Match Report – 03/05/2014 – J1: Match Day 11 – Yokohama F.Marinos 2-0 Gamba Osaka

We slumped to our third league defeat in a row as poor finishing and slack defending allowed hosts Yokohama F.Marinos take a vital 2-0 win in front of a bumper crowd of 35,550 people which saw the hosts edge further away from the relegation battle whilst putting us right in the thick of it.

There were a couple of changes to the team’s line-up after the defeat to Kashiwa Reysol on Tuesday. Firstly, Oh Jae-Suk had indeed quickly recovered from his concussion to return at right-back and this surprisingly meant that Konno dropped to the bench with Uchida staying alongside Endo in defensive midfield. Further forward, Omori took the place of Kurata which was disappointing seeing as Abe has been the one out of the 3 who has been poor in his performances. Finally, Futagawa took his customary place on the bench as Sato earned an unlikely recall to the starting eleven which meant no place in the team for Usami who was again forced to watch from the bench. He was joined there by Takaharu Nishino who had been missing in the last 2 games, probably down to a small injury. This more of a 4-4-2 with the use of Sato in particular was to get us going forward a lot faster, using the direct ball to Sato to play it off to his teammates.

First Half
We were by far the better of the two teams and created the first good chance in the 7th minute, with Omori playing Fujiharu in to fire across Enomoto who saved well but the rebound came to Lins who could only head his rushed effort wide of the post – the start of that most some lovely one and two-touch football in the midfield. Our pressing was also good and this forced Marinos into an error which Uchida almost punished but Enomoto saved well to his right – Uchida being booked shortly after for preventing the hosts in taking a quick free kick. What was really evident was the passion, desire and fight the players were showing in the first period.

AWAY v Yokohama F.MarinosThe next 15 minutes saw Omori and then Lins hacked down on the edge of the area for Endo to step up and take the free kicks but his first was marginally wide and the second crossed in and eventually came to nothing. A quick note from the first free kick which saw Iwashita elbow a Marinos player in the wall and he fortunately got away with it – not good by the centre-back and nothing to advocate. The final talking point of the half came when Shimohira, formerly of Gamba, buried his effort from an acute angle in at the near post but was adjudged to be offside – the replay suggested he was marginally onside and we got away with that one, not that you can blame the linesman for a call as tight as that.

At half time, I felt like the game was ours to take but with us missing some good chances, I always had the worry that the defence would collapse on us at one point like it always seems to do.

Second Half
We started the half as we finished it, on the front foot with Sato charging down an Enomoto clearance which came to Lins but he went down under a challenge in the box but of course, nothing was given, whilst a couple of half chances came to nothing in the end. So of course, we let the home side take the lead through Fujita. Nakamura played the ball out to the left and Iwashita came over to close his man down without getting close to him, letting the ball come in to the 6 yard box where Fujita, who had escaped the clutches of Niwa who was not paying attention to flick in at the near post under Higashiguchi. The centre backs living up to their lowly reputation and we now had a mountain to climb.

We should have been level immediately as Oh forayed down the right but a cut back and a scramble later saw the ball cleared off the line. On the hour mark, we were all asking the question “How did we not score through Lins?” Fujiharu’s cross came to Sato whose shot was blocked but the ball came to Lins who fired wide of the far post when hitting the target would have meant a certain goal. This profligacy cost us two minutes later as Nakazawa headed home from a corner. He started his run on the edge of the box, unmarked, and continued on his way to the penalty spot in the same fashion, not even needing to jump to get to the ball. Niwa and Iwashita, where were you?

In a 10 minute period, we made all our subs with the injured Uchida coming off for Konno whilst stunningly, Abe kept his spot as Omori was withdrawn for Kurata – I was stunned that Hiroyuki was still on the pitch for the 2nd game in a row. Only later did Usami come on in place of Sato, whose height was sacrificed and therefore our mini game-plan at times to get the ball long to him. Only one clear chance came after these subs and it was Usami who had it, firing a low cross from Oh well over the bar when he was unmarked and had time to pick his spot.

I have no more words. Positive in all aspects apart from the two most important parts – the ability to defend properly and the ability to take our chances, which there were plenty of. Neither were there and that is why we did not win. Hasegawa hanging by a thread?

