Friday, 6 October 2017

Vs Vegalta Sendai (away) 4/10/17, Levain Cup, semi final 1st leg

Vegalta Sendai 3 - 2 Kawasaki Frontale

It was as great to have another opportunity to go to Sendai this season. It’s one of my favourite grounds and the city and supporters are great. It didn’t however feel so great at half time, trailing 3-0 and with us putting in an ACL-away-to-Urawa type performance but without the slight consolation of having scored. This was the first of three consecutive matches against Vegalta and ended up being a thoroughly strange match. It was a real game of two halves. Sure we have a few key players missing for various reasons, but the first 45 minutes were pretty shocking. We almost made up for it with a spirited second half, which has left the tie set up nicely for the second leg. Let’s hope we don’t stumble again in that match.

With Kurumaya away on international duty, Oniki went with the same back three (Itakura, Taniguchi, Nara), we used against Shimizu in the Emperor’s Cup. In that game it worked a treat. Not exactly the case against Sendai. Sung-Ryong was in goal. In front of the back three were Neto and Moriya, with Elsinho and Hasegawa playing on the wings. Then we had Kengo and Ienaga, with Kobayashi up front. On the bench were Arai, Noborizato, Tasaka, Miyoshi, Chinen, Rhayner and Kano. We started badly, very shaky and giving the ball away a lot. I don’t know if we were struggling with the surface, which looked a little long, or whether we were just having an off day, but the majority of our passes were badly off target. Sendai were pressing us and weren’t letting us have much time on the ball, but we should be used to that happening and we don’t usually play so badly when it does. Sendai seemed to be more up for the game. They were hungry and first to every loose ball. We looked like we’d just eaten a heavy meal; not at all hungry and very sluggish. Things weren’t clicking up front, but we were really struggling playing the ball out of defence. Neither Neto nor Moriya were having a good game. Itakura was trying to bring the ball out as he had done so well against Shimizu but wasn’t having much luck. Early on we had a few major let-offs with poor finishing from Sendai forwards and great goalkeeping from Sung-Ryong. Unfortunately that luck wasn’t to last. The first goal we conceded was a soft one. Neto was robbed in the centre of our half. He complained to the ref, but I can’t really see anything on the replay. They comfortably passed it around our defence and the finish went past the dive of Sung-Ryong. It looked like a bit of a soft goal. Our defence and the two defensive midfielders were not doing very well, static and very narrow, all in the same area, leaving huge gaps. Soon we were two down. A nice flick sent their right back through and his cross totally evaded all the defenders in our tightly packed defence. Much too easy for them. They had two unmarked strikers in the box. No idea what we were doing. Their third was a penalty. I was worried that the ref who was having a slightly bizarre and inconsistent game, might send off Sung-Ryong as he took out Crislan who was clear through on goal but he settled for a yellow and a penalty, in spite of Crislan doing his best to get the red. The attack came from a miscontrol and miscommunication between Neto and Taniguchi in the centre circle. I’m not sure Sung-Ryong needed to slide into him, but I’m in no way blaming him. Crislan was clearly looking for the penalty, playing the ball wide and tripping himself over the prone keeper. No complaints though. The ref had no choice and it clearly was a penalty. Crislan did one of those annoying run-ups where the taker practically stops. I know it’s within the rules, but I really hate those kind of penalties. He was doing a decent job of making tatters of our defence but it was the penalty run-up that turned me against him. His play isn’t exactly the most exhilarating, but it is effective. Damn him. So, three down at half time, and whilst this is a two legged tie and we were only a quarter of the way through, it still felt like we had a mountain to climb. We’d been awful, and to only be losing by three was a bit of a relief. They’d had plenty of chances and we’d flapped around a lot and created very little. So far so bad. In spite of the poor performance, we cheered the team off the pitch. It certainly wasn’t going to help booing them (and of course this isn't the Frontale way), and there was a strange atmosphere in the stand. It felt to me like we knew we’d played terribly, but there wasn’t any despondency. We knew we were going to give our all in the second half.

The second half started with a change that we’d all seen coming. Nobori had been warming up furiously for the last 15 minutes or so of the first half. It was clear that the back three wasn’t working for us on this occasion, so we needed to change things. Nobori came on for Itakura. There were certainly others who could have made way, but in a tough situation this, I guess it made sense to keep the more experienced players on the pitch. Nobori went in at left back and Elsinho dropped back to right back. Further up the pitch, Hasegawa continued on the left and Ienaga went out a little wider on the right. The new formation seemed to give us a bit more solidity, but we were still sloppy, still giving the back away with wayward passing. As we came back into the game a little, the tension on the pitch began to increase. It wasn’t a dirty game, but there were a few more meaty tackles going in. Sendai were trying to slow things down with a bit of time wasting. Crislan seemed to have been mortally wounded, having to leave the pitch on a stretcher. At full time though he was revived from his coma in order to do a post match interview. Every free kick or goal kick was pondered over. Completely understandable but a little frustrating. It seemed that the ball boys had been briefed to do the same. Instead of balls being thrown to the player about to restart play, they were rolled maybe halfway, killing a few more seconds. The Frontale subs noticed and every time the ball went out near them Tasaka would be on the spot, immediately returning the ball directly to whoever needed it. I guess he’s played in most positions for us at one time or another so now he thought he’d give being a ball boy a try. On 70 minutes Oniki made the brave call of bringing on Chinen for Hasegawa. I guess this would normally be the Morimoto sub, but who knows where he has disappeared to recently? Chinen had an almost immediate affect, winning the corner that our first goal came from. The goal was a beautiful header by Nara after an angled run from a Kengo corner. The comeback was on.

