Well, that was a lot of fun, wasn't it? Perhaps one of the most enjoyable football weekends ever, as not only did we smash our neighbours 5-1 at their place, but Leyton Orient also won handsomely, beating Guiseley 4-1. Admittedly, the second half might not be of much interest to readers of this blog, but it does seem to be the case that my two teams rarely win on the same weekend, so maybe the result of Orient is more closely linked to Frontale than it might seem. We knew we were in a pretty good position after winning the first leg 2-0 and not letting them get an away goal. In reality, all we probably needed to do to progress was get an away goal for ourselves which would leave them requiring four and us not scoring again. Sure we've made some defensive howlers at some stages this season, but aside from the home game against Jubilo, I don't think we've let in four. Hopefully, this result might be a good omen for next Wednesday, when we head to Urawa in the second round of the ACL with another two goal lead to 'defend'. Unfortunately, they got an away goal so it could be a bit more difficult. Also, I suspect that Urawa might play a bit better than FC Tokyo, a team who many tipped for the title at the start of the season, but now have pretty much nothing to play for with three months of the season remaining. Schadenfreude is a not particularly graceful emotion, but the fact that there's a word for it, suggests that it's a feeling that has some place in the modern world.
The team selection perhaps hints that we went into the game knowing one goal would probably see us through. We resorted to something more resembling our usual first choice starting eleven. Perhaps the (very welcome) absence of a midweek game for us this week also meant that there was less need to rest players. In a way, it's a shame that some of the fringe players couldn't get another run out, but the morale boost a win like this gives could potentially be pretty useful too, I guess. From a title point of view, it's a shame that we couldn't have done a bit better against them in the league games, but let's not get too greedy. Sung-Ryong returned in goal. That's where my thoughts and the website's thoughts diverge. I think that we played with a back four of Elsinho, Edu, Nara and Kurumaya, with Itakura and Oshima in front of them, and Kengo, Ienaga, Kobayashi and Abe ahead of them. The Frontale website says a back three of Edu, Nara and Itakura, with Oshima and Kengo ahead. I guess it's much of a muchness though, as one of our defensive midfielders is always dropping very deep, alongside the centre backs. My notes for this game were fairly brief again. As I had had a fairly subdued first leg due to not really being able to talk last Wednesday, I decided to make up for it by singing as loud and as much as I possibly could. Also the frequency of our attacks and goals meant that there wasn't much dead time to get the phone out and note anything. As on Wednesday, the game started off fairly evenly and both teams were a little sloppy. Okubo looked more bothered than last week, but this didn't really translate into any dangerous attacks for them. I guess due to them needing plenty of goals they were attacking quite a lot, but we didn't look particularly uncomfortable and were able to deal with everything they threw at us. And we managed to score first, effectively finishing off the tie. On 28 minutes Abe put us ahead. It came from a counter attack and a nice pass from Kengo, and was a calm finish, smashed into the top far corner. 2 minutes later he doubled our lead, playing a one-two with Kobayashi and then slotting it into the bottom corner in plenty of space. The look on Okubo's face on the highlights video perfectly sums up the situation that FC Tokyo were in at this stage. On 38 minutes they made an early sub, which was apparently tactical. Never a particularly reassuring sight if it's your team doing it, but if it changes the flow of the game, fair enough. Sadly for them it didn't. Two minutes later we were three ahead with Elsinho chiming in with a goal. It was another sweeping passing move, a shot from Itakura being only parried by the keeper and sitting up perfectly for Elsinho to slot home. It's probably fair to say that by this stage we were probably going to be alright, with them needing six goals to triumph. A hugely satisfying first half and a great atmosphere in the stands.
