Last season this game was a cracker. In fact both games against Kofu last year were 4-0 victories for us. This year we've ended up with two draws and perhaps this game has signaled the end of our title ambitions, at least until (fingers crossed), Kashima implode. We're now 6 points behind them, a team who it seems we can beat easily but no one else can, and draws against teams fighting relegation is not helping our cause. I think the same thing happened last year. We struggled against the teams that were in the relegation fight. I guess the knockout 'championship' format stopped us in our tracks eventually, but poor results against struggling teams prevented us from taking a stage victory or progressing straight to the final. We're nominally still in all the competitions, but without a big hand from a few other teams, the league is going to slip away. I wonder if this is a time for us to take stock and consider what exactly is our priority for the season. The first Emperors Cup game aside, we don't seem to be rotating the squad. I think we need to recognise that we're not going to win all four trophies with the same 16 or so players and generally speaking the same starting 11. Decisions need to be made. We'll see what happens on Wednesday against FC Tokyo I guess.
As alluded to above, it was pretty much the usual players on show. The starting line up remained the same as the last game with changes only coming on the bench due to the injury to Noborizato (out for 5 weeks apparently). His place was taken by Rhayner and I guess because of this, Edu was replaced by Itakura. My notes and photos are fairly limited for this game, (probably the best photo being the one at the top of the bizarre pile of snow that is still there after the height of summer for some reason), as somehow I found myself in the high action jumping section, holding on to that long rope/sheet thing. It was enjoyably loud and our supporters were definitely playing their part. From the start Kofu's game plan was evident. Pack the defence, sit back and soak up the pressure, then lump the ball forward for Dudu to chase. Not the prettiest of game plans, but it's one we should be used to now as plenty of people use it against us. As I find myself saying every time I write a blog post, we had plenty of possession and were making chances but our final balls were lacking and our shooting weak. We did manage to take the lead though. Ienaga won a penalty. From the other end of the pitch it looked fair enough, but things I've read seem to suggest that he really did earn it, rather than deserve it. Having seen the replay now, I'm ok with it. Kobayashi stepped up and put it away. So far so good, although not so satisfying a performance. Sung-Ryong had made a few decent saves and I thought Taniguchi was doing a good job (the internet disagreed with me on that too it seems...). Surely we'd just step things up in the second half and win comfortably...
Or not. We started the second half as we'd finished the first. Plenty of possession but no real threat. One difference though was that we were really starting to hang on. Things weren't at all comfortable. Neto was looking a bit ragged, far from his usual cool and calm self. Passes were going astray and we were not convincing. Still we were just about coping at the back. On 65 minutes Rhayner came on for Kengo, Ienaga moving into the middle. Shortly afterwards we conceded. I don't think it can be blamed on the sub as it was coming anyway. The goal was a bit of a disaster, with three players being beaten by one striker. Oshima was the first, and was maybe a little unlucky as he put in a tackle but the ball just bounced back to the striker. Elsinho was next. Possibly he couldn't do much from the position he was in, but you've got to wonder why he was in that position instead of getting between the player and the goal. After all he was the right back. Finally Nara slid in, but was too late. Sung-Ryong didn't make a very good fist of stopping it either. Way too much time and space was given to the striker. A very soft goal to concede. Four minutes later, (and considering the lengthy goal celebrations, this can't have been long after the restart), we were behind. It was another soft goal. A long punt forward looked like it was going to be dealt with by Taniguchi but Dudu won the ball, cleaning out Taniguchi in the process, and was through on goal. Nara came across but not in time and Dudu hammered the ball under the dive of Sung-Ryong, who probably really should have done better again. Route one stuff, their goalkeeper getting the assist. I'm not sure about the challenge on Taniguchi. I think if it had been a defender putting that kind of challenge in on a striker it would have been a yellow card. But this is probably just grasping at straws. We really shouldn't concede from their goal kick. Maybe the bounce deceived Taniguchi a little, but the defending was all round woeful. Now they had a lead, and could time waste with impunity. The ref was aware of what was going on and keep whistling, telling people to hurry up, but they didn't and he did nothing. One thing that always annoys me is that once someone has been booked, they can time waste all they want, as I've never seen someone get a second yellow and get sent off for time wasting. This wasn't an issue though, as the ref wasn't even giving out the first yellow. Their keeper was holding on to the ball for almost 30 seconds, kicks were constantly delayed, balls dropped. It was annoying. We had two rolls of the dice left, and the two changes were made quite soon after the second goal as time was running out. Ienaga was replaced by Morimoto and then shortly afterwards, Hasegawa came on for Kurumaya. We were piling forward trying to get an equaliser but the shots were still woefully inadequate, with the strength and accuracy of a back pass, being rolled directly to the keeper, who gratefully picked it up (and of course held on to it for ages). We managed an equaliser in the 90th minute. A Neto cross from the left (think it was shortly after he'd taken a corner), found Taniguchi at the far post. He headed back across the goal and Morimoto nodded in. It's weird. Even at this stage I think we could have got a winner if our shooting was better. The game was insanely stretched, both teams going for goal and the action switching from end to end. But there weren't to be any further goals and both teams had to settle for a point.
