With a score line that does not represent the huge gulf between the two sides, Gamba comprehensively bounced back from their first defeat of the season on Monday to not only get a win but to play with a composed feeling that saw the gap at the top of the table cut back down to 3 points. At the Level-5 Stadium there were 14,526 people who saw a spirited revival by the hosts quashed by our top travellers.
Avispa were slated to wring the changes for this match from the side that beat Yokohama FC last weekend and this was indeed the case. 3 of their 4 changes were called in my match preview with Nishida and Osmar dropping to the bench whilst Funayama did not make it, all being replaced by Kanakubo, Jogo and Sakata whilst left-back Omata was taken out for Miyamoto who filled the right-back position, forcing Tsutsumi to shift to left-back. It is surprising that so many changes were made from a winning team but whether these players that came in were first-choice players, I cannot tell you.
As for Gamba, Akihiro Ienaga was rightly dropped in place of Takahiro Futagawa who filled the vacant position on the right behind Leandro up top. The surprise inclusion saw the not so surprising move to take Abe out of the team in place of the now-fit Paulinho, who had only managed 6 substitute appearances so far this season, all adding up to less than 90 minutes. It was his first start in the league since 1st September 2012 in a 4-1 defeat away in Kyushu to Sagan Tosu but with his good record against Avispa, Hasegawa let him strut his stuff, albeit from the left as Kurata took up his best role – directly behind Leandro.
There were several changes on the bench excluding the in-team changes, with Okazaki and Hirai both dropping out with obviously Paulinho coming in along with Shota Kawanishi. Positively in the line-up was the continued use of Uchida next to Endo despite having Myojin available for the visitors. After a tough game on Monday, Uchida would definitely have taken confidence from that.
Avispa Fukuoka XI – Mizutani, Miyamoto, Koga, Park, Tsutsumi, Nakahara, Okada, Kanakubo, Kanamori, Jogo, Sakata.
Avispa Fukuoka Subs – Kamiyama, Yamaguchi, Omata, Mishima, Ishizu, Nishida, Osmar.
Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Nishino, Konno, Fujiharu, Endo, Uchida, Futagawa, Paulinho, Kurata, Leandro.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Oh, Niwa, Abe, Myojin, Ienaga, Kawanishi.
Avispa got the match underway but it was Gamba who got the first chance within a minute as Kurata played in Leandro, as is generally the case whenever Kurata plays off Leandro, as the hosts found themselves 3 vs 2 after Shu flicked the ball over the rushing defender on the half-way line. Leandro ran in at goal from the left but his second touch was a tad too heavy forcing his shot right at Mizutani in goal which bounced over him and with both Leandro and Paulinho ready to tap in from a yard, Tsutsumi somehow managed to flick the ball away for a corner, just before the line. From that corner, Konno picked the ball up at the back post but his cross fired low across goal was not attacked.
Avispa found themselves too high too often throughout most of the match with Kurata able to exploit the spaces, again feeding Leandro in the 4th minute but trying to cut in from the left, he took too long and his shot was blocked. Avispa won their first corner but to no effect and even when Uchida lost the ball in midfield, there was a lot of fast pressing on the ball that allowed us to get the ball back with ease. Even better was Fujiharu eating up the ground on the left-hand side, sending a cross in for Paulinho at the back post in the 10th minute but his right-footed shot was straight at Mizutani. Avispa won their second corner of the match which was impressively cleared at the near post by Nishino and the resulting corner ending with Jogo giving Fujigaya catching practice from 25 yards.
Gamba were working the play well without much goal-mouth action after that but the front 3 kept switching around although Paulinho was often on the left when it came to the defensive side of things, doing a disciplined job for a forward. Leandro did not come looking for the ball as much as he has been and he was pretty quiet because of this but he seemed very dangerous whenever he had the ball.
We reached the half an hour mark with the same patient build-up play by Gamba and the rushing of the opposition meant there were no clear cut chances. Endo epitomised what Hasegawa had said in the reflection meeting during the week, as he lost the ball but sprinted back to win it back to full effect. The team were determined and they had learnt from their errors on Monday. Attacking and defending, it was more of the same with Fujiharu being the most dangerous down the left whilst we just needed to make a clear-cut chance to open the game up.
And we did. Moments after Jogo had a weak header caught by Fujigaya, Gamba went up the other end to score through Leandro. Into the 39th minute and Fujiharu played the ball over the half-way line to Endo whose control was poor but his determination and strength got it back immediately through two tackles. He spotted Leandro once again to the left and played a pass into his feet. The Brazilian took a couple of touches and with his last one, he flicked it quickly to his right foot to open up the space and he bent a powerful curling shot past the diving Mizutani in goal who simply had no chance. Cue the Leandro smile, but it was nothing more than we deserved.
