Kashima Antlers 1 - 2 Kawasaki Frontale
Some might have thought that such a joyous occasion as a last minute win against Kashima with 10 men might mean that an extremely excited blog post would appear almost immediately. But it’s been a busy weekend for me that I’m only now getting down to writing this. Some of the details might have blurred a little since the game, but at the same time, the slight delay has given me the chance to cogitate over what we can take from the performance. 48 hours after the game I can say that my voice has still not got back to normal after a somewhat overexcited scream when the winner went in. In the intervening two days, plenty has been said on Twitter about most of the decisions in the game. I think it’s always amusing that regardless of knowledge of the rules or experience of watching football, two people can have exactly opposite opinions and will both be completely unswayable in the strength of their beliefs. For that reason, it seems like it’s a bit of a waste of time to write anything much about the contentious points. You probably know exactly what I think about those decisions anyway! I’ll talk a little about them in the ref section, but don’t worry, I’ll find a way to complain about the ref even when he gave something our way. Aside from the ref section, I’ll write some stuff about us, our new tactics and what I think might happen going forward. I’ll also have a bit of a moan about Kashima, a horrible team with some rubbish fans, who due to their intense mediocrity have somewhat gone under the radar recently when it comes to being a most hated opponent. So basically this is all a long winded way of saying that I’ll do the usual sections. But yeah, what a joy! A win that even made the bus journey home tolerable. If only we could have moved from the spot where the bus was parked in less than 50 minutes, it really wouldn’t have been a bad journey at all, and not much longer than the bus on the way. Ah, the Kashima bus talk is over for another year! Unless we draw them in a cup. But perhaps if that happens the attendance won’t be so high. Although they will probably give away a load of free tickets again to boost the numbers. Maybe they might even have to start offering free tickets and a cash incentive if they continue to decline. As ever, Kashima away makes me pity the fate of Kashima fans who don’t live in Kashima as I can’t imagine having to make that journey for every home game. Anyway, enough of the even handed stuff and on to some bitching. Let’s do the bullet points in reverse order this week.
Ref and VAR -
Oh Nishimura. Clearly you have read my recent words proclaiming Yamamoto to be the most attention seeking and useless (yet at the same time for some reason favoured by the J League) ref around. You read those words and it stung you a bit, as you know you have a claim on at least the first two parts of that description. In the past he’s been determined to never let a VAR decision overrule him, but perhaps now has realised that he gets a lot more time on the screen if he lets VAR have a good think about it, telling them to take their time, so that he can do his finger on the earpiece, patting the air down with his other hand whilst mouthing ‘ちょっと待って’ to the players. Of course I couldn’t see this at the stadium but watching the contentious bits back on DAZN, I was impressed with how much of the camera’s attention he commanded. And fair play to him, he’s put in the work to get the attention. He’s gone for a new haircut this season, somewhere between Moe from the Three Stooges and a mid-nineties Madchester / baggie front man. There is something slightly reminiscent of Ken Dodd to him too. All of these references are naturally bang up to date and not at all obscure. (Perhaps topping that later with the Pituca = CJ from Eggheads thing that I am bound to say). It’s a little unfair though to single out Nishimura as the beefs I have with him are pretty common ones, no matter who the ref is, and some are just down to VAR as a concept. I still hate VAR. I hate it when it gives and I hate it when it takes away, (although obviously I hate it less when it gives…). The delays are worse than ever this year. There are no replays in the stadium regarding what is being considered. The technology seems to be used at random and often applies a kind of logic that bears no relation to what the actual rules are. How VAR didn’t give Hiroshima’s goal where the ball was way