Shonan Bellmare 0 - 2 Kawasaki Frontale
When you’re lacking enthusiasm for doing something it sometimes helps to shake up the formula a little bit to get you through. With that in mind, let’s start this blog post about five minutes after the final whistle of this game. This was probably the best part of the game for me as we’d won and I also would be able to go home soon. The most noteworthy part of that five-minutes-after-the-game moment though was the Shonan players finally making it to their end of the stadium after their lap of… , I don’t know what to call it actually, to find that the massed ranks of their fans behind the goal were giving them a good old booing. I think this says a lot about us in 2023 and in recent years too. Even when we were at our best, we still had a real tendency to not do well against Shonan. I know we beat them in the Levain game at their place this year, but apart from that flukey late comeback, things have trended towards the bleak. So now, when Shonan see a game coming up against Frontale, particularly in this, our worst season for years, I guess they would be quite excited to be playing us. But for once, we managed to win, much to the disgust of the Shonan fans who’d come expecting an easy three points to aid them in their fight for survival. They didn’t get them and this seemed to upset their fans quite a lot. Instead we got an ultimately pointless, (given how our league campaign has gone this year), and also perhaps pyrrhic victory. The three points saw us cement our position at the foot of the top half of the table, firmly in the bit of the league where nothing is happening or will happen. Don’t get me wrong, I’d much rather be there than in Shonan’s position. And we’ve got the Emperor’s Cup and the ACL where the games still actually mean something. But now we’ll potentially go into the next ACL game without two of our defenders as both Sasaki (some kind of back of the thigh muscle pull perhaps) and Kurumaya (looks like his knee is knackered, looked very worrying) got potentially serious injuries. I’m much more worried about Kurumaya as Sasaki at least could walk down the tunnel after being stretchered off.
Once again, we're back to having hardly any defenders. I guess Takai is fit but much like Miyashiro and Tono seems to have really fallen down the pecking order recently. (I wonder though if the reason for some of these absences is perhaps illness (COVID) related. Readers outside of Japan might not know that it's sweeping through the country again. Actually perhaps readers in Japan might also not know this as it seems that it is now the great unmentionable. But I know plenty of people who’ve had it recently. And plenty of others who have been ‘ill’ with symptoms that sound very similar but apparently don’t merit the mention of the C word. (Not that C word, I’m trying to keep these posts out of the gutter…). I have heard anecdotal evidence that some recent FC Tokyo strange selections might have been related to this kind of thing. I guess basically I’m saying that I don’t want to question selections too much as I guess there are plenty of things we fans don’t know). And I suppose Yamamura should be counted as a defender as Oniki won’t play him anywhere else. I think Tanabe got injured again in the Cerezo game, but maybe I’m misremembering that. Yamane has been playing pretty much every game so that will clearly have to continue and Nobori who was being rested for this game but had to come on much earlier than he might have expected, will also now I guess continue without any hopes of being rested. I think both of them have felt the pace a bit this year. Nobori in particular has recently looked a bit dodgy and when he came on in this match looked like he’d had a massive takeaway pizza to himself shortly before kick off imagining that he wouldn’t be required until at the earliest the last ten minutes. But I don’t want to start criticising people’s performances again as it’s not really helpful is it?
There is a certain irony of us once again getting injuries in defence in a game that we had another go at trying to play with three at the back. To begin with that three was Sasaki, Kurumaya and Ominami. The injury to Sasaki that changed, after the usual period where it looked like no-one had been told what was happening apart from the sub who came on, to Kurumaya, Ominami and Yamane. And then after Kurumaya got injured we went with Noborizato, Ominami and Yamane. with Segawa as left wing back and Tachibanada on the right. With the numerous injuries and emergency repositioning of players, it’s no surprise that we weren't that good in the second half. But we did manage to hang on. And I want to give full credit to Oniki for once again trying three at the back, and then actually persevering with it when it would have been easier to revert to the old way of play. I think perhaps that the new injuries might make it difficult to continue with this formation in the next few weeks though. And I fully expect us to go back to the tried, tested (and proven to be almost completely ineffective in recent times) 4-3-3 for the ACL, and maybe even for the next league game. I thought after we got pasted in Cerezo with the 3-5-2 that were would never see Oniki try anything different ever again. But he did it! And we won! So full credit to him. I did say that against Cerezo I thought we looked kind of promising and that every goal we conceded had a significant element of misfortune to it. The misfortune in this game came in the form of injuries and probably prevented us from making any significant progress in getting closer to playing a bit better. The second half of this game was pretty turgid stuff. But at the same time, we did look quite solid and can’t remember many occasions where we looked like conceding, which is something I haven’t said for a very long time!
