|Ulsan Hyundai striker Junior Negrao / Yonhap|
By Jhoo Dong-chan
It happened again. Ulsan Hyundai conceded this year's K League 1 title to its rival Jeonbuk Hyundai in the last minute once more. Ulsan manager Kim Do-hoon said he took comfort in the fact that the gap between the two teams has been narrowed, but angry Ulsan fans are demanding his resignation.
Korea's two top clubs faced each other three times in the K League 1 this season, and Jeonbuk emerged victorious all three times. Despite its three victories, however, Jeonbuk had been below its rival in the table for most of the season due to its rollercoaster performance especially against underdog clubs.
Fans' expectations were high for Ulsan coming into the season as it acquired a number of high-profile players ― including ex-English Premier League winger Lee Chung-yong and South Korea's national team goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo. Experts had claimed Ulsan would be different this season and would be the top contender.
"Ulsan's squad seems to be even stronger than last season," K League commentator Lee Ju-heon said before the start of the season. "Adding a number of talented players, including Lee, the team looks even stronger than Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors this year. What really matters now is Ulsan FC head coach Kim Do-hoon's strategy and winning mentality throughout the season. Ulsan failed to add points when Kim was sidelined because of a suspension last season. Such a mistake won't be accepted by Ulsan supporters this season."
Just like last year, Ulsan had held the top spot in the league for longer than any other team throughout the season, but conceded this after being beaten by Pohang Steelers 0-4 in the 25th game of the season and then its rival Jeonbuk 0-1 in the 26th.
Now, fans are after Kim's blood.
"You can't say our squad is weaker than Jeonbuk this year," an Ulsan supporter said on the club's fan page.
"Jeonbuk had to let go of national team defender Kim Jin-su during the season. In the meantime, Ulsan signed another national-level defender Hong Chul. We also enjoyed Won Doo-jae's growth. Won is now one of the nation's best midfielders. It's time to question Kim's leadership and tactics. The club needs to sign a better manager, or we aren't going to win the league anytime soon."