Another game and it’s the slightly more positive one of the two same old stories that we’ve come to know so well recently. It was a weird one. I came away from the game feeling fairly positive as though we hadn’t scored, we hadn’t put in the kind of rotten performance that we’ve had a few of recently. This was nowhere near Cerezo game hopelessness. Much more like the Yokohama game actually, although this time the focus was on desperate defending rather than any kind of exciting attacking play. It was a fun match though and a decent battle, and could have probably gone either way right up until the end, if it weren’t for the fact that we were attacking so limply and defending pretty solidly.
I always bang on about how much I like this fixture and once again it was a really fun trip to Sendai. There is still a really good relationship between the two clubs and in particular, between the two sets of fans. Although there is little reason for me to do so, I still always feel the need to complete a lap around the inside of the stadium, where rival fans are able to mingle freely. It probably works pretty well from a business point of view too, judging by how many people were buying the opposition team’s merch. There are some nice videos on twitter of the rival fans greeting each other that I’m sure you’ve seen. I was a little surprised to see Sendai fans coming right the way in to have a look in our end, pretty much to where we were sitting, until I realised that we are all human beings and such an act doesn’t have to result in a fight or any kind of negative reaction. I hope their fans feel as welcome at our place as we do there. Anyway, enough of the touchy-feely emotional nonsense and on to the whinging about referees and our manager that you’ve come to expect from this blog. Oniki seemed to have partially recovered from his midweek team selection insanity and reverted back to something a little more familiar. There were a few notable absences though. Kobayashi was injured after the Cerezo match. Presumably, it’s not so serious as he finished that game on the pitch. Neto, who was substituted in that match was also absent. Not sure why this was. Morita took Neto’s spot and Chinen continued up front with Abe returning on the left and Ienaga back on the right. Before the game we got a brief glimpse of Itakura who I believe is still injured but was also not eligible to play this game. He came out to greet us, gave us a bow and a clap and then was gone again. Nice to see him anyway and hope he is back with us next season. Before kick off, we had the semi unusual sight of the teams changing ends before kick off. I feel like you don’t see that as often as you used to. And although it was our decision, as we’d won the toss and they took the kick off in the first half, I’m not really sure why it was done. The game started as it was to continue, with both teams giving it a decent go and plenty of attacking. Once again we were coming up against that glass wall that seems to recently always be erected around the opposition penalty box. We were decent and you could even say quite dynamic up to that point, where we stopped dead and passed either sideways or backwards. It didn’t particularly feel like they were defending in numbers. I think it was more a case of us over-complicating things. As for their attacks, we were coping with them quite well. Nara seemed to be doing better than Taniguchi on this occasion, bailing him out on a few occasions, but both of them dealt adequately with what Sendai were throwing at us. Unsurprisingly, it was the officials that were doing the most to get noticed. Our ref for the day was the apparently increasingly insane Nishimura, who is considered by some to be one of the better refs in Japan, but is considered by me to be at best, as bad as the majority of them, and at worst, one of the most terrible of the lot. It’s always a problem when the ref believes he is as much of an attraction as the players and the game, and I feel that Nishimura very much enjoys doing his thing in front of a crowd who he can really wind up. The biggest clanger came from the linesman though, who failed to notice the ball clearly leaving the pitch, pretty much at his feet. It was unbelievable, but when unbelievable decisions happen every week, I guess we have to start believing in them. I’m also pretty sure he gave Chinen offside a few times when he was still in his own half. You would think they’d know the basic rules, but given that a lino flagged a Sagan Tosu player offside from a throw in last week, it’s clear that some of them weren’t paying attention during some of the lessons at refereeing school. Ienaga hit the left post with a header from a lovely disguised cross from Elsinho and then later on, the right post with a powerful shot (our only shots in the first half). I guess it’s a confidence thing, but we seem to keep hitting the woodwork at the moment, and when things aren’t quite clicking for you, they always deflect wide or high rather than in. In reality, this was probably the closest we got in the whole match. As I mentioned above, Sendai weren’t doing much better, but at least they were shooting. My notes summing up the first half mentioned that I thought we just about had the best of the half, but checking afterwards, the stats suggest otherwise. As I said, we were doing well right up until the final quarter of the pitch. Morita was doing a sufficiently good job for us to not really be missing Neto too much. Chinen was working hard, albeit with no opportunities to actually shoot. So far, so mediocre. The only other note I made was one comparing the officials to a body part. I’ll leave you to work out which one, but I think my feelings are probably pretty clear.