Gamba Man of the Match
Kotaro OmoriA couple of guys stood out in this most disappointing defeat, and those guys were Kotaro Omori and Oh Jae-Suk. The former was extremely bubbly in the attacking half, making himself a real menace and threat to the Yokohama defence and whilst he did not have any scoring chances, he was the one to be a big part of them. His pace terrified the opponents and this helped us greatly in the first half and of course, he was more than excellent in his defensive duties – he has gone through leaps and bounds in the last year, really cementing himself as our of our better players. As for Oh, a fair few of our good chances to score came thanks to his attacking prowess down the right flank, turning former Gamba man Shimohira inside-out on multiple occasions. He picked out the attackers more often than not and would have bagged himself an assist or two if the strikers had been a lot more clinical. Great play by these two and here is to more of the same from the pair of them!

Higashiguchi – 5.5
Oh J.S. – 7
Niwa – 3
Iwashita – 3
Fujiharu – 5
Endo – 5
T.Uchida – 4.5
Omori – 7
Abe – 4.5
Lins – 4.5
Sato – 5.5
Kurata – 5 (Sub)
Konno – 4.5 (Sub)
Usami – 5.5 (Sub)

Table Standing
We slide back into the relegation zone below Omiya Ardija thanks to an inferior number of goals scored. Being 16th is not the only bad thing, as our next opponents Tokushima Vortis lost to 17th place Vegalta Sendai who now join us on 9 points. Further ahead, we are still within touch of Nagoya Grampus and Ventforet Kofu as both sides lost their games. With Vortis and Grampus up next for us, Kenta Hasegawa’s fate may well be sealed by then.

Photo taken from Gamba Osaka’s Official Site. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.

Match Preview – 03/05/2014 – J1: Match Day 11 – Yokohama F.Marinos v Gamba Osaka

We start the month of May with a must-win game against fellow struggling side Yokohama F.Marinos at the Nissan Stadium in Yokohama with a kick-off time of 14:00 JST. Both teams will be looking for a win – we have 4 games including this one until the World Cup break that are entirely winnable.

Our hosts for the day come into the game in wretched form having failed to score in 6 of their last 7 league matches which has seen the team slide to just 2 points and one place ahead of us in the league. Although they have conceded just 4 goals in the last 5 games, it is their lack of fire-power up front that has left them struggling and for once we can say we are meeting a team with a worse attack than ours.

AWAY v Yokohama F.MarinosThe last two meetings between the sides came back in 2012, the away visit to the Nissan ending in a 0-0 draw with Shunsuke Nakamura firing a penalty onto the crossbar whilst we thought we had levelled the game thanks to a Paulinho strike late on to make the game 1-1 but Manabu Saito netted the winner in added time for the visitors – that was the story of our 2012 season. Our last league win at the Nissan was a 2-1 victory in June 2009 with Endo amongst the goals on that day.

Good news this time around is that Oh Jae-Suk will be fit for the game a week after being concussed in Kanagawa against Kawasaki Frontale – this will mean a move for Konno back into midfield alongside Endo, with Uchida most likely dropping out following his substitution early on in midweek. Further forward, Omori will be pushing for a start ahead of Shu Kurata after his return from injury although I would prefer to see Abe on the bench having gone missing in the last two games. Finally, we expect Futagawa to return to his customary position on the bench and the forecast is that Akihiro Sato will get a chance once more to partner Lins having missed out in the last few games. All this means that Usami will be on the bench again as Hasegawa looks to ease him into full matches and with Tokushima Vortis waiting for us on Tuesday, we may well see him return to the starting eleven for that match – good news for F.Marinos.

Despite the teams being pretty close in the league, you would not be risking it to say that the game may just lack some goals with neither team hitting the heights in the scoring department. Both teams will have a lot to lose if they did come out with a negative result but I am sure both will be going for the win, which may lead to a bit more of an open game. We need to start making our chances pay dividends and keep it tight at the back. For once, we need to have a good game for the whole game and not just one half or a decent spell. That will be the test coming into this vital run of games where we could easily win all 4.

Let’s take Marinos down.

Match Report – 29/04/2014 – J1: Match Day 10 – Gamba Osaka 1-2 Kashiwa Reysol

The scoreline does not say it all as Kashiwa Reysol easily attained all 3 points from us in front of a bumper holiday crowd of 16,845 people who saw a lacklustre, heartless and mistake-filled 90 minute performance from Gamba that saw the atmosphere change to that of 2012 for the first time since we were promoted to J1.

