Sanfrecce Hiroshima 0 - 3 Kawasaki FrontaleBarring anything that might happen in the Emperor’s cup, this was our last long distance away game this season and in spite of the weather and the distance, it was a trip well worth making. Sanfrecce Hiroshima are a team more than flirting with relegation not long after winning the league. That kind of thing does tend to happen in the J League I guess, but their lowly league position does seem slightly surprising. That was my impression before the game and remains so afterwards. This was a game where they put up a good fight against a Frontale team that was missing a few regulars, lost a very important member in the first half and has played a lot of football this year. Their good fight was in vain though, more due to their bad luck and bad finishing than anything that you might assume from our relative league positions. For some reason, the game it brings to mind for me is the disappointing away draw against Avispa Fukuoka last season. That might not make much sense given the difference in outcome, but I think it’s useful to see how far we might have come since then. Both games were long distance, at the business end of the season (or half season as it was last year), against opposition fighting for their lives, without some key players and in wet conditions. Last year we were missing Kengo and we huffed and puffed our way to a draw in a game we definitely should have won, ruining our chances of winning the first stage as Kashima won whilst we drew. This year, the scoreline suggests it was comfortable, (although it didn’t feel like for most of the game), we were without a couple of important players and this time Kashima lost. It’s easy to get carried away with comparing the two, but it’s nice to see us being able to win without Neto and Ienaga in horrible conditions and ride our luck whilst not playing great. We’re still not the finished article, as we do tend to get semi-regular games where we don’t turn up, but this was a crucial step towards banishing our reputation as chokers. Still four games left to choke in though, but Kashima can’t be feeling too good at the moment, after another defeat topped off with a clanger of an own goal, which has cut the gap to two points. It will definitely be an interesting finish to the season. I’m sticking with my pessimism and will predict us overtaking Kashima and then losing the title on the last day of the season with a defeat at home to Omiya.
The horrible weather mentioned above was due to an approaching typhoon. It’s still approaching as I write this, but thankfully now I’m inside rather than standing on an uncovered terrace in the mountains in Hiroshima. I suspect the views would have been nice if they were visible. The rain prevented me from making many notes or taking many pictures, so this might be brief. But it does seem that when I say that, I normally end up writing loads. We started the game with two enforced changes. Neto was out due to accumulated yellow cards and Ienaga was out because of last week’s red. So Oniki had to shuffle the pack a little. Given Oshima is still injured we had to start the game with neither of our first choice defensive midfielders. These spots were taken by Moriya, who’s made a decent fist of playing there recently, and Taniguchi, pushed forward from his usual centre back position, who last played in midfield away against Cerezo Osaka. Not exactly one of our best performances of the season. His place in defence was taken by Edu. Elsinho, Kurumaya and Nara were the other defenders, with Sung-Ryong behind them. Further forward, Ienaga’s absence meant that we could play both of our speedy, young, (and slightly short) exciting attackers, Hasegawa (on the left) and Miyoshi (on the right). Kengo was in the middle and Kobayashi up front. The bench was Arai, Noborizato, Tasaka, Morimoto, Chinen, Rhayner and Itakura. As I hinted above, I was a little worried about Taniguchi in midfield. It’s actually his preferred position, but I certainly prefer him at the back and I think he plays better there too. So far, so worrying. And this is kind of how the game started. There was definitely a bit of disorganisation, in part due to the new positions and definitely contributed to by the weather. The rain had been pelting down for a few hours before kick off, so the surface was certainly well watered. Not exactly in the way you might hope for the ball to zip along though. The game wasn’t the fastest, tidiest or most exciting and it was Hiroshima who started better. Moriya picked up a booking early on, immediately sending me into a panic that we were going to get another two yellow red card. It seemed a bit harsh at the time and watching it back doesn’t change my impression much. We were doing ok, but not really firing on all cylinders. Taniguchi was coping and Edu, back in the side after a while didn’t seem too rusty, occasionally misplacing a few passes, but nothing serious. Luck was on our side for once. Sanfrecce hit the bar (well Sung-Ryong just about diverted a shot onto the bar), hit the post (sure he had it covered…) and had a goal disallowed (correctly after seeing the replay, although it felt quite fortunate at the time). Not saying it was one way traffic though, as we apparently had more shots in the first half than they did. We just weren’t really causing them too many problems. A Kobayashi header that went straight at the keeper and a well-saved long distance shot from Moriya are about the only ones I can remember. On 33 minutes we were dealt a huge blow as Sung-Ryong had to be replaced by Arai. I think he pulled something taking a long goal kick, (see, I told you we shouldn’t be doing those), and after a lengthy break in play, Arai came on to replace him. It initially looked like he might be able to continue, and there certainly seemed to be some deliberation about it, but I think the decision from Oniki was that we would probably need him in games to come, and why risk making a small injury into a bad injury, so better safe than sorry. Hope that this is right and it isn’t serious. I’m guessing it will probably be Arai starting on Wednesday against Kashiwa in the Emperor’s Cup. So, another chance for Arai who I think is a good keeper, but definitely doesn’t have the ball skills and the presence that Sung-Ryong does. Not long afterwards we took the lead. After all the chances that both teams had missed up till this point, the finish was a pretty easy one. Kengo delivered a free kick from the edge of the pitch, the keeper caught it, then dropped it, Edu’s seized the opportunity and prodded the ball towards/across the goal and Taniguchi passed it into the net. It might have been going in anyway, but probably best to make sure. We’ve been scoring from distance a lot recently, but this one couldn’t really have been any closer to the goal line. Great reaction from Edu to make the chance. As we went into injury time we were two ahead and this time it was a bit more spectacular. After a quick break out of defence we naturally slowed things down a little and kept possession in their half. After a few passes the ball fell to Miyoshi on the edge of the box and he smashed it in. Two up at half time, a bit harsh on Sanfrecce, but they really weren’t taking their chances. I guess that’s the difference in ‘luck’ when you’re near the top or the bottom of the table.
