Kawasaki Frontale 1 - 3 Kashima Antlers
Ugh, there’s goes the positivity. Wednesday’s first leg left me feeling pretty happy, maybe even optimistic. This game sent me right back to the misery, although the all round experience was a slightly confusing one. The big highlight, and actually, thinking about it, almost certainly the only thing even slightly resembling a highlight was the support. Although officially speaking this was a home game, we had given up any notion of home advantage by moving it to the Ajinomoto stadium. Perhaps this home/away feeling explains the intensity of our support. We were really making some noise and even as the goals kept going in, we didn’t waver. We even sang through most of half time. Sadly, it had very little tangible effect on what was going on on the pitch. The impressive boost in support intensity was mirrored in stature by the drop off in the quality of performance from the team. As is my wont when we have a stinker, (and there’s a few to choose from this year), I’ve dispensed with the usual blog post format and replaced it with a load of whinges. The weird thing is, at the end of this game, I wasn't whinging so much. Just bitterly disappointed. We’d thrown away another good opportunity for a trophy. Most of the teams remaining in the competition should probably be more concerned with trying to remain in J1. I really hope that one of them nab this trophy though. Not due to sour grapes, just general and all-encompassing dislike for Kashima!
So what went wrong? Wednesday perhaps gave us false hope. Our makeshift defensive midfield which I was worried about before the first leg performed really well midweek. Sadly Kashima seem to look at previous matches when considering their upcoming games, unlike Oniki who just ploughs on with the same plan as usual. I don’t know if they particularly targeted Taniguchi and Kengo, but the confidence and ability that they had last Wednesday evapourated into endless misplaced passes and missed challenges. It was maybe too much to ask of Kengo to play 180 minutes out of position within the course of five days. Sure, we were a little unfortunate to lose Oshima and Morita at the same time, but the fact that there was a natural replacement for that position, (Shimoda), sitting on the bench for the whole of the 180 minutes is a bit baffling. Sure, when they were playing well in the first leg it would have been stupid to change them. But, this part of the pitch was the real area of concern in the first half of the second leg, but instead it was Akasaki, who’d probably had one of our few shots that made way. Once again, Oniki finds it impossible to substitute one of his favourites, unless it’s in a ‘you’ve done great, now have a little rest’ twenty minutes to go change.
It’s a bit unfair to single out those two though. This was a rotten performance right through the team. Arai could have done better on at least two of the three goals. Our attack was relatively toothless, but were also pretty isolated, siting in front of a huge empty area of the pitch. It seems Oniki’s only tactical plan B is to push what would normally be Kengo up front alongside what would normally be Kobayashi. It never really seems to work very well and it didn’t on this occasion. I feel that it only comes from Oniki’s lack of faith in either Chinen or Akasaki playing there by themselves, rather than any kind of attempt to shake things up in a positive way. It felt on Wednesday that Kengo was getting forward and filling that gap whilst Taniguchi stayed back and shielded the defence. It really didn’t seem to be happening in this game though.
It was a bit baffling when the inevitable half time change saw Hasegawa replace Akasaki, pushing Abe up front with Chinen, rather than try to alter any of the problems that were staring us all in the face. To be fair though, it looked like it was over by them. Conceding the first goal gave us a mountain to climb. The second goal shortly after added an extra few thousand metres to the summit. But still the support stayed strong. Hasegawa did have a brief positive impact though and it fleetingly looked like we might be about to stage a great comeback, putting together a few nice moves and getting a goal back from the penalty spot (again). But after a few time wasting stoppages the momentum cooled a little and we were back to square one. And obviously, the inevitable third goal went in from a counter attack. It’s no surprise we’d been caught out on a counter, as we’d been unable to defend when we were nominally ahead in the tie, so it figures that we wouldn’t with players pushing forward attempting to get back in the game. Once again Manabu wasn’t really able to have an impact. He makes some nice runs but either the other players aren’t reading them, or he doesn’t know when to pass the ball on and overdoes everything. It’s probably fair to say that things aren’t exactly going to plan for him at the moment. Like plenty of others in our squad if we’re being honest.