over the line is unbelievable. I think there were other recent blunders too, but to be honest, I find VAR so irritating in the stadium that the last thing my stress levels need is for me to watch replays showing it fucking things up in matches that I’m not directly invested in. I think a common complaint is that it is supposed to be used to correct clear and obvious errors (like encroachment when taking a penalty, fair play to them for that one, I hadn’t noticed it, but it was pretty obvious on the replay), but instead focuses on issues that take so long to resolve that any concept of them being clear or obvious errors is insane. Also, I wonder if the VAR officials are on some kind of red card DOGSO bonus. From my crystal clear viewpoint at the other end of the stadium, I said that Yamamura’s red wasn’t even a foul as far as I was concerned, as quite how you can foul someone who is behind you runs into you is a bit of mystery to me. I’m of course biased though. Their red card looked equally clear to me, but this time, clear that it was a red. (I mean, what’s the point of me even writing this, you’ll either absolutely agree or absolutely disagree with me and are unlikely to be swayed by anything a clearly biased fan would say). The things I’m annoyed with Nishimura about are pretty much the same as with Yamamoto last week. I thought he gave us almost nothing. Joao Schmidt was elbowed by who else but Yuma Suzuki, who then also tried to provoke him by sticking his tongue out, which I feel suggests that he thought he’d got away with something, but perhaps it’s just his natural facial expression when he’s having a bit of a confusing moment. Nishimura had given the foul against us, and then looked pretty baffled when Joao told him about the elbow. Yuma Suzuki is unbookable it seems, with all refs worried that he might have a strop if he gets a yellow, so he’s allowed to shit-house his way across the pitch and through the game without even a word of warning. Also, Pituca booted the ball away when we were supposed to be taking a throw and Nishimura charged over to him to tell him he’d been a naughty boy but once again neglected to actually book him. The same thing happened against YFM too. Clearly the refs know that players aren’t supposed to do this, but don’t want to actually book anyone for it. Likewise a player standing right in front of the ball to delay a free kick. As far as I know, both are yellow card offences but seem to not be important this season. Pituca also spent a lot of time screaming into Nishimura’s face and didn’t get booked for that either. Of course, with crushing inevitability, the first player to get booked was one of ours, and oh, it was a Brazilian too! I’m kind of surprised it wasn’t Joao Schmidt as he was having a real battle with Suzuki. I’m aware that as I am biased if I think a ref has had a good game that probably means he’s favoured us slightly. I guess the real dream is that you don’t really notice the ref. The truth is that almost every week, for as long as I can remember, we’ve had useless ref after useless ref doing stupid things that occasionally get reviewed on J League Judge Replay as if that makes up for error after error, but this never seems to have any effect on the standard of officiating. VAR I guess is supposed to provide a back up, but there’s no guarantee they’ll get it right either. In fact, you could say that it’s likely they will fuck it up too. Given that we’ve had shockers from golden boy Yamamoto, and attention seeker Nishimura in our first two games, what’s the betting that we get last season’s worst ref for us Araki in the next game. Well, him or Frontale red card lover Kasahara.
Certain things which would normally have gone in this section have already been mentioned in the ref part. In case you skipped that and want it summed up briefly, Yuma Suzuki and Pituca are a pair of idiots as far as I’m concerned. Not exactly a highly original viewpoint I guess. On this occasion, the idiocy was also present in the stands too. Actually, that’s probably not a very original observation as normally that’s the case at Kashima, but that was just highlighted a bit more this time. Credit to them for the insane amount or highly coordinated massive flags/tifos that they rotated through just before the start of the game. Not sure for whose benefit they were though. Presumably the players don’t see most of them as they are in the tunnel. Perhaps they are supposed