It got even better just 5 minutes later as Leandro doubled our lead. Pressure on the defender by Kurata forced the pass to go loose to Fujiharu down the middle. He spotted a simple through ball (thanks to an awfully open defence) to Leandro, again slightly to the left. He took two touches on entering the penalty area before firing into the roof of the net even with a flying tackle coming at him. 2-0 was nothing more than deserved going into half-time which nobody wearing blue and black would have wanted, we were that good.
Photo taken from J’s goal. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.
Both teams started with chances in the half with Endo taking a shot just outside the area for Gamba but neither team troubled the goalkeepers. In the 55th minute and Leandro was set-up for his hat-trick after some slick play down the right between Kaji and finally Paulinho who obnoxiously flicked the ball into Leandro’s path in the box but the Brazilian’s shot was right at Mizutani who closed him down well. Jogo almost cut the gap to just one after he plucked a nice pass from Kanakubo and he audaciously tried his luck from a tough angle on the right as he had no support and his shot skimmed the post.
The provider Kanakubo picked up a yellow card for the hosts after taking down Leandro whilst Ishizu came on for Nakahara. The hosts seemed to be pressing higher and it seemed to be working a bit better, but Gamba came up with an answer and ironically our third goal. Futagawa got wrestled (literally) off the ball in the middle of the park but Uchida stepped in to play a cutting pass to Fujiharu down the left again and with 3 players in advanced positions, he whipped the ball into the box which was missed by Leandro who created some space for Kurata to come in unmarked at the back post to tap-in for his 3rd goal of the season. Surely it game over at the hour mark.
Avispa took a gamble by taking out Kanakubo for the more attacking Osmar whilst Paulinho bowed out of the game with a great performance, being replaced by Abe. It was Osmar who almost nicked a consolation goal in the 64th minute after a wicked cross from the right but he could not get his toe onto the ball at the back post. They did not have to wait long for that goal though as Ishizu scored an absolute cracker from the best part of 25 yards. He picked the ball up after a long pass from the defence that went through an empty midfield and he let rip, giving the flying Fujigaya no chance. Ishizu took advantage of the fact that Fujiharu was outnumbered and had to back off to cover himself. Take nothing away from the strike though!
Surprisingly, Hasegawa brought on Ienaga in place of Futagawa even though the hosts had their tails up. And Jogo almost made it 3-2 after he ran onto another long ball from the defence and he once again hit across goal with Fujigaya saving well but a lack of communication between him and Nishino forced Kaji to tidy up their mess.
Avispa certainly looked revitalised and pushed forward with them not really threatening Fujigaya in goal. But they got their second goal in the 80th minute through Ishizu again after come nice build-up play through the middle and down the left, ending with Ishizu seemingly going nowhere on the edge of the box but he fired through Nishino’s legs, who was doing the right thing by sitting tight, and unfortunately the shot gave Fujigaya no chance once more.
Fortunately this was as good as it got for Avispa as they did not really threaten even though they had the lion’s share of possession in the last 10 minutes, although the introduction of Myojin for Leandro settled the midfield and Gamba did superbly well to keep the ball for the majority of the five additional minutes to hold onto what should have been a comfortable win at 3-0.
So the ending to the match was not the best but Gamba really showed great character throughout the whole match and there was little to be done with the 2 goals we conceded – perhaps we relaxed a bit too early. After they scored, I believe we showed a lot of experience and determination that kept the hosts at bay and it was really an impressive performance on the whole that was littered with signs of learning from past errors.
Man of the Match:
There were many top performances today in spite of the mini-comeback. I thought Paulinho was excellent on his first start of the season whilst Kurata supported the deadly Leandro to perfection as always. But two players stood out the most and I am torn between the both of them, so I have picked Hiroki Fujiharu and Yasuhito Endo as they were both excellent. Splitting them is hard because they both did great jobs in different ways. Whilst Fujiharu got 2 more assists and was a killer all day long on the left-hand side, Endo controlled the match and fought for every 50/50 ball and winning almost all of them. They both expressed their styles well and their contributions to the team were the most important thing. When we needed to show some improvements after the defeat, these two were just that little bit better than the rest. I enjoyed watching them, but the game was really fun too, despite the Avispa fightback.
Where it leaves both teams:
Gamba were the biggest winners at the top of the table after all of the top 6 teams bar JEF United managed to slip-up. The biggest result was Vissel Kobe’s 2-1 away defeat to Tokyo Verdy thanks to a last-minute goal by veteran Takahara. This allowed Gamba to go within 3 points of the summit again and into 2nd place after V-Varen Nagasaki also fired in a last minute goal against Tochigi SC to earn a draw. JEF also had a 3 goal lead cut to a 3-2 win but remain in the hunt whilst Fagiano Okayama also drew again, this time to Gainare Tottori in a 0-0 draw.
As for Avispa, they remain in the midfield battle that has clogged up the spaces just outside the play-off positions and they are only 4 points off Fagiano Okayama at the moment. They will be there or there-abouts in the fight for the play-offs but they need to be less open and they should have done what Kobe did to us on Monday. They can take good heart from their comeback but their mistakes were simply too big to rectify.