With Oh Jae-Suk out of the game with concussion, Konno was forced to play at right-back, allowing Endo to move back into his defensive midfield role alongside Tatsuya Uchida. This meant one spare space up front and that was taken by Takahiro Futagawa, a man who had not started in the league since March. It seems that Usami was still not ready to start a game but was joined on the bench by his good friend Kotaro Omori after he missed the Kawasaki game with a slight foot injury.

First Half
HOME v Kashiwa ReysolI felt that we were the better side for the first 30 minutes of the game, looking confident and aiming high for the match. With the first 10 minutes lacking any real action, it was up to Lins to break the deadlock and his dry spell in the league since joining us, netting his first J1 goal in the 13th minute. Uchida had burst forward from midfield and passed centrally to Futagawa who was tackled ahead of the ball reaching him but the ball came loose behind him and Lins’ effort and desire got him to the ball, albeit the ball hitting his hand, but he controlled nicely and fired a low effort into the bottom corner from 20 yards with Sugeno beaten. Delighted for him after getting close on many an occasion, his effort made the goal so. A nice early lead for us against our recent bogey team.

We should have made it 2-0 10 minutes later after Lins battled well again and Endo was set free on the right. He kept his cross in and sent it to the back post and Abe headed back to Futagawa whose shot was well blocked by a covering defender. The visitors got warmed up with an effort by Kudo well saved by Higashiguchi. And after a pass mistake by Kurata set Reysol on the counter, the visitors got the ball out to their left and Kudo crossed to the edge of the area for Tanaka to shoot first time in acres of space and find the top corner via a hand from Higashiguchi. Konno had pushed up the pitch as we were on the attack and Uchida and Endo dropped back into centre-back positions with Iwashita out on the right and Niwa there. Either Uchida or Endo should have stayed with Tanaka, probably the former, and that is why we conceded. Poor by the “defensive midfielder”…

Uchida was quickly substituted for Myojin, a change understandable with the former by why Myojin? Surely Omori or Usami wold have been better choices considering Myojin was not going to add anything Uchida cannot do. Kudo should have it 2-1 to the visitors but put his effort right into the hands of Higashiguchi from 3 yards out, but the visitors did soon take the lead. Endo conceded a free kick 25 yards from goal, central, and Higashiguchi’s wall was awful, not covering his right post enough which allowed Tanaka to sweep the ball up and around the wall and into the unguarded side. A killer blow right on the stroke of half time.

Second Half
We were dead in the second half. Kudo and Tanaka were set in on goal 10 minutes after the break with lax marking but they fluffed their lines and a culprit of that, Iwashita, should have headed us level from an Endo corner but he failed to his the target from 3 yards. Around the hour mark, Usami and Omori came on for Futagawa and Kurata. I still cannot understand why Abe was kept on ahead of Kurata – our number 13 showed nothing to say he was up for the fight whereas Shu was, and I can only continue my confusion here – reasons please!

We showed no goal threat from here on out with Fujiharu getting booked for a foul on Barada – his 3rd caution already this season. Usami had a chance to unjustly level the score to 2-2 in the 85th minute but his effort was blocked short of the line by a mix of defender and goalkeeper and that was that.

The fans were not happy with one ultra throwing his flag in disgust at the players and why I can understand his feelings, there was no need for that. I was left speechless and almost emotional about how we could not string passes together given our good 30 minutes – the players showed no desire bar one or two and we lacked any team spirit. The players are not giving their best and the manager is not getting the best out of them. I can accept us losing if we gave it our all – like against Kawasaki – but I cannot accept losing if we were simply awful.

LinsGamba Man of Match
Despite all the negativity above, I do think Lins was our best player. When he got a chance or a half chance – which was not very often – he did something with the ball and finally got a goal he has long deserved and threatened to get. He did put effort in and tried his absolute best whenever he could and I think he is finally getting his feet under the table. I still think he could do with not being the main striker because he is simply not that but I think the goals might come a bit more regularly with this monkey off his back, if he gets the service. Well done Lins, I am happy for you!