The second half started with a substitution, Taniguchi on for Ienaga. I think we really did switch to a back three then. Although I guess people of the Frontale website opinion might say that he went into the defensive midfield position and Kengo pushed up. Guess it's all pretty much the same anyway, as our formation is usually fairly fluid. Total football etc.... It didn't take long for us to get our fourth, and it was Abe securing his hat-trick. Haven't seen one of them from one of our players for a while and apparently the first one of his career. Good for him! This was the result of a 50 pass move apparently (or possibly that was one of the other goals...), finishing up with an Elsinho cross and Abe putting the ball away through the legs of the defender and past the keeper into the corner. The shocking thing about most of our goals is that for the majority of them, FC Tokyo had plenty of defenders around, but we seemed to be finding space with ease. I'll put this down to our excellence rather than any poor performance from them. Even with a six goal lead I still found it possible to pick holes in the ref's performance. I tell you, it's a skill I have. As far as I was concerned he seemed to be trying to even things up with a lot of decisions going Tokyo's way. He also seemed to be time wasting. With the ball played out by us for an injury, he demanded the FC Tokyo player retake the throw from the correct position, a metre or so away, in spite of the fact that they were throwing the ball back to us. Completely baffling why he would do that. A minute after Abe's goal FC Tokyo made another sub in an attempt to claw their way back. Much like the first sub, it was answered by us almost immediately scoring again. I tell you, them subs were super. It was Elsinho again and brought up the possibility of us perhaps having two hat-tricks in the same game. A long ball was sent through to Kobayashi. He passed it to an advancing Elsinho who neatly chipped it over their keeper. Quite an enjoyable finish. Immediately after this goal they made their third and final sub, but sadly this time we weren't able to score immediately afterwards. Clearly the game was finished as a contest, and to be honest, I was getting pretty fatigued from high-fiving. Tasaka came on for Nara on 65 minutes, perhaps because Nara had been booked in the first half and there was no need to give them a lifeline by going down to 10 men. Things were petering out a little but we were still making chances. On 80 minutes, we were overjoyed to see Kano Kenta on for Itakura, who'd had a great game. He seems really well loved by the fans and it was great to see him get some pitch time. During one attack he agonisingly hit the bar. It would have been great to see him score and he did a decent job during his short time on the pitch. Elsinho was desperately going for his hat-trick, shooting when he possibly could have squared it to someone in a better position, but I don't think anyone would hold that against him. As sure as night follows day, Okubo turned up in injury time to score a consolation goal for them. Typical Okubo! And I have to say it was a pretty good goal, but perhaps we weren't that bothered at that stage. Can't say it really took much gloss off the performance though. It was a fantastic day for Frontale and consequently there was a very enjoyable large scale Vai La Frontale at the end. That'll all do nicely thanks!
Positives and positives. I'm not even going to entertain the thought that there was anything negative about this game. Great to see Abe and Elsinho scoring for fun. It's a bit of a fake comparison, but just compare our front men from last season and this season. Last year we had Okubo, contributing a little going forward, nothing at the back, a lot of negativity and drawing a huge salary. This year we have Abe, scoring for fun, in the form of his life, tackling back almost as much as he is bursting forward, and have a squad who are supporting each other and seem to really like each other. I swear I even saw the shy guy Ienaga smile recently. There seems to be just a really good feeling round the club at the moment. Which is pretty much the opposite of FC Tokyo, who have loads of cash but don't seem to be able to buy a win. I'm pretty sure I said plenty of times before the season that FC Tokyo were making a mistake with Okubo and that the people who thought he'd bring them the title were wrong. But it's not nice to gloat, so I won't mention it again... probably. We're through to the next round where we'll meet Sendai, which means I have another opportunity to go to one of my favourite grounds and cities again. We're in the semi-final. I'm not saying anything further about that. I guess the final big positive is no Wednesday game this week. Let's hope the players can get a bit of a rest and be fresh for next Saturday.
Next up are Yokohama F Marinos at home. We definitely owe them a beating after the horrible game at their place earlier this year. They are also just above us in the table, so this is a crucial one. Fingers crossed! After that we're looking to make more cup progress away at Urawa next Wednesday in the ACL. Fingers crossed for that one too! This is a great time to be a Frontale fan at the moment and long may that continue! Go Frontale!
GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 18. ELSINHODF 23. EDUARDO
DF 3. NARA Tatsuki (Yellow card 46')
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro
MF 28. ITAKURA Ko
MF 10. OSHIMA RyotaMF 14. NAKAMURA Kengo
MF 41. IENAGA Akihiro
MF 41. IENAGA Akihiro
MF 8. ABE Hiroyuki
FW 11. KOBAYASHI Yu
GK 30. ARAI Shota
DF 5. TANIGUCHI Shogo (on for IENAGA 46')
DF 6. TASAKA Yusuke (on for NARA 65')FW 9. MORIMOTO Takayuki
MF 21. EDUARDO NETO
My Frontale Man Of The Match
They all played pretty well to be honest but it's hard to look much further past one player, (sorry Elsinho). Also, I didn't really notice during the match, but Itakura had a hand in most of the goals, so he was probably pretty close to getting it too. That's pretty satisfying.
ABE Hiroyuki - But, can't really look past the hat-trick I guess, and all of the goals were nice finishes. Bravo! Apologies for the weak visual pun in the picture. I'm running out of ideas for these photos.
ABE (Frontale) 28' 0-1
ABE (Frontale) 30' 0-2
ELSINHO (Frontale) 40' 0-3
ABE (Frontale) 54' 0-4
ELSINHO (Frontale) 56' 0-5
OKUBO (FC Tokyo) 90+1' 1-5