An efficient and important 2-0 win saw the majority of the 12,729 attendees leave happy and allowed Gamba to wash away the short, negative memories of Sunday’s draw with Tottori against a stubborn but well-drilled FC Gifu side. Gamba recorded their 2nd home win of the season, another clean sheet and more importantly moved within 3 points of Vissel Kobe at the top of the table, staying unbeaten.
With Niwa being severely criticised for his shocking performance on the weekend, he was swiftly returned to the bench in place of the fully recovered Nishino, who partnered Konno at the heart of defence after Iwashita sprained his ankle against Tottori. This left a space for Uchida to come into midfield next to Endo, whilst Abe had earned his stripes by taking over Futagawa’s position in the team. He moved behind Leandro with Kurata shifted to the left in what was originally a strange-looking move, but it worked out well in the end. On the bench, Niwa and Futagawa were put there as mentioned, whilst Takei and Hirai came in for the mentioned injured Iwashita and surprisingly for Kawanishi who also looked good on the weekend. Hirai has got back into favour after an apparent attitude problem but he also earned his stripes and my admiration for how he dealt with it when returning to the field of play.
Gifu had a few tactical changes and one especially surprising change in midfield, amongst others. They played with a sort of 3-1-5-1 formation which saw Desmond pull through with his 2 injuries to get into the centre-back position whilst star player Mio was dropped to the bench in place of less-fanciful players Moriyasu and Mizuno, with Sugimoto also ending up on the bench. They came to contain and counter-attack, just like Gainare Tottori did and Mio’s exclusion highlighted this. For the majority of the time, they sat with only Higuchi up front on his own, isolated.
Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Nishino, Konno, Fujiharu, Endo, Uchida, Ienaga, Kurata, Abe, Leandro.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Oh J.S., Niwa, Futagawa, Takei, Okazaki, Hirai.
FC Gifu XI – Tokihisa, Desmond, Tanaka, Masuyama, Sugiyama, Hattori, Someya, Moriyasu, Mizuno, Shibahara, Higuchi.
FC Gifu Subs – Takagi, Arai, Oizumi, Mio, Yamazaki, Fabio, Sugimoto.
Gifu got the match underway before giving the ball away quickly. What was immediately noticeable was that Abe was the player supporting Leandro instead of Kurata, who had been moved to the left of the attack. It was Abe who started the brightest out of all the Gamba players, winning a corner within the first 2 minutes and really pressing hard on the Gifu defence to win the ball back quickly. They sat back, with all but Higuchi behind the ball at times but not filling in the spaces too well. Uchida fired a pass across the box from the middle of the pitch 20 yards from goal but he found no-one, whilst Kurata fired over from 25 yards after some nice passing play, again with little pressure on him.
More Gamba attacking continued when a beautiful pass over the top came to the adventurous Uchida, but Desmond got in to deny him a chance of getting a goal, allowing Tokihisa to come and collect. Desmond was at it again as he attempted to stop Fujiharu down the left but slipped and gave away a corner, although that came to nothing. The captain Endo was then fouled by Hattori and took the free kick quickly towards Fujiharu, but the defence was alert to flick it behind for a corner. Nothing came of that but Endo found himself on the right hand-side of the box a minute later to set up Ienaga, whose deft touches got him 1-on-1 with Tokihisa, but under pressure he shot right at him. Into the 12th minute and Leandro was taken down by Desmond 35 yards from goal, with the resulting clearing header landing to Abe whose volley was scuffed wide.
Uchida was the first man in the book after allowing the ball to run past him, paying the consequences for stopping the Gifu counter attack and taking one for the team. Gifu had a decent spell of possession here but Fujiharu and then Konno kept the danger to a minimum, with the former getting a corner down the other end a minute later after a smart through ball by Kurata. The corner was punched clear by Tokihisa who enjoyed this method throughout the match, following this by punching away a wayward Kurata cross for a corner. He tried it again from the resulting corner but got nowhere near the ball as Uchida inexplicably missed the target from a couple of yards out.
With all this pressure it was surely only a matter of time before we did score. Such was the case too. Into the 23rd minute, Nishino floated a pass to Leandro whose control allowed the ball to get to Desmond, but his first touch was too strong and he allowed Endo to nick in and pass to Ienaga, who back-heeled to Kurata. He took a touch to steady himself and then played the ball to Abe in-between the 2 remaining centre-backs. He took a touch and then fired the ball smoothly into the bottom-right corner of the goal, giving Tokihisa no chance. Good play then unfortunate play by Desmond, but nobody covered him and Gifu paid the price. 1-0 to Gamba and exactly what we needed.
Yet we were sluggish from the restart as Fujigaya’s kicking started to go sour and this gave a corner to Gifu which ended in the grateful hands of said goalkeeper, as well as a few studs in his side after Desmond was targeted for his height. Said goalkeeper also kicked poorly again a moment later and although Kurata was fouled on the left but ignored by referee Nishimura, Gifu got another corner in the 32nd minute. The bad old Fujigaya seemed to have returned as he came to punch the ball, got nowhere near it and Desmond did everything but hit the target, flashing his header wide.
Endo and Konno stepped-up after this shaky spell with the latter superbly intercepting and forcing Hattori to foul him which earned the veteran a yellow card in the process. Gamba got back to making Gifu work hard and Leandro got in down the left, came parallel with the goal and attempted to find Ienaga with a poor pass across the goal, which was inevitably cleared. Hattori fouled again on the left but the tower called Desmond won it well. The aforementioned tower took down Abe on the very edge of the penalty area in the 43rd minute but headed it away, whilst Fujiharu got in-behind moments before but Leandro’s play and touch was again poor.
