Friday, 3 March 2017

Vs Eastern SC (away) 1/3/17 - ACL Group stage match 2

 Eastern SC 1 - 1 Kawasaki Frontale

I got back from Hong Kong yesterday after a three hour delay sitting on the tarmac at the airport. This was my first experience of an away ACL game and given that it was the first proper ACL match to be held in Hong Kong and the weird ban that Guangzhou enforced on away fans in the first group game, I guess it was many Eastern fans' first experience of a proper ACL match of any kind. It was a fun experience with a few obvious disappointments that I am sure you are all already aware of. I’m certainly looking forward to the home tie against them, if only to get some kind of closure psychologically.  It was also my first time in Hong Kong and that was a slightly strange experience. But I won’t dwell on that as this is a football blog not a travel blog.

There seemed to be a bit of a buzz in the air when we arrived at what was a nice little ground. The majority of the people were seated in two bigger seating areas behind the goals, but we were put just to the left of the halfway line down one of the sides. What I guess to be the Eastern diehard fans were kind of diagonally across from us, the other side of the halfway line on the other side of the pitch. To our right were a more mysterious group who seemed to be there mainly to try to antagonise us and boo every time we got the ball. They did boo for an impressively long time. Given the fact that we finished with 75% possession on the night, they had a lot of booing to do. But it all seemed a little childish given that as far as I know there is no kind of rivalry or history between the two teams. For the most part we are a friendly club and I don’t know why some of their fans felt the need to try and go all British-football-fan hostile on us. There were a section of them wearing Yokohama F Marinos shirts apparently to wind us up, which I don’t think really bothered anyone and they displayed a sign saying we haven’t won a title which according to someone on twitter infuriated some of our fans. But I think that was more wishful thinking from the people who put up the banner and the tweet. I’m sure they won’t get the same kind of treatment when they come to the Todoroki as we always seem quite nice to the away fans. In our section there were a huge number of non-Japanese Asian Frontale fans, which made for a slightly strange experience. I was delighted to see them and many of them came decked out in the latest shirts and training gear, but I guess they were having trouble signing our songs as most of them are in difficult to pick up Japanese. Someone was handing out crib sheets with player details, but it might have made sense to hand out the words for the songs in a language that wasn’t Japanese. But to be honest I don’t know how easy or worthwhile this would have been.

We left a few big players at home (Kengo, Sung-Ryong, Oshima, Taniguchi, Ienaga). Presumably, Oniki is trying to find a balance between the league and the ACL. I think this is a good idea, but I thought Ienaga would have travelled, given that this fixture would have been a good opportunity to get him off the mark goal-wise. Similarly, I was surprised that Abe didn’t start. He travelled but was an unused substitute. Arai, started in goal with a back four of Michael, Nara, Igawa and Kurumaya in front of him. Ahead of that, Itakura and Moriya were the defensive midfielders, with Miyoshi, Kano and Rhayner in front and Morimoto up top by himself. On the bench were Ando, Nobori, Tasaka, Abe, Hasegawa, Neto and Kobayashi. The game kicked off with a load of booing from the Eastern fans, which I initially thought was being aimed at Michael but later realised was just every time we had the ball. I guess this means that Michael had a lot of possession early on. Miyoshi seemed to be coming very deep to collect the ball and was making some nice runs at the Eastern defence. The early Eastern tactic (and to be honest, the only Eastern tactic for the whole game…) was to hoof long balls forward for Bleda and McKee to run after. This tactic and the incompetence of the referee changed the game in the 12th minute. A long hoof upfield was chased down by Nara and Eastern’s Bleda. Nara, in front of Bleda, was holding him off but Bleda wrapped his leg round, tripping Nara and they both hit the deck. Inexplicably, the ref gave a penalty and sent Nara off, condemning us all to a torrid remaining 80 minutes. I’ve heard various opinions on this, but the most generous to the ref seems to have been that it was a dubious penalty. It’s tough on Nara, who was getting his first start in a long time and who I don’t think did anything wrong. And on a personal note, I think it’s tough on the supporters who had travelled so far, to see the game ruined in not much more than ten minutes by yet another incompetent refereeing performance. Naturally, the Bleda put away the penalty and we were going to be in for a tough night.

After this early disaster, Itakura dropped back into the centre of defence, but also seemed to be playing the Neto position he was in before. He was everywhere and was doing a great job. It’s hard to believe he was one of the less experienced players on the pitch. We now had to chase the game and in spite of being a man down, were getting plenty of possession and making a few chances. Rhayner was looking good, with nice control, dribbling and driving at the Eastern defence, but occasionally his passes were going a little off target. But it’s still early days. Michael was having a bit of a nightmare at right back, losing the ball, passes going astray and didn’t look settled all night. I guess it’s still early days for him too, but I think I would rather see him in central defence than at the side. I think he might not play for a few games now though as his performance wasn’t really up to scratch. I hope he can grow in confidence as he could be a useful member of our squad, but at the moment he’s having trouble. Also having a nightmare was the ref, who continued to bamboozle both sets of fans with what seemed to be a psychedelically-enhanced interpretation of the laws of the game. As we have come to expect and should be used to by now, we were getting the rough treatment from the opposition who were pushing, hacking and tripping us quite a bit. Their tactics were working pretty well though. Leave a boot in here and there, deal with our attacks with most of the team behind the ball and smack long balls trying to hit us on the counter attack. We had a few chances in the first half but things weren’t quite working. Shots were hit wide, high or straight at the keeper and generally seemed to be a bit too weak to cause any real problems. 

