Saturday 6 July 2019

Vs Meiji University (home) 3/7/18 - Emperor's Cup 2nd round

Kawasaki Frontale 1 - 0 Meiji University

Our first involvement in the Emperor’s cup of 2019 gave me an excellent opportunity to forget my numerous moans and groans about our season and just enjoy a game of football with the added excitement of it being a cup match with there being a big distance between the two teams in terms of league and stature. I don’t really understand why attendances for these kind of games are so low (although we did get the biggest attendance of the round, helped in no small measure by there being loads of Meiji University fans in the ground). I enjoy the romance and excitement of the cup, and was looking forward to seeing some different players in action for us. Unfortunately this excitement and enjoyment didn’t make it through the whole 90 minutes intact though. And midway through the second half I was back to my doomiest and gloomiest. Attending our games had again become a bit of a chore, (especially the home games, ironically), and Oniki’s ongoing agenda of sucking all the enjoyment out of watching Frontale was once again at the front of my mind. This game was live on NHK, so now plenty of people in Japan have had the opportunity to be thoroughly bored by us. This wasn’t a great advert for Frontale. It could have been a great advert for Meiji University if they’d brought their shooting boots. But as it was, we scraped through on a single own-goal victory. I’m quite aware that I am moaning non-stop recently, and as Ben pointed out on my recent J-Talk podcast appearance (listen here), sixteen other teams in the league right now wouldn’t mind trading places with us. But while watching these performances continues to slowly chip away at me mentally, I will have to keep on whinging. Here’s what we already knew but have had reinforced by this game and possibly one new thing if you’re lucky.

(Strength in) squad depth -

This game saw some players get some valuable game time. Shimoda actually managed to get on the pitch and did a great job I thought. His set pieces were particularly good and it was from one of them that we scored our goal. Sorry, they scored our goal. Yamamura got a start and it was at centre back, which I think is a first for him this season. Oniki has played him in midfield and up front, but now he’s completed his set. He looked pretty good too, as did his partner Michael James. Well until the last quarter of the game anyway, when everyone looked pretty dodgy. Maguinho is still with the club! It may come as a surprise given recent match day squads. I really feel sorry for him to be honest. He’s not getting a chance, and Oniki is presumably going to drop him for the next game. Kurumaya played at left back! Praise the lord! Actually, he probably had a better game against Jubilo when he was at right back, but I’m standing by the assertion that left back is clearly where he should be playing. Abe was back and very willing to shoot, which is a bit of a rarity in our team. I can only guess that Oniki wants us to pass the ball into the net and the fact that Abe shoots is a contributing factor to his lack of match time this season. Fujishima could have had a look in for a first bench appearance in this game, but he’s picked up a serious injury I believe, so that was pretty unfortunate for him. But it did give Ando a chance to be part of a match day squad again. I still can’t remember the words to his song. I’m not sure who is currently our third choice keeper, and I guess as long as Fujishima is injured, we’re not going to find out. In the pub after the match, I was pondering on who I would select if we had an injury free squad. It’s difficult! Almost every area of the pitch has decent competition for places, and you’ve got to think that whoever we select, we should have a strong team. Sadly though it seems that whoever we select, we have an under-performing team.

The importance of the manager -

This is some mystery in how far the effects of a good manager go for me, but having one clearly makes a difference. It’s common to see a good squad stinking the place up, only to be completely revitalized by new leadership and new ideas. The new manager bounce is undeniably a thing. Therefore, you’ve got to think that the old manager splat is also a thing. We seem stale and lacking in ideas. Our one system for the last two years doesn’t seem to be working anymore and experiments with 4-4-2 have been pretty fruitless too. Of course, this is all said with the caveat that we’re not doing so badly, but it’s clearly a case of a lot of mediocre performances getting mediocre yet just about positive results. Perhaps the league is pretty weak this year and this might help explain things. It’s churlish to complain about being in second and probably in a better position than we were in last year at this stage, but jeez, this is pretty depressing stuff at the moment. Occasionally we’ll cut loose and attack and shoot and score, but more often than not, we bundle a deflected goal in and then desperately hang on to either a one goal lead or a one-one draw. We pour forward attractively but it is usually all ultimately pointless. If it comes to pass that we fluke a shooting opportunity it’s either smacked high or wide or dollied straight to the keeper. Unsurprisingly, the front players look devoid of confidence. I think most of the squad know that the slightest error will probably see them dropped. No-one is given a chance to play themselves into some form. Substitutions almost always have a negative effect on our shape and play and seem pre-ordained and unrelated to what’s going on on the pitch. The most predictable part of the game yesterday was the withdrawal of Damiao and Maguinho. Amusingly, it came just after the two had combined to create a chance. If it had gone in, it would have been a fantastic example of the nonsense of Oniki Frontale. I keep saying this, but I think it’s undeniable that he has a problem with Brazilian players. So why do we keep signing them? Jesiel is probably the only one of them who has any chance of securing a starting spot right now, and that’s in part due to Nara’s injury. I suspect he’s only one mistake away from being replaced at centre back by Kurumaya though and sent into exile. In every game, at least 2 out of 3 of our substitutions are absolute nonsense. Perhaps the only one that made any sense in this game was the introduction of Kengo, which had a brief positive effect on the pitch and lifted the crowd. Unfortunately, Chinen being left as the lone frontman saw him really lose his fizz. I’m not sure it’s a good position for him to play. He’d been doing much better with a partner up front. In spite of everything, at this stage of the game, we still looked ok. However, the introduction of Wakizaka for Shimoda completely destroyed our shape, leaving Ao by himself in the defensive midfield spots and with no-one really sure what they were supposed to be doing ahead of him. I have no idea what Oniki was thinking with this change. Wakizaka did ok, but the change totally disrupted everyone else. It can be no coincidence that this was our dodgiest part of the match. Meiji had more than enough chances to knock us out. We were rubbish. They were unlucky. I don’t feel great about constantly criticizing Oniki, and I don’t particularly want to see him sacked. He said after the game that he was disappointed with the performance, but ultimately, he’s one of the few people in the stadium who can actually do something about it. I’d just love it if he did a bit of a better job.

