Kawasaki Frontale 3 - 2 Vegalta Sendai
Finally, our seemingly endless run of games against Sendai is over and I’m pretty sure we will come away from these games feeling pretty pleased with what we achieved. Once again this was a game with some strong similarities and some big differences to the other Sendai games. The big similarity is another two yellow red card with some controversy attached to it, (but maybe not so much with this one). Also, as in the first game, we had them taking a good lead and then a comeback. But significantly, the comeback this time was a complete one, rather than us just regaining some foothold in the tie. I don’t think I have seen scenes at Todoroki like we saw yesterday since the injury time Yokohama comeback last year. It was a pretty exhilarating experience and has done my voice no good at all. The fact that they also hit the bar near the end has made me consider whether this might be our year for the title. It certainly seemed to be a good omen, but I still think we won’t quite get there.
I guess Levain cup games are a different matter to league games, but there was quite a lot of continuity in the teams over the three games. For Sendai, the one noticeable change was Crislan dropping to the bench. I’m not a fan of him as I’m sure I mentioned a few times in the last couple of posts, so seeing him not starting was quite pleasing in a few ways. This did mean though that Ishihara, (Sendai’s danger man according to Kobayashi), was back in the starting line up. With regards to our line up, Nobori is injured again. It seems likely that he had to be rushed back when he wasn’t quite ready. I salute him for his sacrifice in that respect as his presence when he played made a big difference. Kurumaya was back from international duty so reclaimed his usual place at left back. The rest of the defence was unchanged. Nara’s red card in the last game will mean he misses the Levain final rather than a league game. Neto and Moriya continued in the defensive midfield positions and the front four were Miyoshi, Kengo (playing his 400th J League game, quite an achievement!), Ienaga and Kobayashi. Miyoshi started on the right and Ienaga on the left, but they were changing wings occasionally during the game. On the bench were Arai, Tasaka, Morimoto, Hasegawa, Chinen, Rhayner and Itakura. So, quite an attacking bench, but I think this probably has something to do with the make up of our squad and the players available. I was pleased to see the ref was Ikeuchi, who I thought was a new official for me. Perhaps I’ve encountered him before, but he didn’t leave the usual shocking memories burned into the brain that most refs do. He definitely remedied that in this game though. The opening of the game was all action. Initially we were looking pretty good, attacking well, with plenty of possession and chances, but sadly little in the way of actual shots on target. Our attacks ended with us losing the ball to a packed Sendai defence or blasting it over the bar. It seemed that everyone wanted Kengo to score on his 400th appearance and were consequently trying to tee him up. His shooting was way off though. After our first ten minutes of attacking danger they really came into the game. Sendai were looking good, much better than in their last two games and much better than their league position would suggest. In the first half of the first leg of the Levain game they scored three times against us, but it was our terrible play rather than their brilliance which was affecting the game. In this game they were playing a lot better and forced Sung-Ryong into a crucial save early on. But for the most part we were resolute and prevented them from scoring. A few serious blips aside, our defence does seem to be much more solid this year. Taniguchi and Nara have a good partnership, the defensive midfield players in front of them have been doing a great job and Sung-Ryong has put in some world class performances. The ref seemed to be blowing up for everything, almost the anti ‘play-on’ Nishimura. There were plenty of free kicks and most of them were going to Sendai. I had no idea at the time but it became increasingly obvious as the game progressed, that Ikeuchi is a ref that statistically always favours the away team. I guess in his head he’s aware that the home team tend to get the balance of the decisions and is trying to even that up. He seems to have gone way too far the other way though, managing to provoke loud jeering and booing from the usually placid Frontale fans. He perhaps made a rod for his own back by starting to book people early on. On 22 minutes he booked a Sendai player for shoving Ienaga in the back and then pulling his shirt. I was initially worried as it looked a little like Ienaga might have trod on him as he tried to get away, but there was no reaction from the player or the ref. From the resulting free kick we got our first booking and it looked like we were set to have a game full of yellow cards. Ienaga got a yellow for a dive in the box. I think I was complaining recently that refs never seem to book players for these kind of things anymore. Well, I guess now they do. There’s no question it was a dive though, so fair enough. Not particularly pleased to see a Frontale player diving and it’s a really stupid way to pick up a card from a ref that seemed to be giving plenty of decisions against us.
We were starting to come back into the game a bit though. Aside from the dive Ienaga was playing pretty well. He’s definitely got to grips with how we play now and is an important part of our team. Which makes what happened on 41 minutes all the more unfortunate. After stopping a clearance with his guts, and challenging for the ball against the Sendai defender who was shielding it, Ienaga nudges him with his arm, the defender goes down and Ienaga gets his second yellow and an early bath. I think it looks worse than it was and with this ref it was always going to be given. Not sure he needs to make the challenge in that way. Ienaga seemed bemused by the decision but it was inevitable really. So, once again up against it, having to play a long period with just 10 men. The ref was starting to lose it a little. No-one on the pitch or in the stands seemed to know the thinking behind his decisions. Kengo even had a go at him for failing to give a clear free kick as he was running back to defend. Oniki looked pretty cheesed off. It was pretty weird. And then Neto gets a yellow as well, ruling him out of the next game. No complaints about this either, he swings at the ball way after it has gone and catches the player. Watching the highlights he looks pretty tired and maybe this was a tired challenge. Things weren't really going our way, but at least we weren’t behind. And then we were. It’s not the best goal, a nice pass initially, but Frontale loanee Nakano totally fluffs his shot and it ends up being a perfect ball to their onrushing attacker. I think the fluffed shot deceived Sung-Ryong but we probably should have defended a bit better. I get the impression that maybe we were trying to get to half time and then reorganise after the sending off. Sadly we didn’t make it.