Positives and negatives. Let's start positive. Errrmmm... Morimoto scored. We rescued a point. Clutching at straws. The support was good. It didn't rain. I dunno. Negatives. Poor, poor result against a team who are struggling. Players looked like they were lacking energy and inspiration. Some dodgy defending and goalkeeping cancelling out any good defending and goalkeeping there had been earlier in the game. Terrible shooting, and not really enough shots to be honest. We had almost 60% possession but they had 15 shots to our 10. We you consider the quality of our shots this is even more disappointing. Passing wasn't up to our usual standard either. A general lacklustre performance which I hope is just one of our blips, but might hint at deeper problems. We just aren't using our squad. It's the same players all the time and they're getting burned out. We have to prioritise our competitions. If the same 11 start in the Levain cup against FC Tokyo this week, I hope that's because we've decided to aim for that cup, rather than that we don't have a plan B. I suspect that maybe we don't at the moment. The reason the league is slipping away from us is that despite demolishing Kashima twice this season, we've drawn twice with Kofu. We really need a hand from some other teams now to make up the six point gap. But we also need to win all our games, which I can't be particularly confident about us doing right now.
Next up, we have two Levain cup games against FC Tokyo, the first at home on Wednesday and then away on Sunday. We've done pretty badly against them this year so far, and they don't have anything left to play for apart from the Levain Cup so I'm guessing they'll be up for it. A couple of fine victories would maybe put a spring in our step again. Not sure what a defeat would do. Whatever happens, we've got to use some different players. We're getting too tired and too predictable. And because I too am tired and predictable, I'll finish half-heartedly with my usual, but this time slightly weary Go Frontale.
GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 18. ELSINHO
DF 3. NARA Tatsuki
DF 5. TANIGUCHI Shogo
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro
MF 21. EDUARDO NETO
MF 10. OSHIMA Ryota
MF 11. KOBAYASHI Yu
MF 14. NAKAMURA Kengo
MF 41. IENAGA Akihiro (Yellow card 36')
GK 30. ARAI Shota
MF 6. TASAKA Yusuke
FW 9. MORIMOTO Takayuki (on for IENAGA 77')
FW 16. HASEGAWA Tatsuya (on for KURUMAYA 82')
MF 19. MORIYA Kentaro
MF 22. RHAYNER (on for NAKAMURA 65')
DF 28. ITAKURA Ko
My Frontale Man Of The Match
Jeez, I don't know for this game. General underwhelming performances all round. I thought Taniguchi was doing ok in the first half and he did get the assist for the equaliser. But I think, let's just leave it on this occasion.
KOBAYASHI (Frontale) 35' (PEN) 1-0
LINS (Kofu) 70' 1-1
DUDU (Kofu) 74' 2-1
MORIMOTO (Frontale) 90' 2-2
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.