Sunday 26 February 2017

Vs Omiya Ardija (away) 25/2/17, J-League match 1

  Omiya Ardija 0 - 2 Kawasaki Frontale

This year we started our J League campaign in Omiya. Last year we didn’t get a chance to visit this ground as the Ardija game was held in Kumagaya instead. I think most of you can remember how that one finished up. It was one of a few games where we could tell that we wouldn’t have enough to get us over the line and win the title. Okubo got a ridiculous red and it was totally uphill from there. Neither of my own particular villains from last year played this time round. Both Yokotani and Mrdja are still with the club but neither even made it to the bench (I don’t know, maybe they’re injured or something). And of course our villain from the day, Okubo has now departed. However, Omiya took a bit of a dislike to Neto last time round and they made sure that he was in no doubt as to how they feel about him, booing his every touch at least until about 70 minutes into the game. I’m never sure why people do this as it can only have the opposite effect and charge up the player who is receiving the booing. And Neto did have a pretty good game in the middle of the pitch. One other point of interest coming into the game was the immediate return to his old team of Ienaga. I was curious to see what kind of reception he would get and it was mixed to say the least. It mainly sounded like boos, but people seemed to be clapping, so it’s fair to say that it wasn’t exactly clear. Maybe this is a nice compromise for someone who feels conflicted. The clapping boo!

The Nack5 stadium is a pretty nice ground. The seating behind the goal is nice and steep so you end up with a good view and feel close to the pitch as crucially there is no running track (hooray!). I did stumble down the steps after the game though, getting my foot caught in a weird little gutter, but thankfully managing to avoid a potentially catastrophic human domino rally. It was a nice day with the sun shining and despite it being February, it seems I got a little bit sunburnt. We made a few changes from the game against Suwon. In the starting line-up, Michael was replaced at centre back by Kurumaya and Noborizato took his place at left back. Tasaka and Taniguchi remained in the positions they played against Suwon. The rest of the starting line-up was the same, Neto and Oshima in front of the back four, Kengo, Abe, Ienaga and Kobayashi being the attackers, but this time it was Ienaga who was playing furthest forward. On the bench, there was no Itakura (wonder if he is being saved for Wednesday in Hong Kong) and the two new players were Hasegawa and Kano. We made a pretty good start with Kobayashi hitting the bar early on from a powerful shot across the goal hit from just inside the box. Playing a little further back seemed to suit Kobayashi better and Ienaga did a good job of being the front man. After a initial flurry of action we faded a little and Omiya were able to fashion a few decent chances. They were having particular luck playing balls down the channels with our attacking full backs always having to chase down Omiya wingers receiving long passes. We weren’t doing a very good job of this to be honest. And we were giving the ball away at the back a bit too. Every time possesion changed hands it seemed to be because we were gifting them the ball. Bit like against Suwon. It’s true that we were playing it around nicely, but that doesn’t really matter if you make ten lovely passes and then lay the ball off for them to run through on our goal. Guess it’s still early in the season though, but I hope we can tighten things up a little soon. I’d say the first half was about 50/50 with them having more decent chances, but us having more decent possession.