to cow the opposition fans into silence and submission. After all, that’s most people’s usual reaction to seeing some big bits of fabric. It would be remiss of me to not mention the numerous mentions of INFIGHT, which I’m led to believe is the name of a supporter group but might be a good description of the relationships between club and fans soon, or perhaps between the players and the management, if they continue to be so rubbish and results keep on going the way they were at the end of last season. I think that a 2-0 win against Kyoto, which excited Yuma Suzuki so much that he felt he had to communicate the scoreline to the Kyoto fans, is probably not the opening day statement that some people might have thought it was. Likewise, losing to us might hint at some more problems, considering how wobbly we’ve looked in both of our opening games. 29% possession at the season home game opener, with only six shots in 90 minutes, and then managing to lose the lead against a team down to ten men are not exactly encouraging for them. There was a definite feeling that they were still living on the fumes of past success with not a great deal to get excited about in recent times. The highlights of their pre-game glories of the club video looked so dated that it was something of a surprise that they weren’t in black and white and narrated in that Pathé news plummy English accent. Add this to what they presumably think is music that gives an exotic hint of the samba football influence of gob-on-the-ball-on-the-penalty-spot-after-your-team-gives-away-a-penalty-and-get-yourself-a-red-card-in-the-process-Kashima-legend Zico but in reality just feels like the warmed up light funk prize line up music of a seventies UK game show (a tumble dryer! a dinner service! a carriage clock! a crystal decanter!). The annual joke about the spirit of Zico that I make will this year take the form of a suggestion that the Kashima fans are adopting the real spirit of Zico by booing our bus’s arrival, booing the arrival of our players for warming up and singing through our team line up announcement apart from stopping to boo Oniki. I guess that Kashima residents don’t often see outsiders so were probably feeling threatened. The numerous home fans who attend their game via the bus from Tokyo presumably are protected from this anti outsider hostility as the locals know not to go for anyone wearing an item of clothing with a little yellow cowboy hat on the back. One of us! One of us! Guess I should stop this nastiness and say that I feel a bit sorry for their keeper who thought he’d become the hero by saving a penalty and therefore also a point for them but then let in the retake. I don’t reserve as much sympathy for Chinen though. When he was with us I always defended him as he had the knack of scoring goals when we needed them that deserted quite a lot of our strikers who were on higher salaries. I totally understood him leaving, but was obviously disappointed to see him go to Kashima, as I wouldn’t wish having to spend that much time with Yuma Suzuki on even my worst enemy. Seems like his influence has rubbed off on Chinen though, who inevitably scored against us in what is becoming our usual 2023 ‘concede from the first meaningful opposition attack’ style. He then celebrated like a demon and sprinted to his manager, I suspect making sure he went past Oniki on the way. Apparently he didn’t come to say hello at the end of the match like former players usually do. I suspect he’s burnt a few bridges now. I know some people hate the ‘don’t celebrate when scoring against your old team’ thing, but he really went to the opposite extreme. The fact that they eventually lost the game suggests perhaps that karma does exist though. Perhaps more evidence for karma’s existence was the fact they we won after numerous Kashima players used one of the massive delays before Ienaga totally messed up his first penalty to try to dig up the penalty spot. Perhaps that worked when you consider how bad the first penalty was and maybe Ienaga had noticed, as for the retake he didn’t leave either the ball or the spot. One final comment to show that it is not only supporter groups who make strange and amusing language choices. I was a little shocked to see what a match sponsor was offering up. ‘Nippon steel presents escort kids’ could have been something really concerning, but thankfully just turned out to be a way to monetise the players entrance. Phew!
