Yet another professional performance ensured that we came away from Mito with all 3 points and the 3rd clean sheet in a row in a 2-0 victory with goals from Leandro and a first ever professional goal from Kenya Okazaki which saw our winning run extend to 6 matches whilst our lead at the top was also extended. 10,025 people turned-up at K’s Denki Stadium in what was the 2nd highest attendance at the ground for a Mito match.
The hosts changed their line-up from a 4-4-2 system to a 4-2-3-1 formation. They brought in Kondo at right-back, meaning that Ishigami shifted into midfield in place of Yuto Suzuki and striker Yamamura was replaced by Shimada. The final change came at left-back where Wako was replaced by Omoto. It looked like they had decided to defend and counter attack, trying to limit us in our possession play and leave it up to veteran Suzuki to lead the line up top.
Gamba on the other hand made one change from the team that started against Giravanz Kitakyushu, with Kenya Okazaki being replaced by 35 year old Tomokazu Myojin. I think it was a very unfair change because Kenya has been doing excellently well in the starting eleven since Endo left for National Team duty. Nevertheless, Myojin added some experience to the midfield that Okazaki is lacking and he does need games still after his recent injury. Leandro had managed to shrug-off his broken/fractured left hand, playing with no bandages on that hand and he once led the line with Shu Kurata in close support. The only other change came on the substitute bench where Shota Kawanishi was replaced by Shoki Hirai. The constant changing from on the bench to off it between the two is baffling at times.
Mito HollyHock XI – Homma, Kondo, Hosokawa, Tomita, Omoto, Ishigami, Nishioka, Ozawa, Hashimoto, Shimada, Suzuki T.
Mito HollyHock Subs – Iwadate, Kim, Wako, Suzuki Y, Yamamura, Namba, Mishima.
Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Nishino, Niwa, Fujiharu, Ienaga, Uchida, Myojin, Futagawa, Kurata, Leandro.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Oh J.S., Abe, Takei, Okazaki, Paulinho, Hirai.
The game started in a slow fashion but it was clear to see that Mito were attempting to press us high up the pitch but we were simply too good for them, getting the ball around the back, keeping possession and being patient with it. Naturally, we had the first decent chance of the game as Akihiro Ienaga fired over the bar from 25 yards or so after some lovely possession play down the middle and right, ending with a flick by Kurata to the right midfielder. It was comfortably over the bar but a clean strike nevertheless.
Mito were looking to counter attack and they won a free kick on the half-way line through Shimada which signalled their downfall. The kick was cleared easily by the defence and we eventually got it over to the right side through Shu Kurata to Ienaga. He bided his time until Kurata got close to him where the ball was squared to our number 6 and he played a pass to the overlapping Akira Kaji who came down the touchline unnoticed. He looked up and sent in a cross to the back post towards Futagawa. He made a run to the near post which was splendid as he dragged his marker with him, creating the space for Leandro to move to the back post and he made no mistake this week, heading back across goal and past the undefended Homma in goal to make it 1-0 in the 10th minute. A swift counter attacking goal created by Futagawa’s genius run. No surprise that we took the lead in the match early for the 3rd game in a row.
The next 5 minutes came as a period of consolidation of the goal as we looked comfortable, passing the ball around and enjoying our football with Mito simply going nowhere. After around a minute of pure passing by Gamba, Ienaga slid a ball into the box for Kurata but there was too much pace on it. The build-up was excellent. Takaharu Nishino picked up his 3rd booking of the season after he fouled Suzuki in what would be a constant battle throughout the match which made me twitchy to say the least. That free kick from 20 yards was sent miles over the bar by Hashimoto. They continued to press but we made getting the ball from the back to midfield under high pressure look simple yet the next best chance came to the hosts in the 19th minute as Ozawa span the defence on the right and crossed towards Suzuki but he failed to get contact under minimal pressure. The hosts had their tails up though and only two minutes later they robbed Myojin in midfield and Nishioka dummied a shot to fool the midfielder but he shot well over from range. Another shot 2 minutes later with the same, non-threatening result.
We got back into the swing of things as we pressed high and Ienaga founded Kurata just inside the With Leandro and Kurata reunited up top, they linked superbly but somehow failed to score. The Brazilian got into the box on the right and went towards goal but was crowded by the defence and goalkeeper and instead of shooting at a reasonable angle, he squared to Kurata but his slide-in shot was deflected past the post, with the resulting corner from Paulinho finding Niwa unmarked at the back post but he only just missed the post as he hit the side netting. Down the other end and Shimada won another corner but the header won at the near post was flicked well wide of the far post. Suzuki copied Shimada to win another corner but the same thing happened, with the near post header going wide once more.penalty area but his shot was scuffed from 12 yards. In the 25th minute, the swing of things got violent as Ienaga went for a header at ground level and was booted in the head which caused heavy bleeding and a huge bandage (nothing like Mummy Endo from the Kashiwa match last season). Kurata shifted to the right and Mito could only force a corner on the left through Shimada as Kaji defended superbly against him all day. Myojin was flattened from the second cross but there had already been a handball before he got knocked down. Shimada did the same thing 2 minutes later as Paulinho rushed on in place of the fatally wounded Ienaga.
The last 5 minutes of the half were pretty calm with Mito being culled. We had some great possession in the final third for a fair while from right to left and back with the move ending with Fujiharu blazing well wide from 18 yards, but again the football was really enjoyable. He was however booked for the first time this season after apparently taking too long at a throw in, whilst Shu Kurata had a shot blocked after fantastic running and passing by Paulinho. We ended the half in the lead and although Mito had got some decent half chances, that was all they were, half chances. We allowed them to do that a bit too much and a second goal sooner rather than later would have given us the security we needed. Our football was fantastic when we were given the chance and that little bit of quality from Futagawa, Kaji and Leandro was the difference.
