Far afield travels continue for our team as they head up to the ND Soft Stadium to tackle a resurgent Montedio Yamagata, who found it difficult to adapt to J2 last season after being relegated from J1 in 2011. The aim will be to continue our unbeaten run and take all 3 points in this 13:00 kick-off.
This is of course the first meeting between the two sides in J2 as Yamagata have had just 3 seasons in the top flight and never made it into the top half of the table at the end of the year. In the 6 league meetings overall, Gamba have won 4, drew 1 and lost 1. 3 of those wins came at home (even if the 2010 match was in Kanazawa) and the last meeting between the sides was in Yamagata, with Gamba strolling to a 5-0 win with Futagawa, Fujiharu and Kawanishi, amongst others, on the score sheet. This was Fujiharu’s first ever league goal. Hirai and Myojin have also scored for Gamba in their non-victory matches up at ND Soft. Only two players from the team that started that match in 2011 will be expected to start this weekend (Fujigaya and Futagawa, Fujiharu came on at half-time). How times have changed, and I do not think the score will be as one-sided this time.
Montedio come into this game off the back of an evenly contested but tough away defeat to pacesetters Vissel Kobe, thanks to a wonder goal by Okui in the 51st minute – the worst part was Montedio never looked like scoring after that. This disappointment came after the team won 4 straight matches, including a 5-1 dismantling of Yokohama FC, scoring 11 goals and conceding 3. Nonetheless, they started their league campaign where they left off last season, with 2 away defeats to Ehime and Fukuoka. They still find themselves in 4th place with 12 points and have only kept one clean sheet this season. Which Yamagata turns up will be a decisive factor in this match, but that goes for Gamba too.
Their biggest threat will come from Peruvian midfielder Romero Frank, who has been their spark this season after he struggled further down the league with Mito HollyHock for the past 2 seasons. He already has 3 goals but also seems to have an undisciplined side to him, so make sure you keep an eye on this guy to see how he is doing. To see who played last weekend for Montedio against Vissel, please look to your left.
As for Gamba, there seems to be little in the way of additional injuries. Keisuke Iwashita had picked up bruising on his knee from last weekend’s match against Tokyo Verdy but has proclaimed that he will play on Sunday. In the Kansai Step-Up League match on Monday, Shoki Hirai scored twice and it is good to see him back from what must have been an injury. Even better news is that Oh Jae-Suk started that game at left-back, so it should only be a short wait for us to see him on the bench, at least. Kotaro Omori was not even on the bench for the team on Monday so one would assume that he is injured now, which is a real shame as I think he is one for the future.
Nevertheless, it would be surprising if Kenta changed the team from the one that beat Sapporo and were arguably unlucky against Verdy. You could maybe see Futagawa taking a place on the bench for Abe but that would be it – at a push too. So I have stuck with the same team as the performances have been great. Will Kenta copy me? Let’s hope so!
The last time I told you to watch Akihiro Ienaga, he got ill but this time let’s hope nothing stops him from playing. After a slow start for the on-loan man, he picked up the tempo and style against Sapporo and Verdy, being arguably the best player in the second-half in the latter match without his just rewards. He seems a lot more effective on the right hand-side of the attacking-three behind Leandro and has even helped out in defence. Of course his loan deal is only until the end of June so we will want to be seeing Aki give his all if he is to leave; if luck goes our way this weekend, I can see him having a big impact.
It will be an extremely difficult match and most people would probably take another draw; our away form is very good and I can see a 1-2 victory for our boys in black and blue. This is by no means a confident prediction for victory as Yamagata should provide a tough test but a welcome one on the road, as they are unbeaten at home. If we play as we have been in the past 2 matches and get the rub of the green, the home team will be overpowered. They definitely cannot keep a clean sheet and with Gamba starting to click into gear, an early goal should get us going well. They will probably score if Frank has his way, so Konno better be on his toes to help the defence. A draw would be acceptable but all 3 points should be the real aim. Let’s be scared of no-one and nothing!