The second half started with Tasaka replacing Kano and he seemed to gee us up a bit. I don’t think Kano had done much wrong and was surprised it wasn’t Michael or Morimoto that got replaced as neither of them were doing much right. Tasaka made a few good chances, maybe the best of which was a pass to Miyoshi who hit a low and hard shot that was tipped wide by the keeper. Our goal came on 52 minutes and Tasaka was involved. He hit a cross into the box that bounced and seemed to hit Rhayner in the face, who then hooked the ball over his head to Itakura who slid the ball home. So maybe Itakura was playing up front too! It’s great to see him score. He really deserved it. From here on, we were looking for a winner. But, we were still handing them chance after chance through, mainly through defensive slip-ups. They hit the bar with a header when a totally unmarked player was allowed a free run into the box. Thankfully we managed to clear the ball from the huge goalmouth scramble that resulted. Not long afterwards, they had another pretty much free header from a corner as Michael didn’t seem to jump for the ball. Thankfully Morimoto was there to clear the ball from just in front of the line. The referee’s randomness continued. He would play the advantage when it wasn’t appropriate and blow the whistle when he shouldn’t. At least in my opinion, anyway. Fair tackles taking the ball cleanly were punished and a shocking elbow in the face to Rhayner was decided to be unworthy of even a yellow. Moriya put the resulting free kick way over the bar, unfortunately.

A few minutes later he did get the book out for a bit of handbags between Rhayner and the despicable diving and whinging Bleda though, both players getting a yellow. On 69 minutes we brought on Kobayashi for Miyoshi. I guess we had hoped we would be able to give him a rest but time was running out. Once again, I thought Morimoto would have been removed, but I guess he is more suited to this kind of bruising encounter. It is Miyoshi though who was making chances, although he had maybe drifted out of the game a little. Still, we couldn’t get another goal though and on 81 minutes Neto came on for Itakura who had done a magnificent job all over the pitch. We were completely dominating but not scoring and they were still snatching chances here and there. If their strikers were a bit better I think we would have had some serious trouble in this game, as whilst we defended competently at times, we were often gifting them chances. Time was running out fast, but the ref felt the need to stamp his incompetence on the game one more time by giving Rhayner a second yellow in stoppage time. Apparently this was for unsportsmanlike behaviour. It looked more like he stood his ground and an Eastern player ran into him. After receiving an elbow to the face which was not considered worthy of a card, it’s no surprise that he looked a little bewildered by the decision. This was the last action of the game though, as the ref blew up whilst Eastern were getting ready to take the free kick. I have to admit I did chuckle a little at this. They didn’t seem to find it so funny though.

So, 1-1. A pretty bad result for us to be honest, but one which we shouldn’t take all the blame for. At the same time though, we can’t pin it all on the ref. Don’t know if the stats are 100% accurate, but with 74% possession we should have more than fifteen shots I think. And more than six of these fifteen should have been on target. We were lucky not to concede a second, especially when the game got stretched in the second half. I’m not sure if we underestimated them as some critics have said. I don’t think they were very good, but we didn’t perform on the night. If we hadn’t got the early red, I think it would have been a very different game. Of course, I’m biased, but I think the ref had a total shocker of a game. But Michael and Morimoto didn’t do much better. Positives and negatives. Let’s go negative first. Terrible result, terrible ref, questionable performances from some of our players. Michael looks a little out of his depth or hopefully, out of practice. I think he only made one stinker of a blunder against Suwon but he made plenty in this game. Morimoto looks totally devoid of confidence. He either scuffs the ball or rolls it towards the keeper. He needs a few goals quick, I think. But I’m not sure he will have many easier chances than he did against Eastern. Another big negative is the red cards. That will mean bans (unless they are somehow overturned, which I doubt will happen). I suppose Nara and Rhayner should be playing in the league games now. Particularly Nara, as a straight red means he won’t be taking part in the ACL for a while. We had to use players who we were hoping to rest which is a shame. And finally, I guess this has dealt our confidence a bit of a blow too. Let’s hope we can recover that soon. Positives, if I can find any. Great performance from Itakura who was probably the best player on the pitch. Tasaka did well when he came on and Rhayner showed some signs of what he can do. I don’t think he’ll be a big goalscorer but he looks like he can scare defences and make chances for others. Just hope we can find people to take them. That’s about it though I think. Can’t really think of anything else.

Up next, Sagan Tosu at home in the league and Harakawa, back to visit us soon after he left on loan. Hopefully we can bounce back from this disappointment and regain some confidence. Our next ACL game will be away in China the week after next and that will be a big indicator of where we actually are. I guess it will be our most difficult group game, so it will be good to get it out of the way and if we can take anything from it, that will be great. Not sure if it’s good or bad that Suwon drew with Guangzhou. I can’t imagine they will slip up against Eastern like we did, so we have to get a good result against one of the better teams in the group now to stand any chance of progressing. I think things haven’t quite clicked for us yet this season, so hopefully things will start to fall into place soon.


GK 30. ARAI Shota
DF 3. NARA Tatsuki (Red card 14')
DF 4. IGAWA Yusuke
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro
MF 19. MORIYA Kentaro
MF 25. KANO Kenta
MF 22. RHAYNER (Yellow card 68', second yellow/red card 90+4')
FW 9. MORIMOTO Takayuki

GK 24. ANDO Shunsuke
DF 6. TASAKA Yusuke (on for KANO 46')
MF 8. ABE Hiroyuki
MF 16. HASEGAWA Tatsuya
FW 11. KOBAYASHI Yu (on for MIYOSHI 69')
MF 21. EDUARDO NETO (on for ITAKURA 81')


BLEDA (Eastern) 14' PEN 1-0
ITAKURA (Frontale) 52'  1-1



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