The second half started with Nishino waging war with Suzuki once more and having me worried that he would be sent off sooner rather than later. You could tell that Suzuki was starting to get frustrated and annoyed which would go against him later on. With little action in the first 10 minutes of the half, this was about as pending as it got. Saying that, Fujigaya did excellently to claim a catch from a corner and Leandro went extremely close with a stunning volley from the right side of the 6 yard box, his right foot flying onto a cross from the left by Fujiharu but the volley went just over the bar.
The game seemed to be lacking some real flair and creativity which was apparent in the next 10 minutes. Ishigami blazed high and wide from an acute angle, Suzuki and Nishino continued to battle on with the youngster winning that round whilst Niwa was denied superbly by Homma from a Futagawa corner after Leandro tried a chipped pass to our number 10. Homma raced off his line to meet Niwa at 10 yards or so and blocked the header with his hand just after it left Daiki’s forehead. 3 minutes later in the 67th minute, Paulinho went for his standard 30 yard screamer and found the standard row Z.
A minute later, Kondo won a corner for the hosts and a bit of a non-threatening scramble ensued but the ball went out for a goal kick. Niwa’s only mistake came when Suzuki robbed him and with choices in the box, he managed only to pick out a Gamba player which summed up his day. Tomita took out Kurata on the counter attack and then Suzuki was booked for fouling Uchida (and about time too). With less than 20 minutes to go, Paulinho did brilliantly to win a free kick from Ishigami around 30 yards from goal after bursting through a couple of tackles but his shot was saved down low by Homma. Nishioka then had a chance for the hosts but could only miss-hit the shot. Matsumoto then chipped over the bar with Fujigaya never looking worried.
In the 77th minute, Leandro was substituted for Okazaki as he was taken off by a stretcher but he was not injured whilst the hosts brought on striker Mishima for defender Kondo 2 minutes later after Ozawa headed well wide from 18 yards. The hosts were pressing for the equaliser with the bumper crowd urging them on, but Paulinho, Niwa and Fujigaya all defended superbly even though we could not get out of our own half.
It looked as though Hasegawa was looking to defend the 1-0 lead as he prepared Oh to come on for Futagawa but Okazaki had bigger and better ideas as he made it 2-0 with a brilliant strike. We pushed out of defence and went down the left with Fujiharu making it to the corner flag. He looked back to find Paulinho who aimed a pass square to Kurata but he let it run to Okazaki. Shu’s run made some space for the youngster to take a touch and having spotted Homma on his 6 yard box, he chipped a shot over the keeper and into the bottom right corner of the goal to secure all 3 points and to get his first goal as a professional footballer. An exquisite goal.
That sub of Oh for Futagawa did happen with Mito bringing on Namba for Nishioka even though the game was dead. The action was not over though as Suzuki was given a straight red card for swinging an arm at Niwa after the pair had challenged for a high ball in our half. The rules state that raising your arms means you are walking a line and the referee has no hesitations in taking the card out immediately (ignoring that the striker had already been booked) and Suzuki himself had no complaints. It was a poor challenge and surprisingly it was not Nishino who copped the blow. A deserved sending off.
That was how the game ended. A bit of controversy in what was a game lacking quality in the second half but we did brilliantly to keep the well-supported hosts at bay. Both goals had real quality in them and highlighted once again the difference between Gamba and our opponents. The defence was solid and even though our frontline was not as fluid as it has been, we took 2 very well made chances superbly. Mito never had a truly threatening attempt on goal and without Endo and Konno, we are just getting better game by game.
Man of the Match:
Once again it is another tough call as many players did their jobs well without having too much attacking proficiency just like last week. Akihiro Ienaga turned up and was excellent before his head injury forced him off with his replacement Paulinho almost snatching this award as he linked well with the other players, worked immensely hard and showed his abilities in his hour showing. But for me Daiki Niwa and Akira Kaji were solid it at the back, the former repelling their not very threatening attacks as well as having a couple of chances to score too and the latter doing the same in defence and assisting the first goal. Niwa has been excellent in these last 3 games and was in charge at the back whilst Nishino was getting too tight to Suzuki. He has really impressed me and shown that he does have some quality when he is not being erratic. Right now, he has hit top form and I am enjoying watching him. As for Kaji, he had to stop Shimada who was full of beans and he did that to perfection, whilst his cross for Leandro’s goal was perfect. A captain’s performance and the joint strength between these two defenders made the difference when we were repelling those Mito forays. Well done boys!
Where it leaves both teams:
There were a total of 39 goals in Round 19 of J.League Division 2 on a marvellous weekend at the top for us as we extended our lead at the top to 4 points over Vissel Kobe after they drew 2-2 with Tochigi SC. Our gap to V-Varen Nagasaki in 3rd stayed at 7 points after the Kyushu outfit bounced back from their defeat to FC Gifu with a 2-1 home victory over Tokyo Verdy. Kyoto Sanga were the biggest winners in the bottom half of the top 6 after they won 4-1 over Ehime FC.
After them, nobody from 5th to 11th won a game in what was a lost chance for all the teams to push themselves into the top 6. Consadole Sapporo and Tokushima Vortis pressured the other teams as they won in the earliest 2 games of the weekend which meant Mito slipped down to 14th. The bottom of the table had one crazy day with Giravanz Kitakyushu destroying Roasso Kumamoto 7-0 at home whilst FC Gifu came from behind to beat Gainare Tottori 4-3 on the road to move off of the bottom of the table with back-to-back wins. ThespaKusatsu Gunma almost denied this but conceded a last-minute equaliser against Montedio Yamagata after being 2-0 up to draw 2-2.
★★★ Amazing J! ★★★