A dogged performance by our boys in white and blue ensured that we came away from Kyushu for the final time this season with all 3 points in what turned out to be a match relating very much to the statistics for both teams, performance-wise. 7,207 people turned up to see the leaders of Division 2 extend their lead, with a huge part of that crowd blue and black at heart, and they sure did help the team across the line with their never-ending support.
Both sides named unchanged starting elevens as they both won in round 17 and therefore felt as if they needed to change nothing. Gamba were of course without Konno and Endo but Niwa and Okazaki were glad to take those spots at the start of the game once more. There was one change on our bench though as Shoki Hirai was replaced with Shota Kawanishi, although both are still playing underdogs to Leandro. Iwashita made it to the training match against Ehime the day after this victory, which is great news, but the replacements have been doing fine jobs to make us almost forget Keisuke.
Giravanz lined up with a 4-4-2 formation, as did Gamba, but of course Kurata was more of a supporting player to Leandro up top than a striker.
Giravanz Kitakyushu XI – Takeda, Miyamoto, Watanabe, Maeda, Fuji, Morimura, Ahn, Hakkaku, Kotegawa, Oshima, Ikemoto.
Giravanz Kitakyushu Subs – Matsumoto T, Matsumoto Y, Suzuki, Naito, Watari, Kim, Kakimoto.
Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Nishino, Niwa, Fujiharu, Ienaga, Uchida, Okazaki, Futagawa, Kurata, Leandro.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Oh J.S., Abe, Myojin, Takei, Paulinho, Kawanishi.
The hosts got the ball rolling in their lovely yellow and red home uniform but it had to be retaken. Woops. There was a very early break in play as Uchida was winded by the ball within 13 seconds of the start. The home side were looking to pass the ball around, as were Gamba, with the away team doing a better job of it. The first half chance came to Leandro but his control was poor from a Kurata cross. It was Kurata who opened the door within 5 minutes to give Gamba the lead. After some lovely passing from defence to midfield, Kaji crossed from around 35 yards out on the right towards Leandro who had made a run into the box. Takeda just got to it ahead of the Brazilian as the ball came out to around 30 yards in a central position, slightly to the right. As the ball bounced, Kaji steamed in to win the header of the Giravanz man with the ball beating the next Giravanz player and flicking off Ienaga. The ball came to Kurata around 22 yards from goal where he lost his marker with a smart dummy to open some space in the opposite direction to fire an absolutely beautiful left foot strike hard and flat towards the bottom left corner of the goal, giving Takeda the chance to only brush it in with his fingers. Shu was ecstatic and it was just the start we needed – at this point, we were hoping to build on that goal with just 5 minutes of the game gone.
It indeed looked like only we were going to score again from this point on as we controlled possession and seemed comfortable with Giravanz lacking pressure on our defence. In the 9th minute, after said passing play, we added a bit of speed to it down the left as Futagawa came off the touchline to send a pass from Uchida down the line to Fujiharu who whipped in a delightful ball to Leandro. He has ghosted between the centre back and left back to get a free header on goal from 8 yards yet he somehow managed to put it over the top when you would have banked on him to find the net. The high pressing on Giravanz continued whenever we gave the ball away which really limited the hosts. Even in the 14th minute when Giravanz did press us into an error to get on the counter attack from the half way line, Niwa used his body smartly to get in-between the player and the ball to win a free kick and end any danger.
The hosts started to get into the game from this point without too much action in the next 5 minutes. In the 18th minute, the hosts had made some nice passing patterns but were forced back into their own half thanks to Kurata and Leandro. After Giravanz pushed further, we broke away through Kurata who found Leandro down the middle and he attempted to chip Takeda from 25 yards but the keeper was just about in the right position to claw it away. The hosts’ first shot came in the 24th minute as Hakkaku fired from around 27 yards straight into Fujigaya’s welcoming arms. Giravanz also got their first and only booking of the match as Fuji was cautioned after Ienaga tried a one-two with Leandro but was halted in his path.
Giravanz won a free kick in the 26th minute as Okazaki was just beaten to the ball by Ikemoto, 30 yards from goal, but left-back Fuji could only allow Fujigaya to watch the ball go comfortably past his post. Uchida then tried his luck for Gamba this time from 25 yards but he sent it into space – nevertheless, we seemed to get back into the groove for the time being as we retained possession for around 2 minutes but it did result in Shu Kurata slipping and hurting his ankle in what was worrying times at that point, but he did make it back onto the pitch unharmed after some treatment. What was harmed more than Kurata was Giravanz’s crossbar as Futagawa cracked the top of it from the left edge of the penalty area, curling the ball after lovely play between himself, Ienaga and Fujiharu.
The final part of the half saw Fujigaya having to make a decent low save from Miyamoto in the 37th minute as he cut inside and onto his left foot from right back. Futagawa also copied Uchida’s previous attempt as he fired well over from a similar position in the 43rd minute which made you feel that another goal would kill off the hosts. The first half was nonetheless excellent and we bossed it; with a bit more luck or composure, we would have had a bigger lead in the match but as we had not done this, it left Giravanz with hope for the second half.