Higashiguchi – 5
Konno – 5
Niwa – 5
Iwashita – 5
Fujiharu – 4.5
T.Uchida – 4
Endo – 4.5
Abe – 4
Kurata – 6
Futagawa – 5
Lins – 7.5
Myojin – 4.5 (Sub)
Omori – 5 (Sub)
Usami – 5 (Sub)

Table Standing
We dropped a place to 15th, one above the relegation zone, thanks to the defeat coupled with a win for Nagoya Grampus. In the relegation zone, Tokushima Vortis got their first ever J1 win thanks to a 1-0 scoreline over Ventforet Kofu whilst Sendai and Omiya both drew. Our next opponents Yokohama F.Marinos sit above us by 2 points and has now turned the fixture to a must win for both sides.

Photo taken from J’s Goal. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.

Match Preview – 29/04/2014 – J1: Match Day 10 – Gamba Osaka v Kashiwa Reysol

With Golden Week in progress, we get the first mid-week J.League game of the season as we host Kashiwa Reysol at Banpaku, with kick-off at 16:00 JST. We will be looking to build upon our win against Omiya in our last home game whilst getting the last-minute defeat to Kawasaki out of our minds as we look to move up the table.

Reysol are in some decent form having lost only one of their nine games thus far, but will be aggravated by their inability to turn draws into wins, splitting the remaining 8 results 50/50 between wins and draws. They have only had 3 away games so far but have one just the one and drawn the remaining two – two clean sheets and two shut-outs against them say goals, but an average of just over 2 goals in the games says otherwise. Nonetheless, they come into this game on the back of a 3-2 home win against Urawa Reds.

Their confidence should be higher given their recent record against us in all competitions. The two teams met no less than 5 times in 2012 across 3 competitions with Reysol winning 4 and drawing 1. In the last league visit to Banpaku, they destroyed us 6-2 after we had a nightmare first half hour and the draw game in the reverse fixture, with now-Reysol man Leandro (injured for this game) netting the 90th minute equaliser. They knocked us out of the Nabisco Cup and beat us in the Emperor’s Cup final 1-0 thanks to some lax Niwa marking from a corner.

With Oh Jae-Suk picking up concussion against Frontale on the weekend, we might be scrapping the barrel for a player to cover at right-back whilst Omori may still have a slight niggle. Other injuries to Kaji and Yonekura are well-known and will take a while but Kenya Okazaki might be back soon and could even possibly get a place on the bench if Kenta Hasegawa deems him ready.

With the break in-between the Frontale game and this game so short, you would expect a few changes to keep the players fresh with an important trip to Yokohama coming up for us. At right-back, we might see Tatsuya Uchida play there having been a right-back previously although he hates it there – other possibilities are Niwa or Iwashita or Konno, meaning that Nishino might start to cover their void. In midfield, Uchida should drop out anyway after disappointing against Frontale and I would like to see Endo back in defensive midfield to control the game for us more. That would free a space for Usami to start alongside Lins, the latter evidently not a number 9 but he might well be a good partner to Usami. Out on the wings, I would still expect to see Kurata and Abe along Futagawa might be a good shout to keep on of those two fresh. With all this in mind, I have decided not to predict the starting eleven as the choices and vast amount of potential changes is horrifying.

What we need is a strong defensive performance and some threat up-front. If we play 2 strikers in Usami and Lins, we might be able to look a lot more threatening and worry the Reysol back line. On the other hand, I know this will be a tough game and a draw would be a decent result, not just because we have some very winnable games coming up. We need to start showing that we are not going to be in a relegation battle and we need to cause an upset or two, so the sooner we make a statement against a team like Kashiwa, the better.

Match Report – 26/04/2014 – J1: Match Day 9 – Kawasaki Frontale 2-1 Gamba Osaka

A late goal by the hosts saw us crash to our 4th league defeat of the season after a decent display against a tough Kawasaki Frontale team at Todoroki in front of 19,164 spectators. The defeat was perhaps overshadowed by a shocking injury and big return for our travelling team.

AWAY v Kawasaki FrontaleThe starting line-up saw the changes that were expected following our victory over Omiya Ardija the weekend before. Yasuyuki Konno replaced Akihiro Sato up front, meaning Endo moved as the second striker, whilst Kotaro Omori had suffered a minor right foot injury that left him back in Osaka and saw Shu Kurata deservedly take his place. On the bench, there was no Nishino so Kim took his spot whilst Takashi Usami made his long-awaited return to the first team in place of Naoki Ogawa. The final spot on the bench that changed saw Yuto Uchida join the team for the first time in the league this season.