Half time. Gamba deserved the lead but it could have been more if Desmond was not there. Fujigaya’s spell of horror did not cost us and we were making more chances than in the Tottori game, even if they were not too dangerous. At least we had a lead at half time which was important for the confidence of the squad going into the second half.
The silent Leandro picked out Ienaga at the back post but his tame shot got the second half rolling. Kurata then won a corner which Endo fired right above Tokihisa towards the top corner of the goal but he just about managed to push it away for another corner, which was also punched away, this time ahead of Nishino as the goalkeeper won a free kick. Gifu won their first corner of the half in the 50th minute which was habitually aimed at Desmond but he and the ball were well dealt with.
Tokihisa was kept busy as he first got ahead of Leandro from a Kaji cross, and then got his head to a superb Endo pass over the top which was also aimed at Leandro. Abe won a corner shortly after that, with Nishino excellently blocked by Desmond once again. Gifu then thought they had scored from a corner in the 59th minute but referee Nishimura called for a handball before the ball went in, with replays suggesting he got it right. Corners were Gifu’s biggest threat and Gamba got away with that one.
Just past the hour and Ienaga made way for Futagawa who slotted in his position on the right. Some Gifu possession came to nothing whilst Leandro’s quiet day brightened for a short moment after Kurata got space and attacked the back four, but the Brazilian’s shot from an acute angle was blasted over. The same combination got in together again with Leandro screwing up again, but Abe picked up the ball and gave it to Kurata who was well tackled by Desmond, even if the crowd screamed for a penalty.
You could start to see Gifu tire during this period and Endo almost sealed the deal from 25 yards in the 72nd minute but his daisy cutter skidded past Tokihisa and onto the post, across goal and inches past the opposite post for a goal kick. It would have been a deserved goal if it had gone in as the captain ruled the show quietly in midfield but a lot more noticeable than usual. Gifu responded by getting in-behind Kaji on the right but the pass across was shocking and straight to a Gamba defender – Gifu blew all their big chances with poor execution, something they have to work on if they want to score more goals.
Coming up to the last 10 minutes and first Gifu then Gamba made one change each. Arai came on for Shibahara for the visitors whilst Leandro was put out of his misery, being replaced by the supposedly recovered-from-his-bad-attitude Shoki Hirai, who pressed immediately, looking to impress Hasegawa. With little in the way of action during these last 10 minutes, Abe came off for Okazaki in the 88th minute and immediately linked-up with Hirai, but Kenya had the ball nicked off his toes as he was about to control and shoot having found space in the area.
Like it mattered! Shoki Hirai put the game to bed just a minute later in the 89th minute after all 3 substitutes combined for the second goal. Futagawa crossed from the right to an unmarked Okazaki at the back post, who played the ball directly to Hirai who was 8 yards out and he fired past the stranded Tokihisa. Hirai looked like a man on a mission as soon as he came on and with just his 3rd shot of the season he scored his 3rd goal of the season. Talk about efficient – more importantly, he showed Hasegawa that he is there to work hard for his place in the team. I was delighted to see that by Shoki after a spell out of the team.
Fabio came on for Mizuno but it was too little, too late for Gifu. The game ended with a delighted crowd and very happy players. The performance was not the best but in terms of the result, who knows how important it could be. Furthermore, we got back to the clean sheet getting ways with Nishino back in the team and we showed the strength in depth with the substitutes and players that started all having positive impacts on the game (take the hint Niwa). A potentially frustrating match was just about dealt with, but that was all we needed to do. A good result and there would have been bigger a bigger gulf in the teams if it was not for Desmond’s amazing defending.
Man of the Match:
There were a few stand-out performances today, with the likes of Abe and Kurata working extremely hard and giving effective and delightful contributions to the overall performance. Nonetheless, nobody had as much an impact on this match as the captain, Yasuhito Endo. He was the well-oiled engine that ran the team, smooth and efficient but also effective. Everything started with him and Gifu did not get anywhere near him to stop him, which made things easier. He sat in his volonte position and dictated play as he pleased and on another day, his daisy cutter of a shot would have found the back of the net. Nevertheless, a true captain’s performance which made this potentially frustrating match a simpler one. He still looks like he is playing with the handbrake on at times so who knows what he could do if he really wanted to grab the bull by its horns.
Photo taken from J’s goal. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.
A shout out to good old Desmond for his excellent defensive display. Sure, he could be blamed for the first goal but he came to win a loose ball and did so, but unfortunately for him his touch was too strong and nobody covered him. Overall, even with a bad shoulder, he kept the score down all by himself and maybe should have scored too. Gifu’s survival hopes may well rest upon this man, and they would do well to support him to the max. Impressive job today!
Where it leaves both teams:
Gamba are the only team left unbeaten and hit a joint-club record of 12 games unbeaten with this win. We stay in 2nd place but cut the gap to Vissel Kobe to just 3 points ahead of the massive derby and top-of-the-table clash, as our rivals drew 0-0 with Avispa Fukuoka. V-Varen Nagasaki stay right on our heels after a 1-0 win against Kyushu rivals Giravanz, which was great news for Gifu down at the bottom. Fagiano Okayama lost their first match of the season to Tochigi SC who are a point behind Gamba in 4th. Closing out the top 6 are Kyoto Sanga and Montedio Yamagata, with Sanga beating Sapporo 1-0 away and Yamagata being Toyama 3-1 at home. They are both still 5 points behind us though, which gives us a bit of breathing space in the promotion places.
Gifu remain rooted to the bottom of the table with 6 points but can take heart from 2 decent performances against some of the better opposition in the league. Things do not get easier as they host JEF United on Monday and with Gunma nicking a point against Yamaga away, they are 4 points away from safety. They will more than likely be down the bottom at the end of the season, having only scored 5 goals in 12 games. Tough times ahead, as always, but they can be inspired from their recent efforts.