As usual, it was just the whole scoring goals thing that remained eternally out of reach. Thankfully though we’d done enough to get a good lead by half time. I didn’t realise how nice the opening goal was till I saw a replay. It’s good to see that Damiao and Yamada seem to be building up a bit of a relationship, as they seemed like they’d never met when they played together against Cerezo. The second goal seemed like the kind of decision that we haven’t really been getting recently so it was nice for once to have a long VAR delay end up going in our favour. Again, looking at highlights after getting home, I think it’s a fair enough penalty decision, but I’m sure plenty will disagree. Particularly Shonan fans who gave Segawa a big boo when his name was read out (in contrast to Yamane who still gets applause). Perhaps they can deal with a player leaving then to have a tilt at a title, but not so much one that leaves for a glorious absolutely-mid-table finish rather than sticking around for the relegation fight. It was also nice that VAR again came to our rescue after Damiao made a mess of his first attempt at the penalty which was saved by former Frontale loanee Mawatari (the goal keeper Hiroki of course, not Kazuaki!) who left us never having taken part in any game in any way. In a way, credit to Damiao for the slight stutter that made Mawatari commit early and leave his line before the ball was kicked, but debit (?!) to Damiao for a pretty horrible penalty. The second one didn’t look much better but had the significant plus point that it went in. I really feel that I have to mention the five minutes or so in the middle of the first half where we could have been excused for thinking that we’d fallen into some kind of time loop. Wakizaka takes a corner, it hits the first defender and goes out for a corner. Wakizaka takes a corner, it hits the first defender and goes out for a corner. Wakizaka takes a corner, it hits the first defender and goes out for a corner. I think I’ve worked out the signals he uses. Left arm raised, he’s aiming for the first defender’s head. Right arm, he’s going for the first defender’s head. Both arms, well, he’s going to play it to the first defender’s head. I wish we’d mix things up a bit by giving Seko a go. It might give Wakizaka a boost. I would be very surprised if we score from a corner before the end of the season if we keep going the same way. But we know he can take set pieces well, so perhaps his recent drop off with corners is connected to the general lack of quality all over the pitch from everyone. I guess I should also write some words about Gomis. After starting the previous two games and seemingly falling into the Frontale trap of whoever plays up front does absolutely nothing, he dropped to the bench in this game. When he came on he seemed to be finding it tough again. I hope it’s that he’s still trying to settle in and get used to how we play. I also hope that it doesn’t take him much longer to get going, as erm… don’t know how to say this diplomatically… erm… none of us are getting any younger. I feel a bit mean though focusing on anyone too much. We haven’t been playing well as a team so it seems unfair to highlight certain things that aren’t quite working and not instead just say that pretty much nothing is working. But back one more time to mention that I’m happy that Oniki tried something new-ish and stuck to it. I critcise him a lot, so should give him praise when he merits it. With Cerezo away in mind, it’s much better to see us trying something and losing than just sticking with the same losing style and losing. And in this game, WE DIDN’T EVEN LOSE!!
I guess I haven’t said anything much about Shonan or the Ref. I think neither stood out, which is great if you’re a ref and not so great if you’re a football team. Normally I moan a lot about Kimura, but I don’t have anything to moan about on this occasion, I think. Probably helps that we won, eh? Fair play to Shonan for getting plenty of fans to travel to Tokyo (through Kawasaki) for a home game. There were 54,000 people in the stadium, which is pretty good, even when you consider that 10,000 tickets had been given away for free. You wouldn’t have known that though as there was a lot of green on show. We took quite a lot of fans too and the atmosphere was good in our end. I still think the National Stadium match experience leaves a lot to be desired though.
And jeez, I suppose those flame throwers, which I thought was just FC Tokyo doing FC Tokyo kind of things, must be part of the stadium hire package as they were back again. I know people say that sitting in front of a log fire on a winter’s night is a great experience, staring into the dancing flames in quiet contemplation. Well, that wasn't quite the experience those flame throwers at the National Stadium provided. But each to their own I guess. Believe me, if we did that kind of tacky shit at our games, I would be equally critical. Much better to have an impressionist get driven round the running track at walking pace, doing an impression of someone singing YMCA, while pretty much everyone in the stadium loses their shit over doing the arm movements for the chorus, right?
Sorry as usual this blog post is a bit vague and pointless. We weren’t very good, but at least we tried something and there is some promise of fun in the future perhaps. AND WE WON! The injuries ruined the game for us, but… WE WON! We did only manage two shots on target but… WE WON! Oh and a big highlight for me was seeing (I think) U18 players Tsuchiya and Hamasaki behind the goal at the game. I think it was them anyway. Next up, Niigata at home in the league. I hope our experimentation continues, but I guess we might have a lack of centre backs if the injuries are as bad as they looked. So maybe we’ll be back to 4-3-3. We’ve struggled twice against Niigata already this year, so perhaps I’m not that confident. After that, the following Tuesday we have Ulsan at home for our second ACL game. Hmmmm. Probably could say a similar thing about us and Ulsan, we struggle against them and haven't done well recently, so I’m not that confident. Oh well, fingers crossed I suppose.
MF 8. TACHIBANADA Kento
My Frontale Man Of The Match
LEANDRO DAMIAO - great work for Yamada's goal and did really well to play the win-the-ball-and-pass-it-on role that we can use if we're playing two up front. With Gomis arriving to further threaten his spot it was really nice to see him looking so happy in both this and the last few games and being so positive. Let's not mention the first penalty though...