Perhaps the weirdest part of this post will be the hint of negativity that permeates this section. However, not a surprise for regular readers I’m sure. But it does feel a but out of place given how joyous this result was. I say this result and not this game for a reason. Once again, we were pretty good at starting attacks but pretty awful at turning possession in the middle of the pitch into actual shots or goals. After reading Ryo Nakagawara’s excellent analysis of our new playing style I was looking forward to keeping an eye on Yamane to see what exciting new things he could bring to our play in our new style. The first thing I noticed was him absolutely screaming at Yamamura for misplacing an early pass. I think I’ve previously said that I don’t dislike any of our players (apart from certain periods of Okubo who made a habit of bawling at his younger teammates), but Yamane is getting pretty close to that level for me. He seems to be obscenely certain of his superiority over his teammates. Some might say this is justified as he’s now our only national team player, but to be honest, I think I wouldn’t mind if he got a whiff of Taniguchi style desire to play at the highest Qatar league level and went and did one. Our new tactics seem to revolve around him moving out of what might be considered his normal position and trying to score without worrying about defending. I wonder if the tactics were made and he was selected for that role or that the tactics were chosen to accommodate the fact that he always seems to be miles away trying to get into a scoring position whilst we desperately try to cover the massive hole he leaves in the defence. Seems like we’re not doing anything that different from last year really as far as I can see. Well, maybe it’s a different concept, but the outcome seems to be the same. I’d really like to be proved wrong, and perhaps we’re still adjusting to things and it will all come good soon. But I don’t really feel like we’re any more attacking than previously, and it comes with the worry that any time we give the ball away, (which was an unbelievable amount of times in this match, mainly from Yamane as far as I could see, but of course I would notice those times, wouldn’t I?), it is absolute panic stations last ditch stuff for us at the back. Perhaps I’m utterly blind to these things, but for me to hear that someone in a pub not connected at all to Frontale was last night praising the exciting new tactics we’re using and how great Yamane is in them is just mind boggling. I wonder if they watched either of the matches or just read about the tactics and know Yamane’s reputation, because we’ve lost one game and just about grabbed a victory from the jaws of defeat, barely managing to trouble the scorers on both occasions. In this game, both of our goals came from dead ball situations, but we’re still supposed to be excited about how attacking we are now. I just don’t see it. At least not yet anyway. There’s also the anomaly that we’ve failed to score with these new tactics when we’ve had eleven players on the pitch and in the first half of both of the opening games have had lots of possession and very little threat. I don’t think that part of our new tactical genius masterplan involves us having to concede and get someone sent off before we start to look dangerous but that seems to be the way things are. Perhaps in the same way that our starting striker always seems to struggle, perhaps our starting line up has the tough job of wearing down the opposition allowing the subs to come on and do better when we’re employing the ‘I dunno, just try something… anything’ tactics that we’ve adopted in the late stages of both games so far. Does this mean Oniki is a tactical genius, knowing when to change things up to get us playing better? Or is it just confusing as to why we can’t play a bit better from the start. It felt like we’d been sussed out by the opposition for a second consecutive game in exactly the same way early on in this match. Make a fast start to the match and press us hard and you’ll get an early goal to hang on to. We gave them a goal and allowed them to just sit back with everyone behind the ball. Kind of frustrating. And do these new tactics account for us giving the ball away so much or are we just out of practice in that area? I’m not sure, but it’s pretty edgy, seat of the pants stuff at the moment. The greatest threat to our goal is a misplaced pass from one of our own players right now. Hopefully we’re just rusty. When Yamamura got his red card and it started to rain again at exactly the same time it seemed that there was some kind of pathetic fallacy at play. I’m delighted to say that it was the red card that really seemed to get us going though. I wonder if this kind of backs against the wall, comeback from almost dead victory will give us a massive jolt of confidence and a much needed boost. The team spirit in the final stages seemed amazing and perhaps this kind of experience will really help bond the players. There was elation like we’d won the league rather than just about managed to pick up three points from our opening two league games. It’s the kind of thing that reminds me why I love watching this team sometimes. It used to be often, but recently the love has been a lot more of a rarity. We always keep fighting right to the end. If we could just manage to stop making these kind of shocking starts to games we might be able to start doing a bit better. Which is an appropriately optimistic way to finish this section, somewhat at odds with how I started it. Nice!
Next up, Shonan Bellmare at home on Saturday. We owe them a pasting after losing twice to them last year. But their fans do seem to think they’re going to give us a beating again. Whether we can give them that pasting is another matter. I would say that maybe Oniki should make a few changes as we haven’t looked good till everything gets a bit ragged in either of the first two games. But I guess it’s still a bit of a work in progress. The joy of this victory is something that will stay in the mind and the heart for quite some time. It would be lovely if we could build on it with some more fun on Saturday afternoon!
DF 5. SASAKI Asahi (on for JOAO SCHMIDT 56')