Wednesday night saw us back in action in the Emperor’s Cup (not the Levain cup as I tweeted during a brain freeze. There’s been a lot of games recently and I’m sticking with that as my excuse). Once again Shimizu were our opponents, although this time we were at home and the line ups were a little different. I still can’t really say for sure which competition we are prioritising, but this line up certainly had more than the usual compliment of players who might normally be expected to start on the bench. Perhaps Oniki suspected that this line up would have enough to get past Shimizu (who also seemed to be resting players as far as I could tell). If that was the case, he was right. Whilst the performance wasn’t exactly clinical, the result was pretty satisfying and saw some good performances from players who could now be said to be making a decent claim for a starting spot. Whether they’ll get it is another matter, but it’s nice to know that we have some options in the event that we pick up some injuries. Hopefully we won’t.
Into the starting line up came Arai, Tasaka, Edu, Itakura, Moriya, Hasegawa, Kano and Morimoto. The bench had plenty of the usual starters on it, but also some less familiar faces. Ando had a chance to put on his gloves for a change and Chinen was back. The rest of the bench was made up of Kurumaya, Taniguchi, Oshima, Ienaga and Kobayashi. We were playing with a back three of Nara, Edu and Itakura with Moriya and Neto in front of them, Tasaka and Hasegawa on the wings and Abe and Kano behind Morimoto up front. In theory anyway. As seems to be the case when we play with three at the back, at least one of them spends most of the game bombing forward, so we were attacking quite a lot. We didn’t start particularly well, perhaps due to the unfamiliar line up and formation and for a while we were a little under the cosh, having to defend as Shimizu attacked us looking to make an early breakthrough. But we survived and it was us that scored first on 8 minutes. It was Morimoto, continuing where he left off last Saturday. The goal game from an Itakura through pass, (one of our centre backs who was magnificently running at the Shimizu defence with the ball). Morimoto took a touch to control it and then calmly slotted it past the keeper. The goal settled us down a bit, but the game was still pretty open. Both teams were attacking a lot and it appeared that we were going to be in for a goal fest. Presumably as a result of this thought coming into my head, there were no more goals for a while after this. Shimizu were hitting us on the counter attack and one of these hits finally landed on 23 minutes. There was more than a hint of handball from a Shimizu attacker lying on the floor in the box beforehand, but can't complain about the finish, which was pretty unstoppable. Moriya got totally flattened trying to block the shot and it looked a bit dodgy for him for a little while. No complaints about the ref’s decision though, as it was by no means intentional. He left the pitch on a stretcher but was thankfully able to resume not long afterwards. Shame we gave them the chance with a bit of dodgy ball control from Edu though, but never mind. It looked like we were going to head in to the break level, but Morimoto popped up again. On 41 minutes we were ahead once more and once again it was Itakura (one of our centre backs, it's worth stating again...), who, from just outside the box, swung in a lovely cross for Morimoto to head home. A lively and exciting first half, made all the more exciting by the fact that we were leading and given the scorer and provider of our goals.
The second half started with no changes for us. We seemed a little more assured than we were at the start of the first half, but we gave them a few good chances by giving away the ball cheaply trying to pass our way out of defence. Whilst we were leading and also defending pretty well, it wasn’t exactly comfortable and I felt that we probably needed another goal. Thankfully we got it, and unbelievably it was Morimoto again. The Japanese Ronaldo is back! Apparently he is statistically the most dangerous striker in the league at the moment if you're judging by the amount of minutes taken for each goal. But statistics can be a little misleading I guess! Not that anything should be taken away from Morimoto who was having a great game. His hat-trick was completed with a through ball from Abe and finished with his left boot. A perfect hat-trick, one from each foot and one from the head. Great stuff! He seemed to relax a little after this goal and was dropping a bit deeper and puffing a bit harder. I guess he’d put in a shift so he deserved a bit of a rest. I made a fool of myself for the second time around this time when a marauding Shimizu forward made it to the goal line and just fell over. I can’t pretend it wasn’t a hilarious moment, but it seemed I was enjoying it a bit more than most of the other people around me. I did feel sorry for the Shimizu player, but it was an almost slapstick moment. Chances were being created at both ends of the pitch and it almost had a feel of last