Plucky and honorable Meiji -

Meiji did a perfect job of playing their plucky underdog part in this game and as I said above were unlucky not to win in the end. I think Arai only had to make a couple of easy saves, but they had some very good chances. If they had managed to get the ball on target from any of these many opportunities this would have been a very different game. They did a good job of really getting into us, pressing us hard and disrupting us successfully for most of the game. It’s a real shame for them that they went out via an own goal, but perhaps in a way it’s better to lose unluckily than to be beaten due to your inadequacies. On paper, this should have been a relatively easy victory for us, (even more so considering Meiji had their three best players absent playing in a different match), but it by no means was. I think many people looking at Frontale this year would say we’re doing alright and whilst the results just about back this up, the performances tell a different story. I’m delighted it didn’t go to extra time as I was sick of watching this from about 60 minutes in, but we could have had no complaints if it had done. Pleasingly, the Meiji players went all round the ground after the match and got a great reception from our fans. I certainly clapped them harder than I had clapped at any other time in this game. Displeasingly, we made them wait whilst we did a totally unnecessary Vai La De Frontale which most of the players looked embarrassed about and which felt a bit of an extravagance given what had preceded it. Perhaps though, our fans lead by the Kazoku are recently grasping any opportunity for positivity and celebration. I can’t blame them to be honest, but I think we could have been a bit more classy and skipped the song this time.

So, we’re through and we’ll meet Okayama in the next round. I have glossed somewhat over the action in this game again. I could have said the Manabu was captain, that Michael James had a diving header saved, that Abe was unlucky to hit the bar with a lovely lob, or that their keeper did a great job of keeping them in the game in the first half. Instead though, I think I’d rather just keep on with the moaning. Meiji deserved more than they got and we deserved less. But such is football, and it’s not exactly uncommon for a team doing well to grind out results through poor performances. Doesn’t make it much fun to watch though, does it? Next up we have Sagan Tosu at home on Sunday evening. Torres seems now to be footloose and fancy free having announced his retirement so it seems unlikely that we’ll have a repeat of last year's game where we battered them but it finished 0-0. Far more likely is us sharing a high scoring draw with them or even getting beaten. I’m working a little along the lines of a reverse jinx with this negativity, so we’ll see if that works. I’m pretty down about all this at the moment. Would love us to show even a tiny glimpse of some excitement as I don’t have many games left before I’m off on my summer holiday where I can probably watch a different team disappoint me! At least that holiday will give you all a break from this blogging misery!


GK 21. ARAI Shota
DF 34. YAMAMURA Kazuya
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro (Yellow card 45')
MF 22. SHIMODA Hokuto
MF 8. ABE Hiroyuki
MF 19. SAITO Manabu

GK 24. ANDO Shunsuke
DF 2. NOBORIZATO Kyohei (on for MAGUINHO 61')
MF 14. NAKAMURA Kengo (on for LEANDRO DAMIAO 61')
MF 16. HASEGAWA Tatsuya
MF 28. WAKIZAKA Yasuto  (on for SHIMODA 86')

My Frontale Man Of The Match

This was by no means a vintage performance, but there were some positives perhaps. Yamamura was solid in his first start at centre back. Arai did what was required. Kengo looked bright when he came on (at least until Oniki totally smudged our shape), but given that he is probably not going to get much of a go of it this year as he’s stuck behind two Oniki favourites in the the pecking order, I’ll give it to…

SHIMODA Hokuto - great performance in the middle, passing and tackling with ease and doing exactly what was required. Typical that Oniki took him off! Real bonus was his set-pieces which were much more dangerous than those of any of the many other players who’ve been taking them recently and lead to our marvelous goal.

OWN GOAL (Frontale) 15' 1-0


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