After a disappointing result against Kofu on Sunday, I wasn’t quite sure if I was looking forward to this game. Depending on the result it would be an opportunity to get back on track, or perhaps to push me further into despair. It’s the third time we have met FC Tokyo so far this season and it’s fair to say that things haven’t really gone our way so far, with a heavy defeat at their place and then a lacklustre draw at home. We got somewhere close to getting a bit of revenge with this game, but the tie is not over yet and the second leg is coming round pretty fast, so we'll see.
From the team line-ups it was clear to see that the teams had different feelings about this cup. We’re still alive in four competitions, although the league is slipping away from us a little at the moment. Consequently, we made plenty of changes from our usual starting eleven. In fact the only players to keep their place from Sunday were Nara, Neto and Ienaga so we were making good use of our squad for a change. In contrast, this is FC Tokyo’s only realistic chance of winning anything this year, so they went with a pretty strong line up. I’m not sure what the ‘new challenge’ Okubo was looking for when he said he had to leave us for FC Tokyo, but I wonder if he’s getting it. If he wanted to not win any trophies he could have just stayed with us! Although, as I’m sure I made clear last year on this blog, I was delighted when he left as he seemed to be really over the hill and was becoming a real negative influence on the squad. His 90 minutes in this game showed us that he hasn’t changed much from last season. Mainly walking around the pitch with his hands on his hips, occasionally crumpling to the floor at the slightest touch and getting in at least a good solid 75 minutes of whinging. Anyway, I’m going to move on from Okubo as I may be starting to sound bitter! Arai started between the sticks and we tried a three man defense in front of him of Nara, Edu and Itakura. Neto played his usual defensive midfield role and had Moriya beside him. Ahead of them were Hasegawa on the left and Tasaka on the right, with Ienaga in the middle a little behind Morimoto and Rhayner where he wanted to be, it seemed. This formation doesn’t quite agree with what the Frontale website says, but this is how I saw it. On the beach we had some regulars to call on if things started to go wrong (Sung-Ryong, Kengo, Kurumaya, Kobayashi, Abe, Oshima) and Kano, back again from the wilderness. We started the game fairly decently, although our passing wasn’t quite working, but let’s blame that on the new system. Tokyo seemed to be having the same problem. There was a lot of possession lost, rather than possession being won. Tokyo seemed to be lining up with a formation resembling 5-3-2, with pretty much everyone behind the ball when we had possession. We were being our usual patient selves, rolling the ball across the back line and waiting for opportunities. Ienaga was having a decent night, with some lovely turns and passes but his shooting wasn’t quite working. The ref was Kimura, a name that I have in the back of my head, which means he must be bad, but I can’t remember exactly why. He was giving some dodgy decisions though, and of course I think he was giving the majority of the free kicks to FC Tokyo. Rhayner was through on goal, hacked down and nothing was given (at the other end of the pitch, so I can’t be too sure, but…), Okubo was tackled just outside our box, right in front of us and completely fairly as far as I’m concerned and the ref gave him a free kick. In fact as the half wore on, any tackle on Okubo was being given as a foul. I’m sure referees are influenced by his reputation, but I’m equally sure that I am not going to give him the benefit of the doubt. Not fair, I know, but hey, it’s my blog! Half time came with us looking fairly comfortable but lacking a spark. I feel we were playing a bit too narrow. Everything seemed to be going through the middle and given how many players they had back, it was all a bit congested. But, I was satisfied enough.