The second half started with a sub, with Okubo coming on for Chinen. To be honest, I think I would have preferred it to be the other way round. Chinen always seems to do pretty well as an impact sub. But this gave Okubo 45 minutes to show us what he can still do up front in the league. Sadly, he kept dropping quite deep, as if he was again playing the Kengo role, even though Kengo was actually on the pitch playing the Kengo role. We had an early let off when Kurumaya let them get a cross in with the defence in tatters, but the totally free forward couldn’t get close enough to the ball to put it away. There was a horrible foul on Oshima not long into the half and it looked like we might be losing him to another injury, but he was able to continue. Of course, no yellow card for it though. Not sure if it’s just me being biased, but the opposition don’t seem to be getting any cards against us recently. We’ve had ten in eight matches and our opponents only four. I wouldn’t really consider us a dirty team and I’m pretty sure that plenty of teams come with a game plan that involves getting a bit physical against us, so I really don’t get these figures. J League conspiracy, I guess… We had another couple of shots, one from Elsinho that went past the post and apparently one other but I have no recollection of it. (Unless it was Okubo's attempted back heel which didn't really seem much like a shot, but beggars can't be choosers I guess). It was that kind of game. Pretty much the rest of the second half consisted of us repeating the following move. Attack, spreading the ball out to the left, driving towards their box, upon reaching the box, pass it methodically across in front of the goal, but of course still outside the box, from left to right, then back into the middle before losing the ball. The weird thing is, for the course of the game, I felt that we were doing ok. It’s only looking back on our missed chances and the stats that I have realised we hardly had any chances. Four shots in the whole game apparently. Oniki has commended Sendai, but I think if we’re being honest, we’ve got to have a long look at ourselves. If we’re going to attempt to play a Kashima style boredom style of football, grinding out one-nils, we’ve got to at least take some of the few chances we make otherwise we'll be grinding our nil-nils. Admittedly, the reference to Kashima would work better in seasons past when they did a bit better, rather than this year, when they are doing enjoyably mediocrely. Presumably they will overtake us in the league this weekend when we put in another rotten performance against them and they make me wish I’d never written the previous sentence. So that was the second half. Nothing much happened, but strangely the atmosphere in the stadium was pretty good and both sets of fans were pretty loud. Another draw, another poor performance. It seems hard to believe we’ve actually won three games this season, as we’re currently on a run of no win in five, in all competitions. Great times! There was that most rare of things at the end of the match, some booing of our players from our fans. I felt this was a little harsh, as this was nowhere near as bad as the Cerezo game. This however, was an almost full strength team who only managed four shots in ninety minutes. Even us kind and forgiving Frontale fans break at some stage, and maybe we’re getting to that stage for some fans. We’re on a bad run and there are numerous things we can attribute this to, but the longer it goes on, the lower our confidence will get and the more difficult it will be to break out of it. And our next few games don’t look like the kind of easier ones we might be hoping for when we’re in this kind of state.