So here it comes, the inevitable Oniki moans. I'm confused about a few things. Was this cup a priority? Not for the first time our selection sat on the fence between being our best possible side and the scrapings of our squad. There are no league games for these matches to clash with yet players who probably didn’t particularly need resting were rested and others who could do with a break played 180 minutes. Again it speaks volumes about the total imbalance in our team. One thing of note was the fact that our new signing Caio has now been added to the pre-game player rundown video. No sign of him anywhere near the team though. And let’s be honest, another attacking midfielder was probably the last thing we needed. Why were not replacing absent players or patching the obvious holes in the squad, I’m not sure. Neto hasn’t been replaced. We clearly shouldn’t have let him go, but Oniki pretty much pushed him out it seems. The Caio transfer reeks a little of being another late-season one that is more intended to keep us with three Brazilians on the books, presumably made by club officials rather than our manager. I’d rather not have Oniki as our manager, but whilst he’s in charge he should be deciding on transfers. There are already enough players in our squad that Oniki will do his best to never play as it is. Perhaps he’s not fit, but if that’s the case, you’ve also got to wonder what the logic is in signing an out of condition player at this stage of the season.
I know I endlessly moan about Oniki, and some people strongly disagree. Not long ago I had a tougher time justifying such moaning. After all, if the team is getting results, it seems a bit petty to moan about the manager. But we’ve lost a lot of the excitement of Frontale. We used to be a free attacking side, scoring plenty. I have to say Oniki has done well to tighten things up at the back. But now we’re not exciting in any way. Our last three games have seen us score two goals, both from the penalty spot and concede six. They have been two losses and one draw. We’re now out of the ACL and the Levain Cup, both at the first stage of asking, and both in very limp fashion. Even when we play with our ‘best eleven’, we’re not setting the world alight. In fact we’re limping to some lucky results. I’ve said all year that our results have been really flattering our form. We haven’t played well all year and it now seems that we’re taking a downturn in the part of the season in which we most need to push on and put results together. The kind of run that won us the title last year looks like the stuff of dreams. Sure, we might beat some of the more average sides in the league, but when we come up against anyone who actually thinks about tactics before the match we struggle. Likewise, if we’re up against anyone who is down around the bottom and scrapping for their lives. It’s all a bit depressing to be honest. But it seems like there needs to be a major rethink. Yes, we were not at full strength. But, we know that we won’t always be and we should have some idea of how to cope when we’re not. Recent experience suggests we don’t. And the build up of yellow cards suggests that we're going to have more problems like this in the near future.
I’m sorry to moan so much. And repeat myself so much... I don’t enjoy standing at the games whinging about our inadequacies. I try to support, but there's been far too much to moan about recently and far too little to support. We do our best though! To be honest, it’s really not much fun at the moment. I don’t require us to win every game to be less moody. I just wish we could perform somewhere near our capabilities and I’m not sure we’re going to be able to under the current system. Watching this team recently just seems like self-flagellation. Last Wednesday was fun, but recently, that's really an exception. On Wednesday we did a decent enough job on the pitch, the team seemed to care, the atmosphere in the stands was great. Only a tiny part of that can be said about this game. It was loud and the unconditional support was unbelievable. But the performance was ridiculously weak. With games coming up against Sapporo and Nagoya, two teams in pretty good form, I can't imagine things will get much better in the next few weeks. It seems to me that there is a black cloud hanging over the club or to mix my metaphors with only a common thread of blackness, perhaps a black hole, sucking all the positivity away. Of course, we’ll still keep going to the games, hoping that we can get a ray of hope, and hoping that we can hang on to an ACL spot, but I can’t see us ending up with anything this year. And the prospect of another season of Oniki’s inflexibility and chronic man management is filling me with dread right now.
GK 30. ARAI Shota
DF 18. ELSINHO
DF 29. MICHAEL JAMES (Yellow card 86')
DF 3. NARA Tatsuki (Yellow card 53')
DF 2. NOBORIZATO Kyohei
MF 5. TANIGUCHI Shogo (Yellow card 27')
MF 14. NAKAMURA Kengo
MF 27. SUZUKI Yuto
MF 8. ABE Hiroyuki
FW 20. CHINEN Kei
FW 9. AKASAKI Shuhei
GK 30. ANDO Shunsuke
MF 6. TASAKA Yusuke (on for ELSINHO 79')
MF 16. HASEGAWA Tatsuya (on for AKASAKI 46')
MF 22. SHIMODA Hokuto
DF 23. EDUARDO
MF 28. WAKIZAKA Yasuto
MF 37. SAITO Manabu (on for SUZUKI 75')
My Frontale Man Of The Match
Terrible stuff all over the pitch, no-one coming out of the game with much credit, so have to give it to...
THE FANS - Somehow the volume of the singing and the endless optimism actually took the edge off the disappointment of such a rotten game. It felt like an away game, (which in a way it was), but away game intensity with home game type numbers. Well done to all of us. We didn't deserve that performance.
YAMAMOTO (Kashima) 28' 0-1
YAMAMOTO (Kashima) 37' 0-2
ABE (Frontale) 51' (PEN) 1-2
SERGINHO (Kashima) 72' 1-3