First Half
We got off to a terrible start with Jeci heading home for the hosts after just 5 minutes of play following a free kick. The big centre-half towered above Iwashita to beat him to it and put it into the far corner and past the helpless the helpless Higashiguchi in goal. The Gamba players called for a foul on Iwashita who shot a look at the referee but Jeci was simply stronger and much more determined to win the header.

We responded fairly well with some lovely passing exchanges and control of possession without making Frontale pay for it and it was the hosts who should have made it 2-0 but Yu Kobayashi sent his volley from an acute angle well wide of the target. So it was with delight that Kurata’s lovely cross from the left got a little touch off Endo that steered the ball into the bottom corner to make it 1-1. Shu was allowed to cut in and his tantalising cross was probably going in by itself but Endo made sure with his second goal of the season. Game on!

The goal was nothing more than we deserved after dominating Frontale after conceding and the remainder of the half was more of a defensive job by us with Frontale trying to grind efforts out to no avail. We stood strong and gave no chances away and I think the tactic was the right one being away from home – we maybe could have gone for a second and would have been able to but staying in a game away from home is much more important.

Second Half
Frontale had the first two decent chances of the half with Renato forcing Higashiguchi into a good save and Nakazawa putting a free header comfortably wide of the far post. Abe then had a glorious chance to score following a delightful cross from Endo from the right but his effort, that he beaten the keeper, was cleared off the line by the covering Tanaka – he did everything but score. Lins followed this with a header just wide.

Takashi UsamiOkubo should have put the hosts ahead having skied an effort from 4 yards or so over the bar following some quick pressure from Higashiguchi. Usami made his return following 2 months out by replacing Lins up front – a change which baffled me; we needed a bit more control in the midfield and though that Uchida would be taken off for Usami allowing Endo to drop back and dictate the game more – but what do I know? Good to have you back, Takashi!

Okubo missed another glorious opportunity from 4 yards but skied over with his left foot, again unmarked, whilst Endo’s 25 yard free kick was superbly saved to deny his a beauty. With 10 minutes to go, we received another blow at right-back as Oh Jae-Suk was clattered in the face from an overhead kick by Kobayashi who only received a yellow card – surely a red? The lad left on a stretcher and was fortunately only diagnosed with concussion – he was replaced by Myojin with Konno going to right-back.

Usami almost dazzled his away across the penalty area and the ball fell to Myojin whose effort was saved well. Going into the 6 minutes of added time the game seemed to be going to end as a draw but a sucker punch by Okubo gave the hosts all 3 points. A cross from the Kawasaki left saw the striker climb higher than Fujiharu who was unaware of his position and his effort went in off the bar. Both Konno and Fujiharu were to blame – Konno was at centre-back and had left his side exposed.

A tough defeat to take because I thought we had done enough to take a point but when you do not close the ball down and know where your man is, it will cost you. Tactically in the second half we were not great and did not strengthen our cause in the middle of the park. The positive is that Usami is back and looked not bad considering it was just a cameo appearance.

Gamba Man of the Match
I do not know, so no vote this week.

Higashiguchi – 6
Oh Jae-Suk – 6.5
Niwa – 6
Iwashita – 6
Fujiharu – 6
Konno – 6
T.Uchida – 5.5
Abe – 5.5
Kurata – 6.5
Endo – 6.5
Lins – 6
Usami – 6 (Sub)
Myojin – 5.5 (Sub)

Table Standing
Fortunately only Ventforet Kofu managed to pick up points around us having beaten Omiya Ardija 2-0 away from home which saw them climb above us and knock us down one place to 14th. The concerning thing is that the gap above the safer regions of the table is widening. The games that we can win are soon approaching so that is when we will see whether our season is going to be good or bad.

Photo taken from J’s Goal. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.

Match Preview – 26/04/2014 – J1: Match Day 9 – Kawasaki Frontale v Gamba Osaka

After our first home league win of the season, we travel to the Todoroki Stadium for a 16:00 JST kick-off against hosts Kawasaki Frontale who will be no pushovers and will no doubt be buoyed by their qualification to the last 16 of the ACL during the week – just another tough away game to tick off the list.