Positives and negatives. Well, I guess I’ll say it again for maybe the third or fourth time in this one post, (apologies for the repetition), this was a weird game. If you’d asked me immediately after the game, I’d have said it was a reasonable performance but as soon as I saw the stats and got over the general excitement of being a bit too close to the jumping zone, (my legs are still hurting a couple of days later, getting old I guess), it became clear that this just was more of the same, but perhaps with a small gloss of nice passing and a clean sheet to divert the attention from the same inadequacies. Therefore, it’s clear that the big negative was the fact that our uninspiring run continues and that there’s no sign of any particular hope of things changing. Even Manabu is starting to fade a little in his cameo appearances. In fact, so much that I forgot to even mention him coming on and the other substitution too. Best check below for those details. Still Oniki refuses to play Abe up front. Chinen is doing ok, but is still not ready to be our lone striker for 90 minutes. Okubo shows moments of promise, but more moments that make me worry he’s reverting back to the way he was at the end of the season before last. I’m sure all of these things would be improved with a bit of confidence but it’s just hard to work out where this might come from. This is particularly worrying when you consider that a few players must be playing with thoughts of their imminent axing from the first team hanging over them thanks to Oniki’s man management techniques. The few positives from this game came mostly at the back. Nara played well, we didn’t concede, Morita did a good job in the middle, even overshadowing Oshima at times. Most of the moments of drama in the game came from us thwarting attacks from them. I think generally speaking we’d have been hoping that a bit of the excitement would be happening at the other end of the pitch. I don’t know why we’re struggling so much. Perhaps our tactics have been found out. We certainly are quite predictable and clearly need another option when things aren’t working out. Our lone striker is often dropping so deep and moving so far wide that when the ball is moved into a shooting position we’ve got no one there to actually shoot. We also need to be more willing to attack a bit faster like we did against Yokohama. In that game there was obviously loads of space with them pushing so high up the pitch, but even with a team defending deeper we should at least have the option of going more directly to the goal rather than the endless passes across the box, allowing the opposition to get everyone back behind the ball before we even consider having a shot. And it would be nice if we could occasionally shoot at goal, rather than always trying to pass the ball into the net. I don’t know how much of this is down to our own pre-game tactics and how much is due to our opponents defending in numbers. But a few goals would do us the world of good and if they also result in a few wins we’d be moving in the right direction finally. Fingers crossed.
Next up, this evening, (sorry for the delay, the fixture overload is playing havoc with my timely blog posting), we have Ulsan at home in our final ACL game of this year. A win would be nice to give us some confidence, but I really hope we’re playing as many ‘reserves’ as possible. I’d love to see Akasaki get a chance up front and I know Shimoda and Suzuki are both registered for the tournament as they’ve appeared in previous squads, so why not give them a chance too? With the amount of games we’ve got coming up, there really is no reason to play anyone who we might want to feature in the next league game, which is Kashima at home on Saturday. Depending on which way that game goes, there will probably be either a big positive or negative effect on our form and confidence. Let’s just pray that effect is the former, rather than another morale smashing one.
GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 18. ELSINHO
DF 3. NARA Tatsuki
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro
MF 25. MORITA Hidemasa (Yellow card 68')
MF 10. OSHIMA Ryota
MF 41. IENAGA Akihiro
MF 14. NAKAMURA Kengo
MF 8. ABE Hiroyuki (Yellow card 64')
FW 20. CHINEN Kei
GK 30. ARAI Shota
DF 2. NOBORIZATO Kyohei (on for NAKAMURA 86')FW 4. OKUBO Yoshito (on for CHINEN 46')
MF 16. HASEGAWA Tatsuya
DF 17. TAKEOKA Yuto
MF 19. MORIYA Kentaro
MF 37. SAITO Manabu (on for ABE 64')
My Frontale Man Of The Match
A few sites have given this to Nara, and he played pretty well, but I don’t want people to think I’m biased. Although I am biased. The only other option I think is...
MORITA Hidemasa - clearly an Oniki favourite due to his huge versatility. He did a good job of sitting in for Neto and showed some nice skills going forward as well as being fairly solid defensively. Probably gets it for the lovely spin and flick he did midway through the second half to launch another unfortunately fruitless attack down the wing.
The Frontale youtube channel usually has longer highlights provided by DAZN, but given that a previous 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.