The second half started with no changes for us. I think Oniki was hoping to see out the majority of the game without having to use the first teamers. The first note I have for the second half says ‘the ref is on drugs’. There were a few second half incidents that made me think this. One was when Rhayner jumped for a long ball we’d punted forward (very out of character for us, I admit!), got flattened by the defender and conceded a foul. As sure as night follows day, he was booked. I don’t know what it is about him, but he picks up yellows all the time and it usually seems to be when he is fouled. I’m pretty sure he isn't chatting back to the ref. I can only imagine officials don’t like him for some reason. There was an amazing statistic I saw the other day that said he’d received six yellow cards this season but only committed three fouls. Add another one to the first column. The other bit of refereeing incompetence was when he stopped a Frontale attack for an FC Tokyo injury (fair enough), but didn’t let the physio on and then rolled the ball to the FC Tokyo defence for the drop ball restart. This seemed so weird that I can’t imagine I have correctly understood what happened. But in the J League, or in this case, in the J League’s least prestigious cup, I guess we should expect the unexpected from referees. Thankfully, we scored a couple of goals in the second half, so I’ve got something to write about aside from complaining about the ref and Okubo. Our first was Ienaga from the penalty spot. Fresh from earning a penalty at the weekend, this time he converted, with a lovely finish low into the corner. The penalty was won by Morimoto and I haven’t seen the replay yet, but there was a hell of a scramble in the box and I was certainly claiming for it. [Have seen the replay now and it seems pretty clear to me]. I thought Ienaga also got taken out shortly before actually, but it seemed only I thought that one should have been given. The ref took a ridiculous time micro-adjusting the ball on the spot. So much that Ienaga lifted it clear off the pitch and placed it back down again. It really looked like he was trying to put him off. Then, the ref had a face off with the keeper, trying to get him back on his line and finally an FC Tokyo player wandered into the box to apparently complain about a Frontale player being in the box. All in all, I’m amazed Ienaga managed to keep his nerve and put away the penalty so calmly. Our second goal came on the 90th minute and was pleasing as we’d had a few decent chances in the minutes before which we’d failed to convert. Ienaga received the ball on the edge of the box, turned, drove in and smacked the ball into the far corner with his left boot. Well played him! Aside from these few incidents, the second half was quite like the first with a fair bit of sloppiness from both teams. Arai had to make a good save from Okubo and we had a few worrying moments, but I’d say on the whole that we were pretty much in control. We made a few changes in the last ten minutes, but I think this was more to run down the clock rather than alter anything tactically. Kobayashi had a couple of opportunities in the seven or eight minutes he was on the pitch and at the end, I felt it was more likely that we’d score again, rather than Tokyo getting one back. First part of the job is done.
Positives and negatives. Positives first. Well, the result was good. We’re in a decent position going into the next leg and they didn’t manage to score any away goals. Big positive is that we rotated a little and gave some people a rest and some others a chance. If we are going to keep our run going in four competitions, we definitely need to use some more players. Judging from the starting line-up, it seems that maybe the Levain Cup isn’t our priority, although conversely it could be the one which we have the most chance of winning. Good to see Ienaga get a couple more goals. His second finish in particular showed that he might be building up some confidence and form. There were some other good performances too. Morimoto did a good job of leading the line again and also after the game looked pretty sharp sporting a pair of sunglasses provided by the game sponsors. There are some good photos on twitter of various players wearing various types of eyewear. Certainly much better pictures than the ones I took. Rhayner once again showed us what he can do. I was particularly impressed with the way he won back possession quite a few times in the game. The back three looked pretty solid, only being breached once I think. Although I wonder if this formation is a bit too attacking to be adopted more regularly, (the two centre backs on the sides were often pushing up way past the half way line). All in all, a solid enough performance and a good result. Negatives. It seemed again that we weren’t putting away our chances, or even getting them on target most of the time. Passing was a bit sloppy at times. But to be honest, not too much to moan about.
Next up, we have the second leg, away to FC Tokyo on Sunday. Let’s hope we can progress to the final. After that, we’re back at home the following weekend for the visit of Yokohama F Marinos, currently one place above us in the table. I guess it’s a must win and we owe them for the horrible game at their place earlier in the season. Go Frontale!
GK 30. ARAI Shota
DF 28. ITAKURA Ko
DF 3. NARA Tatsuki
DF 23. EDUARDO
MF 21. EDUARDO NETOMF 6. TASAKA Yusuke
MF 19. MORIYA Kentaro (Yellow card 58')
MF 19. MORIYA Kentaro (Yellow card 58')
MF 22. RHAYNER (Yellow card 89')
MF 41. IENAGA AkihiroMF 16. HASEGAWA Tatsuya
FW 9. MORIMOTO Takayuki
GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro (on for HASEGAWA 82')
FW 8. ABE Hiroyuki (on for RHAYNER 90+1')
MF 10. OSHIMA Ryota
FW 11. KOBAYASHI Yu (on for MORIMOTO 86')
MF 14. NAKAMURA Kengo
MF 25. KANO Kenta
My Frontale Man Of The Match
Few decent performances. Rhayner was all over the pitch and got involved a lot. Great save from Arai from Okubo but probably didn't have much else to do. Fairly solid defence. Morimoto did a good job of leading the line and won the penalty. I hate to be one of those people who just gives it to the goal scorer, but...
IENAGA Akihiro - His penalty was coolly taken in spite of all the distractions, lovely finish for his other goal and was creating chances all night.
IENAGA (Frontale) 90' 2-0