The hosts started their league campaign slowly but won 3 games in a row before drawing and then losing to Kashiwa Reysol and Urawa Reds with their eyes split between the league and the ACL. Their league form has taken a hit because of that and the team currently sits 2 points and 5 places ahead of us in 8th place. With 26 goals in 8 league matches during Frontale matches, we should be in for more of the same this weekend.

AWAY v Kawasaki FrontaleGamba won 4 of the last 6 fixtures between the two sides, drawing the others 4-4 and losing 2-1. There are rarely any clean sheets for either side in this fixture and this is very much true for the meetings back in 2012, which Gamba miraculously won 3-2 on both occasions. The first saw us come 2-0 to win having conceded twice in the opening half an hour (including in the first minute) but now Frontale man Nakazawa, Sato and a first professional for Hiroyuki Abe won us the game. During the away game, we took the lead only to lose it twice with goals from Ienaga and Fujiharu putting us ahead, with the former winning the game thanks to a lovely knock-down by Leandro. That game saw Akihiro Sato’s nightmare injury period start when he was substituted for Ienaga after 15-20 minutes, but it worked out well in the short term.

There is no more news concerning injuries for any players and therefore we can expect that only Kaji, Yonekura and Okazaki will be unavailable for the game. Positively, Takashi Usami has had a full week of training under his belt and should make the bench following two months out on the sidelines due to an ankle injury and I am sure he will be chomping at the bit to get on and score as soon as possible – we need him.

As for the starting line-up, I already know that Konno will be back in the starting eleven following his injury in the Osaka Derby that limited him to the bench last weekend, but who he comes in place for is undecided. I would think Sato and Omori will drop to the bench meaning Konno will rejoin in defensive midfield with Endo supporting Lins the closest whilst Kurata has done enough for me to merit his return to the starting eleven out on the left with Abe on the right. I think Uchida has done enough in the last two games to show that he deserves to continue in the team after being ousted by Myojin for a short spell. My predicted team is to the side.

Another away day would mean to go home with a point as a minimum and I think a draw would be a good result against a strong Kawasaki side. Frontale have made Todoroki a fortress since we were relegated in 2012, with just 3 defeats in the league at home and 6 draws, winning the rest. A statement of our intent and growing confidence would be to turn up and spoil the hosts’ afternoon but I just do not see that without a fully fit Usami. We should be confident though and having had a longer break in-between league games, we might just be able to cause a mini-upset.

Match Report – 19/04/2014 – J1: Match Day 8 – Gamba Osaka 2-1 Omiya Ardija

We finally won at Banpaku in J1 for the first time since our 7-2 defeat of Consadole Sapporo on 25th August 2012. The game was a rather dull one until the final 10 minutes suddenly produced the goods, with us Gamba fans going through elation, tears and elation once more within the space of 5 minutes in front of a crowd of 11,059 people.

Kenta Hasegawa was forced into a change in defence from the previous league match as Akira Kaji bruised a bone in his foot, putting him out for 3 weeks and allowing Oh Jae-Suk to deputise once more. With Yasuyuki Konno only fit enough for the bench, Akihiro Sato was given a chance from the start up-front alongside Lins – this move meaning Endo shifted back into defensive midfield alongside Tatsuya Uchida. Naoki Ogawa came onto the bench in place of the injured Kaji.

I was expecting nothing less than a win after our good performances in the previous two games and after the hard start to the season, we needed to pick up the points against teams like Omiya.

First Half
HOME v Omiya ArdijaThe first 10 minutes of the game were even with neither team making an attempt on goal. We got the first effort away through Sato after he combined well with Lins but his effort was right at the opposition goalkeeper – definitely not the last time during the day – whilst Oh Jae-Suk started well, making a good recovery to prevent Cho firing on goal after he broke through our defence. Watanabe and Ienaga then had efforts go to waste for the visitors before the 30 minute mark whilst Sato did well again, tackling high up the pitch to get Lins at the sparse defence and play in Abe but he could only fire right at Ezumi when face-to-face with the keeper – he ought to have done better.

What was evident was our poor ball control and touch in the attacking areas through Sato and Lins, who looked like they were lacking sharpness but chances still came for both sides in the remaining 15 minutes of the half. First for Omiya was Zlatan’s blocked effort by Niwa who made a superb block, then against a few minutes later he hit the post with a header following a corner after out muscling Oh. His final chance of the half was another free header that was flicked just wide of the far post.