Given the finish to the first half, it's unsurprising that the second one started quite positively for us. We had obviously been buoyed by the late and perhaps slightly fortunate goals. The rain was easing off a little but the conditions were still playing their part. There were quite a few stoppages for injuries and we weren’t able to play our best football. But we were still doing ok. Our defending was a little desperate at times, but it was effective. Arai was doing ok. One site I saw has Sanfrecce as having no shots on goal in the whole game, which I don’t think is quite right, but there’s more to goalkeeping than just saves I guess. Like assists, but I’ll come to that later. Elsinho was quite involved and was creating some problems for them down the right and Taniguchi was still there, doing his job in the middle. Kobayashi had a few chances but things weren’t quite falling for him. Hasegawa picked up a yellow card, which was fair enough as it wasn’t a very good challenge. Perhaps this contributed to him being the next player replaced. Noborizato came on for him and once again made a decent impression. Our final change came on 75 minutes when Tasaka (back in his home town and making his 150th appearance), came on for Miyoshi. Sanfrecce made some changes too, with Frontale old boy Patric playing 25 minutes or so. When he was with us, I mainly remember him being a huge lump with not a great deal of technique. I can’t really comment on his current technique, but it seems he’s still being used in the same way and after his introduction they had a few more decent chances which again were off target. There’s not much else to say about the second half apart from our third goal, which came from a huge upfield punt from Arai and which was finished beautifully by Kobayashi. Again a bit harsh on Sanfrecce, but I guess when things aren’t going for you, these kind of things happen. The scoreline definitely flattered us, but we were worth the win with apparently two thirds of our fifteen shots being on target. Strangely, for once we didn’t dominate possession, I guess because we didn’t have Neto or Oshima in the middle and whilst Taniguchi and Moriya did a decent job, it was a different kind of game that we played. It’s great to see us grind out a win in touch circumstances, although maybe you can’t really grind out a 3-0. It definitely didn’t feel like a 3-0 though, but the three points were secured and that’s all that really matters at this stage of the season.
Postives and negatives. Let’s mix them up for a change. Not the most convincing performance but the result was good. We survived what looked like was going to be a tough match and Neto and Ienaga will be available for the next game. Elsinho probably played the best I’ve seen him play recently and looked a constant threat. Miyoshi and Hasegawa both did a decent job too. And our makeshift middle pairing Moriya and Taniguchi did what was required. However, we were lucky to have not conceded, but maybe this is a sign that things are going our way at the moment. Hope that lasts, but worried there will be a blip soon. A big negative has to be a potential injury to Sung-Ryong, although I’m hoping it wasn’t as serious as it might have looked from the substitution. Let’s hope it was precautionary. Big positive has to be Kashima losing against Yokohama. They must be feeling the pressure after that result, but they are still two points ahead and we still have to keep winning to keep our chances alive. Four more league games which require no slip ups from us, the last two of which will come within three days of each other due to Urawa’s ACL victory. But, let’s look on the bright side and hope that we can keep up this momentum that seems to be building.
Next up, we have a couple of games against Kashiwa. The first is at home on Wednesday in the Emperor’s Cup. Then we go to their place on Sunday for a tough league fixture. We did well there last year and they were doing pretty well this season but have stumbled a little in the last few games. The battle for third place is pretty tight and they are involved, so they will definitely have something to play for. These two games should be decent, but I’d quite happily settle for a couple of wins from underwhelming performances if that’s what it takes. Next up for Kashima is an away game at Consadole Sapporo which isn’t exactly a fixture you’d fancy when you’re wobbling. For this game, GO CONSADOLE! and of course, it goes without saying, go Frontale!
GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 18. ELSINHO
DF 3. NARA Tatsuki
DF 23. EDUARDO
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro
MF 5. TANIGUCHI Shogo
MF 19. MORIYA Kentaro (Yellow card 9')
MF 13. MIYOSHI Koji
MF 14. NAKAMURA Kengo
MF 16. HASEGAWA Tatsuya (Yellow card 50')
GK 30. ARAI Shota (on for JUNG 33')
DF 2. NOBORIZATO Kyohei (on for HASEGAWA 60')
MF 6. TASAKA Yusuke (on for MIYOSHI 75')
FW 9. MORIMOTO Takayuki
FW 20. CHINEN Kei
MF 22. RHAYNER
DF 28. ITAKURA Ko
My Frontale Man Of The Match
As I said above, this wasn't the most convincing performance, but was a decent result. People did what they had to do. Elsinho stood out for me and there were some good finishes in the game as well as the lovely assist from Arai. But for the circumstances of the performance, I'll give it to...
TANIGUCHI Shogo - Did a decent job in a position that has not exactly been familiar for him recently. Solid in the defensive aspects of his job but also looked good going forward. Amazing finish for the goal too.
TANIGUCHI (Frontale) 40’ 0-1
MIYOSHI (Frontale) 45+1’ 0-2
KOBAYASHI (Frontale) 85’ 0-3
The Frontale youtube channel usually has longer highlights provided by DAZN, but given that last year's highlights got wiped when the broadcaster got changed, I'm going to stick with the official J League ones. But you can watch the longer highlights here if you want. And we have that extra footage video again at the bottom.
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