What would have given Giravanz even more hope at the start of the second half was seeing no Leandro. He was substituted at half time for Shota Kawanishi. One can only assume that his injured hand that he came into the match with had got worse as he did not seem injured before the interval. Underestimating Kawanishi would have been a bad idea as he was eager to make his mark early on. The hosts did get an early corner before all this but it was swatted away at the near post. Kurata then got onto a Kawanishi flick in the 48th minute but he dragged his volley well wide of the far post, shooting from just inside the box. Kawanishi then won a free kick on the left touchline but Fujiharu’s resulting shot was blocked.
Giravanz were pressing a lot better in the second half, trying to suffocate us going forward but that did not stop us making some chances. In the 55th minute, we countered following a Giravanz corner with the ball coming down the left and into the middle with Kurata, whose shot was blocked due to the sheer number of defenders after some lovely, fast interchanges. It took only a minute to make another chance as Ienaga played a one-two with Kurata on the right where he fired a cross-cum-shot across goal but it was too fast for Kawanishi at the near post and Futagawa at the back post. Lovely football though. Lovely football indeed.
The hosts brought on Naito for Morimura just before the hour mark in a like-for-like change as the game started to stretch and open up, just as Ikemoto fired wide from 25 yards. Kurata won a free kick on the right, which was whipped towards Nishino at the back post as he nodded it back across goal to Uchida who stretched to get his head on it but he hit the side netting. Following a corner for us, Giravanz went on the counter through Naito in the 65th minute with a 3-on-3 but Fujiharu covered superbly to block his shot. This allowed us to break, ending with Okazaki’s tame shot being blocked and it rolled gently to Takeda. Kakimoto came on for Oshima in the 67th minute whilst Okazaki was replaced by Myojin 2 minutes later. In-between these changes, Kawanishi did brilliantly to relieve pressure in his own half after a couple of Giravanz crosses were dealt with.
In the 72nd minute, we countered through Kurata and Kawanishi, ending with Ienaga winning a corner. It was the latter who should have scored as Futagawa’s second cross landed on the midfielder’s head but he misses the ball completely whilst being unmarked. As Giravanz pressed for an equaliser, the defence stood strong whilst we always looked dangerous on the counter attack. Futagawa’s last contribution before being subbed for Abe in the 80th minute was to win a free kick 25 yards from goal but he only hit the top of the wall. Kim came on for Ahn for the hosts a couple of minutes before that final switch.
The hosts were threatening to threaten the goal but never really had up until the 82nd minute where Kotegawa hit the post with Fujigaya well beaten, following a cross from the right which Fuji controlled ahead of Kaji to lay off to the youngster, who fired with his left foot against the upright. The hosts continued to press and win set pieces but our defence was very strong which only let those half chances be half chances. As the hosts left bodies in attack, Abe had a shot right at Takeda saved whilst he turned provider for Ienaga as he sent in a cross from the left to our number 41 at the back post. He was in space but instead of taking a touch, he decided on a volley which went well wide. Added time was spent mainly by the corner flags as Ienaga and Abe allowed the clock to tick down and the 3 points were secured. It was not a dazzling performance but Giravanz were kept at arm’s length for the majority of the match whilst our forward line wasted a few decent chances. Nevertheless, we fully deserved the win and played excellent football for the majority of the match and always seemed to be a threat on the counter attack. We did not make it easy for ourselves but we did a top job, as did Giravanz who put in everything but simply lack some top quality players. There should be no complaints about the performances as we got the job done, ensuring our 5th straight win and our 2nd clean sheet in a row.
Man of the Match:
I have had to have long think about this one because there were many stand-out performers as most players did their jobs well. I think Akira Kaji and Takaharu Nishino were excellent at the back, especially Nishino, who kept Giravanz at arm’s length for the majority of the match, whilst Kaji was sound at right-back, whilst Niwa was seen controlling the defence at times. Akihiro Ienaga put in a great shift and should have scored, whilst the youthful centre of our team was very strong once more. Shu Kurata just beats them all as my choice, not only because he got the goal, but he was also the biggest threat going forward and worked his socks off at all times. People might think I am biased towards Kurata as he is one of my favourite players but he did everything we now expect of him and more. He almost led the team from the front and linked brilliantly with every single other player – when your team is not finishing the game off, you need players like Kurata. It is almost second nature to see him like this but his determination and hard work made it a lot easier on his defence. Everything starts from the front and he epitomised that and his goal was just wonderful. Shu Kurata, I LOVE YOU.
Where it leaves both teams:
It was another excellent weekend for Gamba as we added another goal to our superior goal difference over Vissel Kobe, but we also made 1st place decisively our own as Vissel could only draw 2-2 at home to a Kempes inspired JEF United. Things got better for Gamba, and worse for Giravanz, as FC Gifu pulled their second victory of the season from nowhere against V-Varen Nagasaki at the Nagaragawa Stadium, netting the winner with the 100% last touch of the game in a fully deserved victory. This made the gap between Gamba and V-Varen 7 points, meaning we have a comfortable cushion in the automatic promotion places. Teams from 6th to 11th are a win/defeat away from swapping places. At the other end, Giravanz’s rivals ThespaKusatsu moved within 2 points of them with a 0-0 draw with Kataller Toyama. Giravanz are 5 points away from Tottori and Yokohama FC, whilst FC Gifu are now 3 points behind our hosts for the day but with a worse goal difference.
We continue on the road to Mito on Saturday, whilst Giravanz stay at home for a Kyushu derby with Roasso Kumamoto who lost to Kyoto Sanga 3-1 on Sunday through a Kubo hat-trick for the purple visitors.