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Ulsan open up 10-point lead atop K League 1 tables

All News 09:51 May 30, 2022

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, May 30 (Yonhap) -- Could this be finally the year for Ulsan Hyundai FC?

Ulsan haven't won a K League 1 championship since 2005. They have been runners-up to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in each of the past three seasons, and they own the league record for most second-place finishes with 10.

Through 15 matches this season, Ulsan are threatening to run away with the title. Following their come-from-behind, 2-1 victory over Suwon FC on Saturday, Ulsan have opened up a 10-point lead in first place, 36-26 over Jeju United.

There are 23 games still to go, but Ulsan's dominance so far, coupled with uninspired play from clubs below them, makes the 10-point gap seem larger than it is.

Jun Amano of Ulsan Hyundai FC (R) celebrates with teammate Lee Chung-yong after scoring a goal against Suwon FC during the clubs' K League 1 match at Suwon Stadium in Suwon, 45 kilometers south of Seoul, on May 28, 2022, in this photo provided by the Korea Professional Football League. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Thanks to second-half goals by Valeri Qazaishvili and Jun Amano, Ulsan extended their undefeated streak to five matches, with four wins and a draw.

Suwon FC, on the other hand, haven't won in their past half-dozen games and remained stuck in 11th place, second from bottom, with 12 points.

Also on Saturday, Jeju blanked Jeonbuk 2-0 in a showdown of clubs battling for second place. Joo Min-kyu, the 2021 scoring champion, had both of Jeju's goals and climbed to third place in the scoring race with nine. Joo is two back of Stefan Mugosa of Incheon United.

That defeat snapped Jeonbuk's undefeated run at nine matches, as they dropped to third place at 25 points.

Ulsan head coach Hong Myung-bo said prior to the victory that he wasn't paying attention to how Jeonbuk or other contenders had been playing of late, adding: "This is only our 15th match of the season. There's more than half of the season left. We just have to concentrate on what we have to do."

Joo Min-kyu of Jeju United celebrates his goal against Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors during the clubs' K League 1 match at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, 240 kilometers south of Seoul, on May 28, 2022, in this photo provided by the Korea Professional Football League. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Ulsan then took care of business and will now head into the two-week international break comfortably atop the tables. With South Korea scheduled to play four friendly matches between Thursday and June 14, the K League 1 will press pause and resume action on June 17.

Incidentally, Ulsan's first match out of the break will be against Jeonbuk on June 19.

"We'll have to regroup physically and mentally over the next few days, and make sure we come back refreshed," Hong said in his postmatch presser. "We won't just be getting ready for the Jeonbuk match. We'll have to prepare games in late June and early July."

As for the double-digit cushion in first place, Hong said he didn't think the large lead would affect his team one way or another.

"Unless we can truly dominate the competition, it will be difficult to win the title. We've had firsthand experience with it," Hong said. "I think we're strong enough to keep going and win the championship on our own, without getting help from other teams."

Kim Do-hyeok of Incheon United (L) and Lee Si-young of Seongnam FC vie for the ball during the clubs' K League 1 match at Incheon Football Stadium in Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul, on May 29, 2022, in this photo provided by the Korea Professional Football League. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Also on Saturday, FC Seoul and Gimcheon Sangmu FC played each other to a 2-2 draw, with Jung Seung-hyun netting the injury-time equalizer for Gimcheon to salvage a point.

Incheon United ended their winless skid at six matches, thanks to a 1-0 victory over Seongnam FC on Sunday. With Song Si-woo's 78th-minute winner, Incheon climbed to fourth place on 24 points.

Seongnam remained in last place at nine points. They were trying to win back-to-back matches for the first time this year.

Also Sunday, Gangwon FC only managed a 1-1 draw against 10-man Suwon Samsung Bluewings. Daegu FC and Pohang Steelers battled to a 2-2 draw.

While Jeju are 10 points behind Ulsan, nine points separate Jeju and ninth-place Gimcheon.

In the middle, Daegu FC, FC Seoul and Suwon Samsung Bluewings all have 18 points each, with Daegu occupying sixth place thanks to their edge in goals scored with 22. FC Seoul have 17, and Suwon Samsung have 12 goals.

Players for Daegu FC (blue) and Pohang Steelers jostle for position during their K League 1 match at DGB Daegu Bank Park in Daegu, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on May 29, 2022, in this photo provided by the Korea Professional Football League. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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