The second half started with a change for us. Neto was replaced by Hasegawa with Kengo dropping back into Neto’s position. It was one of these brave substitutions that Oniki seems to be making a habit of. So far it's probably about a 50/50 success rate with them. I think Oniki’s subs are better than Kazama’s were though. That was a big weakness of ours last season for me. But yeah, definitely a brave change to remove our one remaining natural defensive midfielder and replace him with a winger. Sure, we needed to get a couple of goals, but we were risking exposing ourselves and Kengo hasn’t been the best in this position in the past. I think Neto’s yellow was definitely part of the reason for the change. We couldn’t expect him to get through the second half without Ikeuchi giving him another and we’d really be sunk with 9 against 12. We didn’t start particularly well, perhaps still reeling from the red card and goal conceded. The ref was really starting to come in for some abuse as he gave decision after decision to Sendai. The stats show a fairly even number of fouls, but I think there were plenty we should have got that were waved away. Elsinho got a hand in the face, nothing from the ref and so on. Sendai were back on the time wasting thing again. We were pretty ragtag up front. I can’t tell you who was playing where. I’m not entirely sure anyone knew. Aside from our disorganisation, we seemed to be having a pretty unlucky day. Every bounce or deflection seemed to be falling to them, but naturally this is only the opinion of someone wearing not rose-tinted, but probably more like rose-saturated spectacles. It really didn’t seem like it was going to be our day. And things got worse on 60 minutes when they doubled their lead. The move started deep in their half and three long passes later the ball was in the back of the net. It was a quick break, we had plenty of players back, but were flat-footed when the cross came in and it was an easy finish. Possibly Nara should have been a bit tighter on the striker and Sung-Ryong definitely could have got a bit closer to the shot. Another sucker punch and it looked like our league title aspirations were over. It really seemed it wasn’t going to be our day. We were trying, but too many players weren’t quite there and a few were pretty anonymous.
On 71 minutes Oniki made another surprising substitution, Moriya off and Rhayner on, bringing on another attacking player and removing another defensive midfielder. This really put a lot of pressure on Kengo who was now having to do the job of Neto and Moriya. I was very surprised by the sub and my only interpretation was that we were going all or nothing, kill or cure, shit or bust or any other combination of two words that doesn’t quite properly express what I am really trying to say. Rhayner seemed to be playing a fairly free role in the middle of the pitch. Five minutes later we upped the ante. Chinen came on for Miyoshi, who’d had a fairly quiet game. So now we had a big man up front to help Kobayashi. Once again, no idea where anyone else was playing apart from Kengo in the Neto role. Even Nara and Taniguchi were venturing forward. We were making chances but were very vulnerable to counter attacks. Rhayner was worrying the opposition with his possession and dribbling. We were starting to knock on the door, but still not really very close to getting it open. In spite of the inordinate amount of time their keeper was taking with his goal kicks no booking was forthcoming. The ref seemed to have given up a little. Maybe he was getting tired too. On 82 minutes the tide turned. Elsinho, received the ball on the edge of the box, took a touch and bent the ball into the top corner. A beautiful goal which slightly worryingly left him holding his back a little. Hope that’s not a new injury. Suddenly we were back in the game and were looking dangerous. Sendai, perhaps aware of their recent capitulations were wobbling. The noise in the stadium was pretty immense. I’ve rarely heard it so loud. We all seemed to believe we could get something. The goal brought Crislan on to the pitch, presumably to try to get some more of our players sent off. This substitution was met with a charging run down the left from Kurumaya, whose cross was nicely dummied by Rhayner, who then drew a couple of defenders out of the way of Kobayashi who beat another with a lovely little touch and curled the ball into the bottom left from pretty much the same position Elsinho scored from. Great stuff! The atmosphere cranked up another step. We were level, but a draw probably wasn’t going to be enough for us. But the onslaught continued. We were playing some great dynamic stuff and we scored a third, Kobayashi again, from distance again, but this time with his right foot after Hasegawa cut out a Vegalta clearance and passed to him. It’s weird that we have at times seemed reluctant to shoot from distance, but for 7 minutes of this game, everything we hit sailed into the net. It was a wonderful few minutes of football and the celebrations in the stands were great. High fives all round! We’d smacked our fair share of shots high over the bar earlier in this game, but the momentum of Elsinho’s goal aligned the stars and everything was suddenly perfect. Let’s hope we can recapture this in our remaining games this year. The comeback was perfect but was almost undone when Sendai broke and hit the bar. I’m not particularly a believer in omens, but as I said above, it would be nice to think that this is a sign of our luck over the coming weeks. Every game now is crucial and the injuries and bans are starting to pile up. Both Neto and Ienaga will be absent in our next game, serving bans for accumulated yellow cards and the red. Moriya will be crucial and I’d guess Itakura will be back in midfield. Not our first choice pairing in those positions, but two players who will hopefully rise to the occasion. We won’t have as much trouble replacing Ienaga as we’ve got a never ending supply of attacking midfielders it seems. It’s a shame though, as aside from his dive, he’s been doing pretty well recently. Fingers crossed. The final thing of note in the game was Sung-Ryong picking up a yellow for time wasting at the end. No surprises about that from this ref I guess. We won, at some cost, but we keep going, waiting for another Kashima slip up, but running out of games. Fingers crossed about that too.
