Football’s back! And to be honest, the break was welcome. After a fairly long and expensive journey to Kobe to see us put in a clueless performance and get hammered, I think plenty of us welcomed the few weeks off. But as tends to be the case, I was itching to get back to a game about half way through that break. Our visitors this time were Sanfrecce Hiroshima, who in spite of having a fairly mediocre season are probably a team we should always be wary off. As usual we are pretty much in the dark with regards to injuries as there never seems to be much information released about them. We can presume that Sung-Ryong is still injured, but Shota was back! Seems that Nara has broken a bone again (poor him! What do we do in training? Kick boxing. Sorry, I think I always make that joke). Other absentees were Miyoshi and Itakura who were away with the Japanese under 19s (great goal Miyoshi, by the way!). The starting line-up was pretty similar to the one against Kobe a few weeks ago, the major difference being the change of keeper. Hasegawa, Nakano and Noborizato all appeared on the bench. Good to see them back! And also funny to see that we are still doing that kind of trick, where we announce Tasaka as a striker and then have him play as one of the three centre backs. Surely no-one is being tricked by this, but I quite enjoy it all the same, so long may it continue.
The first half. we started where we had left off against Kobe a few weeks ago with some suicidal passing out of defence, gifting Sanfrecce a few early shots. Things really weren’t clicking early on and it was thanks to good performances from Taniguchi and Shota that we didn’t concede. The defence looked a lot more solid than at Kobe though, but Oshima and Neto just in front of them were giving them plenty to deal with, misplacing quite a few passes. We kept getting caught dwelling on the ball. I guess it was the Sanfrecce game plan to get in our faces and not give us any time on the ball. They were pretty physical and we didn’t seem to be able to deal with it very well. To be honest, most of the first half was pretty uneventful from a Frontale point of view. I don’t think we really made any real chances, but Hiroshima weren’t much better. They had chances but their finishing was horrible. The game felt a little like a dead rubber. Think it was the season before last where this fixture was the final home game of the season and both teams were just going through the motions with nothing to play for. And this felt the same, although arguably, we still could clinch the league overall and go straight to the final of the championship. But we need Urawa to slip up again and sadly they haven’t yet. The stats on the Frontale website say we had two shots in the first half, but I’m not sure I’d really have called them shots. So far, so scrappy and so mediocre.
The second half started with no changes in personnel but we seemed like a different team. Hiroshima were still pushing us around a bit but we seemed to be creating a bit more. Oshima seemed to be the midfielder pushing further forward with Kengo sitting back a bit and we had a few early shots! We were still not quite there though. We looked a bit shaky at the back and the ref was letting quite a lot go on the pitch which I don’t think was helping us. Sanfrecce had a great chance to go ahead but Shota just managed to push their shot on to the post. We were making chances but unfortunately they weren’t falling to our strikers. Guess this is the point where I make my usual moan about Okubo. He still seems off the pace and his moaning to younger players about passes going astray can’t help the team. I think his game was summed up when collecting the rebound from a stinging Oshima shot he crossed/shot the ball straight off the pitch. On 72 minutes Oshima was replaced by Moriya who seemed to immediately make an impact. Okubo gave him a mouthful though when he didn’t pass back to him outside the area (even though the original pass from Okubo was horrible and barely made it to Moriya). We were still making more chances. Elsinho, whose hair is getting increasingly epic week by week, smashed one towards goal and the ball bounced agonisingly wide from the keepers save. But things were encouraging. We looked to have regained some of our old style. Nakano came on for Edu (who himself had a few good shots on goal), Kurumaya dropping back into defence. Think they’d both played alright though, so maybe it was just an excuse to get Nakano on and have him run at Hiroshima a bit. On 82 minutes we finally took the lead. A couple of shots were blocked in the box, Kobayashi laid the ball off for Moriya, who took a touch past a defender and sent a lovely dipping shot in from outside the box. It was the dip that did it, as the Hiroshima keeper seemed to be watching it sail over the bar as it dropped over his head into the net. It was a cracking goal. Let’s hope Moriya has a few more of them up his sleeve to score this season. Then a nervy last ten minutes with a surprising five minutes of injury time. Noborizato came on for Okubo, presumably to waste some time. We were defending deep and not getting much of the ball, but we were doing a decent enough job it seemed. With a minute to go, Hiroshima sent their keeper up for a corner. This kind of thing rarely seems to work, but at the same time it rarely seems to go as wrong as it could. But today was the day it did. We broke with the ball sending the Hiroshima keeper scurrying back to his goal. Elsinho had the opportunity to have a shot from his own half but maybe sensibly he squared it as we were advancing in numbers. Noborizato totally scuffed his pass but it fell to Kobayashi who passed it on to Kengo (nice stamina for an old man!). By now the keeper was back, but presumably a bit flustered and Kengo was able to pass it under him into the corner of the net. Possibly a bit harsh on Hiroshima but it felt pretty good at the time.
So, a win. It feels like it has been a while. Positives and negatives. First the positives. Good performances from the defence, particularly Taniguchi and from Shota in goal. Great goal from Moriya and us playing in the way that we were earlier in the season for some of the second half. Kobe losing takes us back to second in the second stage but… Negatives, Urawa won with a 90th minute goal so we remain in second overall. Okubo wasn’t good again. I like him as a player, or at least I did till this year. I don’t think he’s adding anything at the moment and if Gamba are interested in him, I don’t think it would be a great loss to have him leave at the end of the season. Would certainly much rather keep hold of Kobayashi (who Gamba are also sniffing around apparently). Final negative has to be the shaky first half performance, especially in midfield. We can’t afford to play like that when we get to the final stage.
Up next, Kashiwa away. A game in a place that is so unreachable by train that despite being in the next prefecture to Tokyo, apparently takes something like seven hours to get to. Thankfully they have a direct bus to the ground from Tokyo station, but guess we’re going to have an early start next week as that bus still takes two and a half hours. Depending on the Urawa result again, the game could be kind of pointless, but as long as we have a chance, we have to keep winning. Let’s hope that my fellow Brit, Jay at Jubilo Iwata can do a job on Urawa for us. If Urawa do finish top overall, we are likely to be playing Kashima again very soon in the play offs. So this game could be an interesting glimpse at what could happen later. Anyway, all we can do is keep winning, so let’s hope that is exactly what we do. Oh, and finally, apologies for the photos in this post. They are worse than usual, and that's saying something!
GK 30. ARAI Shota
DF 5. TANIGUCHI Shogo
DF 23. EDUARDO
DF 6. TASAKA Yusuke
MF 10. OSHIMA Ryota
MF 21. EDUARDO NETO
MF 18. ELSINHO (Yellow card 69')
MF 14. NAKAMURA Kengo
MF 14. NAKAMURA Kengo
MF 20. KURUMAYA Shintaro
FW 13. OKUBO Yoshito
GK 24. ANDO Shunske
DF 2. NOBORIZATO Kyohei (on for OKUBO 90+4')
FW 9. MORIMOTO TakayukiMF 19. MORIYA Kentaro (on for OSHIMA 72')
MF 16. HASEGAWA Tatsuya
MF 16. HASEGAWA Tatsuya
MF 22. NAKANO Yoshihiro (on for EDUARDO 82')
MF 25. KANO Kenta
MORIYA (Frontale) 84' 1-0
NAKAMURA (Frontale) 90+5' 2-0