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Ulsan looking to settle old score with K League 1 title in sight

SEOUL– Following their most cathartic victory of the season to date, Ulsan Hyundai FC are on the brink of winning their first K League 1 football title in 17 years.

Ulsan will now look to settle an old score against their regional rivals this week to cap off their memorable season.

Powered by two stoppage-time goals by Martin Adam, Ulsan edged out Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-1 on Saturday to improve to 72 points. Ulsan now hold an eight-point lead over Jeonbuk with three to play, and they can clinch the K League 1 crown with a win over Pohang Steelers on Tuesday.
The kickoff for the latest “East Coast Derby” is 3 p.m. at Pohang Steel Yard in Pohang, some 380 kilometers southeast of Seoul.

Celebrating the league title on Pohang’s turf will be extra sweet for Ulsan, considering the two clubs’ recent history.

In 2013, Ulsan were in first place heading into their season finale against Pohang. They only needed a draw for the championship but conceded an injury-time goal to Kim Won-il for a 1-0 win, as Pohang grabbed the trophy instead.

In 2019, Ulsan were once again at the top of the tables, needing only a draw against Pohang in the final game to hold off Jeonbuk.

Pohang had other ideas, routing Ulsan 4-1 on the road, while Jeonbuk defeated Gangwon FC 1-0 the same day to steal the title from Ulsan’s grasp.

In the following season, Pohang blanked Ulsan 4-0 in their third-to-last match, dragging Ulsan down to a tie for first with Jeonbuk. Jeonbuk then beat Ulsan 1-0 the following week en route to the league title.

Ulsan now have a chance to erase those painful memories and end a long title drought in one fell swoop.

Ulsan head coach Hong Myung-bo spent his entire K League career with Pohang from 1992 to 1997 before taking his talent to Japan.

Jeonbuk have won a league-record five straight titles but that streak is now in serious danger. The only scenario in which Jeonbuk can capture this year’s title is for them to win all three remaining matches and for Ulsan to lose their final three games.

Jeonbuk’s uphill climb begins at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday against Gangwon FC. Because Ulsan’s match begins 4 1/2 hours before that Jeonbuk-Gangwon game, it’s possible Jeonbuk’s fate will have been sealed before their kickoff.

Elsewhere in the league, with Seongnam FC facing direct relegation to the K League 2 next year, others near the bottom of the tables will try to avoid a trip to the second division.

With the 12th-ranked team getting automatic relegation, the 10th- and 11th-ranked clubs will fall to playoffs against K League 2 foes, with the winners earning spots in the K League 1 for 2023 and losers playing in the K League 2.

Gimcheon Sangmu FC currently sit in 11th place with 36 points, two behind Suwon Samsung Bluewings and five back of Daegu FC, with all three clubs having three matches remaining.

Suwon and Daegu will collide at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, while Gimcheon will play FC Seoul (42 points) that evening as well.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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