As the season nears an end, and with our Levain Cup victory still fresh in our minds, we were back at home and playing again in the league. Mathematically, we still have a chance of taking a third league title, but giving that this was another match day where Kashima, FC Tokyo and Yokohama all won, it is only the maths that we have to hang on to. But we’ve still got to play out these last few games and perhaps mess up some teams’ title chances. It was nice to win a game in the league though as that is something of a rarity recently. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but it’s a bit of a miracle, given our recent form, that we’re anywhere close to the title race this year. This blog post is going to be more useless than these normally are, as I was lucky enough to get some VIP tickets to this game. Consequently, I very much enjoyed the free food and alcohol before the game and watched from the side of the pitch near the centre line in the main stand. Very nice seats, fantastic view, pretty lousy atmosphere as you’d probably expect. These things combined with the general pointlessness of the match meant that I didn’t put much effort into writing notes. So, I’ll do my best, but it’s going to be a bit shabby, I think.
Suspensions and now injuries -
This game saw us without Taniguchi (suspended for the red in the Levain final), Kurumaya and Ienaga (suspended for picking up five yellow cards). We narrowly averted a defensive disaster through Nara’s return and he looked well up for the game after missing a lot of games. Jesiel also made it back to the bench so we should be spoilt for choice in that department soon. Wonder who will get picked. The combination of Nara and Yamamura looked pretty solid I thought and the goal we conceded only came from a bit of an unfortunate blunder from Maguinho. Arai did have to make a few saves though and some of them were pretty good so I can’t see us seeing Sung-Ryong again this season if Arai continues like that. Up front we once again seem to be struck by the curse that if a player scores as a sub, they start the next game and then fail to do anything too exciting. Can we start our future games with no strikers and use Kobayashi, Leandro Damiao and Chinen all as super subs please? Although to be fair to Kobayashi, he did have a legitimate goal ruled out for offside in the first half. (Some abuse for the officials further down in this post). Thankfully we have midfielders who want to shoot and it was nice to see Ao get another goal. Whether he is allowed to claim it is another matter as it is clearly an own goal, the ball bouncing off the post onto the keeper and back into the net. I suspect that Ao would like it and the keeper doesn’t want it though, so we’ll see. This was not the only thing Ao contributed though. I think he was pretty good all over the pitch to be honest. Wakizaka also had another good game I thought. I was delighted for Maguinho to get a goal on the day his kids were at the game. He really hasn’t had a decent crack of the whip this year and looked delighted when he smashed the ball home confidently. The fact that it came shortly after his mistake gave Hiroshima their goal will hopefully go some way to canceling out the mistake. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him make way in the next match though as we’ll have bigger names available. It’s a shame for him though. Just as we get some players back from injury we lose another couple though. It will come as no surprise to hear that Oshima is one of the injuries, although he walked off the pitch so it’s hopefully not too serious. It’s not really worth risking him though as the remaining games are pretty pointless. The worrying injury came to Kengo and it was immediately apparent that it was a serious injury from the way he reacted. Apparently it’s an ACL injury so that will see him definitely out till the start of next season at the earliest. We just have to hope it’s not too bad as these injuries can sometimes be pretty nasty. Fingers crossed he’s back next year. Very classy of the Hiroshima fans to boo him as he lie injured…
The race for fourth -
Realistically, this is the best we can hope for. Eight points off top and second and seven points off third with four games to go. Two of these games will be against two of the teams above us, but even if we win them both we’ll still need more slip ups from those teams. Fourth place could get us into the ACL if Kashima win the Emperor’s Cup, (I think, but this could well be just my imagination). This could be somewhat useful for us when it comes to attracting and retaining players. Possibly… I don’t really know how much of a big thing the ACL is for J League players to be honest. It’s a shame we stunk the place up so badly in the middle of the season. We now have three wins in our last eleven league games. You could spin that a little differently though and say three wins a draw and a loss in our last five. Either way you look at it, it hasn’t been good enough. We’ll be scrapping for fourth with Sanfrecce and Cerezo as there’s only one point between the three of us. So it looks like a final league position of anywhere from 4th to 6th. I don’t know how this will be perceived by the board and the fans. Apparently Oniki has been offered a new contract but I haven’t heard that he’s accepted it yet. Mysterious… The Levain Cup win has taken the edge a little of a disappointing league campaign I guess, but as I’ve said numerous times, us not winning the league this year has to go down as a huge missed opportunity as the other contenders have been pretty rotten at times.
Oniki reconsidered -
On last week’s J Talk podcast I said that I have once again called a truce with Oniki, mainly as I’m tired of moaning about him, but also I have to give him some credit for getting us another trophy. I still have my doubts about a lot of his team selections and his tactics leave me cold at times. However, sitting just behind him in the fancy seats gave me a whole new impression of him. He was constantly giving the fourth official and the ref grief about some dodgy decisions, so I have a newfound respect for him. If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s the fact that the officials are often pretty useless. People bore on about Rugby and the respect that the players show the ref, but seriously, the way some of the J League officials officiate, I think it would be ridiculous to afford them any kind of respect. Yeah, it’s a tough job etc. but in the way that most people who want to be politicians are exactly the kind of people who shouldn’t be politicians, you could probably say the same about refs. If you are in any way religious, why not have a little pray for some new refs and linesmen who aren’t insane and can actually do the job for next season.
So, yeah, nice to beat Hiroshima. These little victories are probably all we have to take from this season now, so I suppose we should try to make the most of them. Next up, Urawa away on Tuesday with a ridiculous 18:30 kick off, perhaps arranged to ensure the smallest possible crowd. I won’t be able to go to this game and the crazy early kick off means that the game will be all but over by the time I finish work. Would be quite fun to add to their league worries, wouldn’t it? Guess the line up will be of some interest and to be honest, it’s a game we really should win. Therefore, we’ll probably lose. After that, it’s another hellish trip to Kashima next weekend. Or more accurately, a hellish bus trip back from Kashima. Pressure’s off so let’s just have some fun for the last few games. Go Frontale!
GK 21. ARAI Shota
GK 21. ARAI Shota
DF 26. MAGUINHO
DF 3. NARA Tatsuki
DF 34. YAMAMURA Kazuya
DF 2. NOBORIZATO Kyohei (Yellow card 90')
MF 25. TANAKA Ao
MF 10. OSHIMA Ryota
MF 28. WAKIZAKA Yasuto
MF 14. NAKAMURA KengoMF 8. ABE Hiroyuki
FW 11. KOBAYASHI Yu
GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 4. JESIEL
FW 9. LEANDRO DAMIAO
FW 9. LEANDRO DAMIAO
FW 20. CHINEN Kei (on for KOBAYASHI 90+3')
MF 22. SHIMODA Hokuto (on for OSHIMA 60')
MF 35. ISSAKA Zain
My Frontale Man Of The Match
This was a reasonable performance, with not a great deal of possession and significantly fewer goal attempts than the opposition but it didn’t feel like a smash and grab. Perhaps it was a strangely efficient performance. All in all, quite average, but one player stood out and that was….
TANAKA Ao - all over the pitch, wearing a phantom of the opera mask, getting involved with a broken nose and even trolling their keeper by forcing him to score an own goal with his back. His star continues to rise, and deservedly so.
OWN GOAL (Sanfrecce) 21' 1-0
LEANDRO DAMIAO (Sanfrecce) 82' 1-1
MAGUINHO (Frontale) 84' 2-1