Positives and negatives. Let’s start negative. Couple of stupid yellows for Ienaga mean that we’ll play the next game without someone who’s been getting better and better over recent weeks. I don’t like diving and this was a clear dive. Hope it discourages him in the future. Also, Neto finally received the yellow that has been hanging over his head which means he’ll also miss the next game. We conceded another couple of goals which isn’t ideal. The first I guess was in part due to the sending off after which we were still a bit disorganised. The second was a bit of a clanger though. We had numbers back and were undone by a deep cross. However, it’s good that these negatives are from a game that we still won. As long as we’re collecting the wins we shouldn’t moan too much about the way we’re getting them, I guess. I’m not sure where Oniki’s substitutions fit into the picture. It’s clear that before the last two subs we were losing and afterwards we were winning so that’s got to go down as a good thing. Did feel a bit like we were throwing on attacker after attacker till we scored though. If this keeps working, bravo! But I wonder how often we’ll get away with it if we keep trying it in the future. The big positive has to be the amazing comeback. Sure we did a similar one against Sagan Tosu away, but this time it was with only 10 men. Must say something about the determination and team spirit and possibly it’s these kind of backs against the wall performances that could give us the grit we need to get over the finishing line. I think Ienaga owes his team mates a drink or two anyway. It’s great to see us scoring goals like we did. Whilst it’s fun to watch our patient passing build ups resulting in great team goals, it’s often a lot more fun to see someone leather the ball into the back of the net from a way out. It speaks volumes that our goals were numbers 1, 2 and 3 of the J League’s best 5 goals of the weekend. It’s probably also a positive that we managed to get 3 points from a game refereed by an official whose games result in an average of zero points for the home team. Seriously, this was apparently the actual statistic! Let’s hope he’s got a couple of Kashima home games before the season finishes. One final positive has to be the entertaining sight of a flock of pigeons who were determined to feast on something on the pitch. Every time the ball came near them, they'd scatter, reform and then settle on a new part of the pitch. Early on, they were providing as much of a spectacle as the game was. Maybe I should take up bird-watching.
Next up, we’re away to Sanfrecce Hiroshima which will complete my set of all the current J League away grounds. It sounds a right pain to get to though. Sanfrecce are fighting for their lives at the moment and have dropped into the relegation zone. It’s pretty tight down the bottom for that final relegation spot, but maybe the fact that they need a win could work in our favour. By the way, Kashima are away to Yokohama. Hopefully our neighbours could do us a favor. After that we’re back at home and in the Emperor’s Cup again. This will be the first of two games in a row against Kashiwa which won’t be easy. After that it’s the Levain Cup final. Busy times for us. Hopefully we can keep the wins coming. Go Frontale!
GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG (Yellow card 90+1')
DF 18. ELSINHO
DF 3. NARA Tatsuki
DF 5. TANIGUCHI Shogo
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro
MF 21. EDUARDO NETO (Yellow card 45+1')
MF 19. MORIYA Kentaro
MF 13. MIYOSHI Koji
MF 14. NAKAMURA Kengo
MF 41. IENAGA Akihiro (Yellow card 23', second yellow/red card 42')
GK 30. ARAI Shota
MF 6. TASAKA Yusuke
FW 9. MORIMOTO Takayuki
MF 16. HASEGAWA Tatsuya (on for NETO 46')
FW 20. CHINEN Kei (on for MIYOSHI 76')
MF 22. RHAYNER (on for MORIYA 71')
DF 28. ITAKURA Ko
My Frontale Man Of The Match
This week, I'm going to go against what seems to be popular opinion. Whilst it's true that Kobayashi's goals were great and his second was a more than worthy winner, I think our first goal was the turning point where we started to dare to dream of a comeback. So, with that in mind it's going to...
ELSINHO - For the simple fact that his willingness to shoot from distance led to a great goal that turned the tide in a game that had drifted away. It was almost like he flicked a switch and our team really came alive. The momentum it created won us the game.
NOTSUDA (Sendai) 45+4’ 0-1
ISHIHARA (Sendai) 60’ 0-2
ELSINHO (Frontale) 82’ 1-2
KOBAYASHI (Frontale) 84’ 2-2
KOBAYASHI (Frontale) 87’ 3-2
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.