As for us, Abe forced Ezumi into a very good save after Lins somehow managed to hold onto the ball down the left, with Abe shooting from the edge of the box. Oh’s worrying defensive moments were outweighed with his attacking prowess, sending in a good cross to Sato but he could just not reach far enough with his outstretched leg. Although it seems like Sato was doing well in the half, his contribution getting forward was overall poor.

Second Half
There were no changes at the break but it took less than 10 minutes for Hasegawa to take off Sato for Kurata – good on the manager’s part to do it quickly and early which is in stark contrast to his changes in recent games. Abe almost presented Omiya with a goal after being caught 25 yards from goal but Higashiguchi just about bailed him out.

Niwa was smacked in the face by a powerful shot that forced a bit of a delay but he returned soon after leaving the pitch. Down the other end, Kurata was pulling the strings as he played a delicious through ball for Abe and although he got a touch, Ezumi was too close and made a good save. Up until the 80th minute, we did not look like scoring from this point and Hasegawa decided to chance things up with Futagawa coming on for Omori.

It was with thanks to the subs that we scored the opening goal in the 83rd minute. Kurata dribbled into the box from the left, passed to Abe who kept the ball going to Oh who should have scored but Ezumi pushed it over well for a corner – this was taken and cleared back to Endo whose first time touch to Futagawa was exquisite and so was his cross, putting doubt in the defence and allowing the ball to come through to Niwa, unmarked at the back post, to flick home put us 1-0 ahead.

Konno came on for the woeful Lins to sure us up in defence. You would have forgiven me for thinking the game was ours, but Higashiguchi had other ideas… a simple cross from the Omiya right was called as the keeper’s but he did not get there and Kikuchi looped a header over him and into the goal to give the visitors what looked like a valuable point. Shocking goalkeeping for the second week in a row now from Higashiguchi but I said before, he will save us more points than cost us.

So it was with great relief that we actually won the game through a Konno strike just a minute later. What a wonderful 10 minutes! Kurata kept the ball alive in the Omiya area and he played it out to Endo who slide it to Konno to his left who took a touch and barrelled it home with his left foot. There might have been a slight deflection but Ezumi in goal was poor, moving away from the ball that was down the middle of his goal. Not like I cared, we were dramatically back in front and we actually hung onto the lead to claim all 3 points.

Konno and NiwaThe game was anything but a classic but we got the job done. I think that if we were back in 2012, we would have not come back from the blow from Kikuchi so fair play to the guys for having the character and determination to fight back and gain us a valuable 3 points.

Gamba Man of the Match
First of all, fair play to Kenta Hasegawa whose substitutes were the difference between the two sides in the end. One of those subs gets my vote for man of the match, and that guy was Shu Kurata. I really do think he changed the game for us, being the one guy up front whose touch was solid and effective, making chances for his teammates and himself. He has had a tough time of things recent but he looked the part when he came on – he vitalised the team to a point and pushed us forward. Sure, most people will say Niwa was man of the match because he scored but if you are looking at things in terms of the influence a player has on the team, Shu was the one, even more so when you compare him to the limp and weak duo of Lins and Sato. Shu might just have earned his starting place against Kawasaki Frontale next week.

Player Ratings
Higashiguchi – 5
Oh Jae-Suk – 6.5
Niwa – 7.5
Iwashita – 7
Fujiharu – 6.5
Endo – 6.5
T.Uchida – 7
Omori – 6
Abe – 6.5
Sato – 5
Lins – 5.5
Kurata – 8 (Sub)
Futagawa – 7.5 (Sub)
Konno – 7.5 (Sub)

Table Standing
We move up to 13th place following this win from 16th with Omiya taking our place down there. Ventforet Kofu were the only other side near us who picked up points and that was down to them beating Nagoya Grampus who we now join level on 9 points with, the same as Kofu. Sendai and Tokushima both lost to keep their places as the bottom two confirmed but with a trip to topsy-turvy Frontale on the books next week, we could be looking decent in mid-table if things go our way next weekend. We just have to stay positive and realistic – this win would have done the players a world of good.

Photo taken from Yahoo. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.