselves with, apart from gaffer Kim Dohoon who will serve the last game of his touchline ban this Wednesday.
#SEOvGYE: FC Seoul (3rd) vs Gyeongnam FC (10th) 19:30
FC Seoul's grasp on third place isn't looking as strong as it once was. The capital club had a much healthier lead over their ACL-chasing rivals Gangwon and Daegu but since the 2-1 win over the Sky Blues at the tail end of June, Choi Yongsoo's side have picked up just three wins, amassing just 13 points from 39 available. FC Seoul then, are precariously looking over their shoulders. However, with Gangwon's away trip to Ulsan cancelled on Sunday due to the typhoon, the gap remains at five points. Seoul, then, need the win on Wednesday night to ensure of a comfortable run into the Championship Round of the split. Seoul will welcome back Osmar but lose left-wing back Ko Kwangmin through suspension.
Up next at Sangam is another team which had their weekend disrupted by the weather. Gyeongnam were due to host Jeonbuk on Sunday as well but now head to the capital having not played since last Saturday. The extra few days rest will be most welcomed by Reds gaffer Kim Jongboo who himself will he looking over his shoulder. Gyeongnam of course are embroiled in this three-team relegation battle along with Jeju United and Incheon. Both sides picked up points at the weekend, Jeju United's home win over over Seongnam moved the islanders up into eleventh and just a point behind Gyeongnam. Meanwhile, Incheon's 1-1 draw at home to Daegu means the gap between the Durumu and Choi Yunkyum's side remains just one point. The pressure will be on Gyeongnam to pick up a result at Sangam. The Reds fell to a 2-1 defeat the last time they visited the capital with a first for Aleksandar Pešić in FC Seoul colours, and Cho Youngwook helped give Seoul all three points. However, last term, Gyeongnam won their only match at Seoul World Cup Stadium thanks to a mercurial display from 2018 K League 1 MVP Marcão. Gyeongnam will be without centre back Lee Kwangjin through suspensin.
#SFCvGAN: Seongnam FC (9th) vs Gangwon FC (4th)
Seongnam's defeat to Jeju United at the weekend all-but ended their chances of finishing in the to half of the split. With four points separating the Magpies with Pohang in eighth, and five points behind Sangju and Suwon in seventh and sixth respectively, it will take an incredible turnaround for Nam Ki-il's side to finish in the top half. Seongnam are now on a run of four games without a win with just two goals scored. In fact, Seongnam have the league's worst attack having scored just 23 goals, one fewer than Incheon who sit at the bottom of the table.
Up next is the visit of Gangwon, a side who under Kim Byungsoo have been playing some entertaining possession-based football. However, Gangwon fans were unable to see any "Byungsoo Ball" at the weekend with the away fixture with Ulsan being called off. Gangwon could still pip FC Seoul into third place but need to overturn a five point deficit, albeit with a game in hand. Gangwon have won their last two, 2-0 victories of Jeju and Gyeongnam, and came out on top in each of the two previous meetings with Seongnam this season, both fixtures ending in 2-1 wins for Gangwon. Gangwon will be without Lee Hyunsik through suspension.
K League United Associate Editor