The second half started with the Omiya fans singing a song to the tune of ‘The Entertainer’. I guess that is going to be a feature of my blog posts this year. There are so many teams that use that tune! Omiya were pressing us really well. Even when we were comfortable in possession it wasn’t through want of trying from the Omiya players. They gave us very little time on the ball and I guess this explains why we were giving it away so much. The middle of the pitch seemed to be where most of the action was and was pretty congested. I guess our main width comes from our full backs at the moment, so that means there are a lot of players packed into the area inside of them. On 57 minutes Ienaga was replaced by Morimoto and I think it probably made sense. Ienaga had a pretty good game (100% pass accuracy apparently!) but maybe we needed to change things up a bit. Morimoto offers something a bit different and his power seemed to make a difference. He almost managed to get a toe on a cross from Noborizato but it was just turned away by an Omiya defender. From the resulting corner (or actually more accurately the second resulting corner as the first one was put out for another corner) Kobayashi scored with a powerful header. It’s very rare that we manage to score from corners, probably due to most of our team being on the short side, but Kobayashi managed to out-jump the defender (who didn’t actually jump…) and power the ball home. The game changed a little after this. It seemed a lot easier for us to keep hold of the ball. Omiya didn’t seem to want to come and get it from us which was a bit strange. As the game neared its conclusion, Omiya had a few more chances, most notably one that was stopped on the line by Kobayashi and then scooped up by Sung-Ryong. I’ve seen some Omiya fans questioning whether this was a hand ball, but the fact that the players who were right in front of the action didn’t seem to be complaining suggests to me that it wasn’t. It was a close escape though. Around this time Nara came on for Abe. This is the second time Oniki has made this substitution, looking to shore things up at the back towards the end of the game. I guess last season we would still be piling forwards looking for more goals. It’s certainly not as exciting to bring on the extra defender, but over the course of a season it might make more sense. As Omiya were pressing a little to try to get an equaliser we had a few chances on the counter attack. One of these resulted in our second goal. Kengo and an Omiya defender seemed to go for the same ball the Omiya clearance seemingly bouncing off Kengo and providing a lovely ball to Kobayashi on the wing who hit a first time cross to Kengo who was waiting unmarked in the box and slotted the ball home to wild celebrations at the Frontale end. And that was about it. Just time for another sub to run the clock down a little, Kano on for Nobrizato in the 94th minute. And then the final whistle and some pretty wild celebrations, perhaps a little over the top considering that it’s the first game of the season, but I guess we all had some trepidation about how things might be this year. Of course, after one game it’s way too early to make any judgements, but it feels good to have got off to a fairly promising start and to have begun the campaign with a win.

So, a not entirely convincing win, but the kind of performance that maybe we might not have been able to put in last season. Some have said that Oniki might be making us play a bit more like Kashima and less like last year’s Frontale, but I feel that we would do well to settle somewhere in between. Last year’s style was great, but definitely a bit too cavalier at times. We still seem to be playing nice stuff but possibly we have a little bit more discipline at the back. Still to early to say though off course. It’s only one game. In the first half it was nice to see us threading the ball through to our strikers a bit more often. In the past we seem to have been keen to short-pass the ball all the way to the net, so occasionally, a little more directness is another string to the bow and a welcome one. Positives and negatives. Let’s start with the negatives for a change. The performance wasn’t exactly commanding, we had a few wobbles and needed some good saves from Sung-Ryong to keep us in it. We didn’t make a huge amount of chances and we need to improve our finishing. Also, we were giving the ball away too often in our own half and making dangerous situations for ourselves. But I like to think we’re still a work in progress. Positives, three points firstly and an confidence building opening win against a team we had a nightmare against last year. A clean sheet, which has to be linked to Sung-Ryong looking a bit more assured than he has in the past. Definitely a good performance from him in this game. We scored from a corner which isn’t something you see every week. In fact maybe only once or twice a season recently. Both Kobayashi and Kengo have got their first goals. Hope Ienaga and Abe can get theirs soon too. And finally the over the top celebrations at the end were fun and hopefully hint at a good morale in the team and promise well for the rest of the season.

Next, on to Hong Kong to play Eastern in the ACL. They got a hammering against Guangzhou in the first game so they will be looking to get some points on the board. I suspect we might see a different line-up so it will be interesting to see who plays. I’m going to the game and am looking forward to my first overseas trip to see Frontale. Let’s hope we can get a good result. And then next weekend, we are home against Sagan Tosu where we can hopefully pick up another win and again make up for another bad result we had last season. Go Frontale!


GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 6. TASAKA Yusuke
DF 5. TANIGUCHI Shogo (Yellow card 45+1')
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro
MF 10. OSHIMA Ryota
MF 8. ABE Hiroyuki
FW 41. IENAGA Akihiro

GK 30. ARAI Shota
DF 3. NARA Tatsuki (on for ABE 85')
FW 9. MORIMOTO Takayuki (on for IENAGA 57')
MF 16. HASEGAWA Tatsuya
MF 25. KANO Kenta (on for OSHIMA 90+4')


KOBAYASHI (Frontale) 66' 0-1
NAKAMURA (Frontale) 90+2'  0-2


The Frontale youtube channel 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.

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