The goal transformed our players who had admittedly come out for the second half in a lot better state than the first. But still the goal took them up another level. We were back attacking with vigour and making plenty of chances. Kobayashi hit the bar with a header. The noise in the stand was immense. Kengo couldn’t even do the arm waving thing he likes to do. We were all screaming out our songs. Then Vegalta were down to 10 men with their striker, (and according to Kobayashi, biggest threat), Ishihara being sent off for a second yellow. I can’t remember the first yellow, but the second one seemed fair enough. He jumped for a header and planted his knee in the back of our player. The usual online Frontale haters seem to think it wasn’t a sending off, but if he hadn’t already been booked I think it was an easy yellow to give, and I don’t think yellow cards should be considered in relation to previous cards given in the game. It always irritates me that a keeper given a yellow for time wasting (which I haven’t seen in a while, to be honest), can then waste time at will, knowing he won’t be given another yellow and get dismissed for further time wasting. I think that if it’s a yellow card offence, it should get a yellow, regardless of the circumstances. I think we’d all love a bit of consistency in applying the rules. This season seems to have been a particularly bad refereeing season. Anyway....  There were a few borderline calls coming from the linesman and this was further cranking up the tension. One resulted in half the Frontale bench and staff arguing their case with the apparently visually impaired assistant. It looked like the translator for the Brazilian players was going to get sent off. He seemed furious. Tasaka too was pretty angry and he ended up getting booked whilst not on the pitch, presumably condemning him to being an unused sub. It was around this time that the ref totally lost control of the match. Pretty much all of his decisions were being contested vociferously by one team or the other. With the extra man we were piling forward. They were playing with pretty much no one up front but occasionally threatened on the counter attack. Sung-Ryong had to make a couple of great saves to keep us alive. We were doing our best but the goal wasn’t quite coming. On 85 minutes, Kano came on for Moriya, completing a set of substitutions that I don’t think many could have predicted before the game. Once again he did a decent job in his brief cameo appearance. There were five minutes of injury time to be played. We still weren’t in a very good position but at least we had an away goal and had clawed something back. Then, with just a minute of injury time left we scored again. Ienaga put in a great curving cross to the far post, Kobayashi headed it back across goal and Chinen was there to head home his first senior goal. Amazing! On the replay he looked pretty cool jogging back for the restart but he does crack a little smile. A vital goal. We had a couple more chances but nothing came from them. The final whistle was blown but we continued singing loudly, congratulating the players on a good second half and for getting us back in the tie. It was all quite emotional actually! The players looked like they appreciated the support. We’d lost, but somehow it felt like a win. I think we probably feel a lot more optimistic about the second leg than Sendai do now. But it’s nowhere near over. A goal from them on Sunday will leave us with a mountain to climb. It certainly felt a lot better at full time than half time though!

Positives and negatives. Let’s start negative. Terrible, terrible first half where we couldn’t pass or control the ball and where our defence were narrow, immobile and static. The same tactics worked fine against Shimizu but were really not up to the job in this game. Sub par performances from too many players. Neto and Moriya were both having off days, things weren’t working up front and perhaps Sung-Ryong could have done a little better for a couple of the goals. It's weird, but it does seem that if more than one of our players is having a bad day, pretty much all of them are. But, moving on to the positives, the second half was a big improvement. Still not as good as we’d like to play, but giving the circumstances a decent effort. Two goals mean we’re back in the tie. Nobori really made a difference when he came on. Hope he’s fit enough to play some part on Sunday. Chinen scoring his first goal should be great for his confidence. With Morimoto not around at the moment, he could be a very important plan B for us. The team spirit seems good too. We responded pretty well to a disastrous first half which I guess means Oniki said and did the right thing at half time. Of course it would be better to have done this from the start but.... One last positive, although it’s kind of a negative thing to say, is that Sendai’s Ishihara will be banned for the next game. Hopefully that should cut off some of the service for Crislan. But to be honest, I think its probably better for us to concentrate on getting our own game up to scratch first, as we can’t afford any more halves like the first one we had in this game.

So, next up is the second leg at Todoroki on Sunday. We follow this with another home game against Sendai the following Saturday. Two wins in these games are pretty crucial for us, so let’s keep our fingers crossed. Go Frontale!


GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG (Yellow card 45+1')
DF 3. NARA Tatsuki 
MF 19. MORIYA Kentaro
MF 41. IENAGA Akihiro
MF 16. HASEGAWA Tatsuya

GK 30. ARAI Shota
DF 2. NOBORIZATI Kyohei (on for ITAKURA 46')
DF 6. TASAKA Yusuke (Yellow card 77')
FW 20. CHINEN Kei (on for HASEGAWA 70')
MF 25. KANO Kenta (on for MORIYA 85')

My Frontale Man Of The Match

From the first half, probably no-one! But the more spirited performance in the second half means that I am able to give it to someone. Nobori made a big difference when he came on, but this could have been in part due to the formation change. Given the circumstances, I'll give it to...

CHINEN Kei - His first senior goal so added significance. He also won the corner for the first goal. Did a good job of unsettling a Vegalta defence that had been dealing with us fairly easily up to that point. But yeah, mainly because it was his first goal.


ISHIHARA (Sendai) 24' 1-0
CRISLAN (Sendai) 33' 2-0
CRISLAN (Sendai) 45+1' 3-0
NARA (Frontale) 72' 3-1
CHINEN (Frontale) 90+4' 3-2


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