season about it, when we went about most games attacking like crazy, almost encouraging the other team to score so we would need to do some more attacking. Thankfully we seem to have got a bit more steel about our defence since last year though. Even when attack after attack is coming, we’re pretty calm, (although maybe a touch too calm sometimes), and satisfyingly solid. Shimizu now really needed a goal so they were pushing forward relentlessly. Our clearances started getting longer, but there wasn’t the desperation we saw against Urawa, and the ball was sticking a bit more. On 59 minutes, Oshima came on for Neto who hadn’t had his best game for us. Not saying he was playing badly, but he wasn’t quite his usual forceful presence in midfield. About 15 minutes later, Kurumaya entered the fray too, replacing Abe. It was definitely a good opportunity to rest some more players as we were doing pretty well and looked at least equally as likely as Shimizu to score. There wasn’t quite the urgency of the first half though. I guess we’d understandably slowed things down a little. Because of Morimoto dropping back, I thought the game was begging for Chinen to replace him, giving Morimoto the perfect opportunity to get a nice reception as he left the field. But when Chinen finally did come on it was for Hasegawa, and was after we’d scored again. Our fourth came from the head of Edu via a Moriya free kick and he seemed very pleased to score. There wasn’t much more action after this to be honest. I guess everyone had kind of accepted the result. Chinen had a go and once again I thought showed that he will probably have plenty to offer us in the future. It was also good to see Kano play 90 minutes. He’s very much a favourite with the fans and got plenty of encouragement and played pretty well. Think he’s a way off dislodging anyone in the regular starting eleven though, but with a run of games, who knows? Whether he’ll get that chance is another matter. So, a fairly comfortable 4-1 win and we’re through to the next round where we’ll meet Kashiwa Reysol, just a few days before we play them in the league. Weird how this seems to keep happening this season. It was the case with Shimizu and will also be with Sendai next month.
Positives and negatives. Positives first. Decent win, decent performance, pitch time for fringe players, plenty of whom gave a good account of themselves and rest time for some players who’ve played a lot of minutes recently. Arai looked pretty solid in goal making a few good stops and one particularly good save when Shimizu broke through. We looked fairly at ease with the different formation which is good as it seems to hint at us actually having a plan B. Hasegawa once again looked dangerous on the wing with his trickery. Moriya seems to be growing into the defensive midfield position which represents his best chance to get more pitch time. Itakura did a great job with the assists for the first two goals, especially considering he was apparently playing at centre back. He seems to be growing in confidence and quality every time he plays. Negatives, not many really. Not the best day for Neto, but by no means a bad performance. Defending was at times a little desperate, and we did give them a few chances that normally would have resulted in us conceding. But we only did once, so let’s leave the negativity at that.
Next up we’re away to Vissel Kobe on Saturday. This fixture was a stinker last year when we lost 3-0. They also now have some guy called Podolski. I’m looking forward to the game as their stadium was pretty nice. I hope we can banish any of the remaining traumatic memories of last year. Don’t think it will be an easy game, but hope we can keep our title chase alive. We’re running out of games, and not many people are beating Kashima this year in the league, but let’s keep going for those wins and keep our fingers crossed that someone will do us a favour. And then that two other teams will also do us favours. Clutching at straws a little I guess, but let’s keep the dream alive! Go Frontale!
GK 30. ARAI Shota
DF 28. ITAKURA Ko
DF 23. EDUARDO
DF 3. NARA TatsukiMF 6. TASAKA Yusuke
MF 19. MORIYA Kentaro
MF 21. EDUARDO NETO
MF 16. HASEGAWA Tatsuya
MF 8. ABE Hiroyuki
MF 25. KANO Kenta
GK 24. ANDO Shunsuke
DF 5. TANIGUCHI Shogo
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro (on for ABE 75')
MF 10. OSHIMA Ryota (on for NETO 59')
FW 20. CHINEN Kei (on for HASEGAWA 86')
MF 41. IENAGA Akihiro
My Frontale Man Of The Match
I think I said before that I try to usually look beyond goalscorers to pick out a man of the match. After the first two goals were scored, I thought that Itakura was in with a shout for his great assists and ‘dynamic’ defending. But what with the hat-trick, it’s pretty churlish to give it to anyone other than...
MORIMOTO Takayuki - perfect hat-trick. Is he finally going to be able to fulfil the promise of his early career? It certainly would be very welcome and quite well timed if he is.
MORIMOTO (Frontale) 8' 1-0
DUKE (Shimizu) 23' 1-1
MORIMOTO (Frontale) 41' 2-1
MORIMOTO (Frontale) 49' 3-1
EDUARDO (Frontale) 85' 4-1