My first day at Banpaku could not have been better (except Kurata…) as we strolled to a 2-0 win over Tokushima Vortis in a game which saw the visitors being very rigid. The crowd of 13,706 people was full of fantastic energy before, during and after the game. Akihiro Sato, Takashi Usami and Adi Rocha all met this eager blogger who left Banpaku with a smiling face, new friends and a few presents from fans!
Certain changes to the line-up and bench were necessary as Leandro and Ienaga are no more to Gamba. Shoki Hirai got his deserved starting spot as the striker supported by Shu Kurata whilst Takaharu Nishino was given a rest on the bench as Keisuke Iwashita made his first start since getting injured against Gainare Tottori in round 11. On the bench, Sota Kawanishi returned due to the space left by Hirai and Leandro jointly, whilst Kotaro Omori got his first appearance in the first team this season as he also made the bench. The average age of that bench was just 23 so the future is bright. Endo and Konno were both given some well-earned rest despite being available once more. FC Gifu away might see them return on the bench with JEF in mind on the Sunday.
The visitors made two changes themselves as defender Miki and midfielder Suzuki were replaced with Fukumoto and Osaki taking their places. Fukumoto had a loan stint with Gamba in 2008 and had little playing time at Banpaku. The visitors came with a 4-4-2 formation that shifted to a 3-4-2-1 formation when defending with Hamada dropping into defence, Fujiwara and Alex as wing-backs and Douglas as the lone striker. They had come to counter attack and do it very poorly indeed.
Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Iwashita, Niwa, Fujiharu, Paulinho, Uchida, Myojin, Futagawa, Kurata, Hirai.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Oh J.S., Nishino, Abe, Omori, Okazaki, Kawanishi.
Tokushima Vortis XI – Matsui, Fujiwara, Saito, Fukumoto, Alex, Osaki, Hamada, Aoyama, Shibasaki, Tsuda, Douglas.
Tokushima Vortis Subs – Hasegawa, Miki, Hanai, Miyazaki, Suzuki, Takasaki, Kim J.M.
Gamba kicked the game off but neither team had much going forward in the first 15 minutes as Tokushima were very happy to sit back and allow us to pass the ball around in front of the defence. Yet it was the visitors who had the first real chance of the game as Hamada had a looped shot tipped onto the bar in stunning fashion by Yosuke Fujigaya to prevent the visitors from taking an unlikely lead. It was outstanding goalkeeping. Myojin was booked for a cynical foul as Tokushima did have a short-lived foray on the counter and the resulting kick was wasted as Douglas could not direct his header.
Neither team had many opportunities after that as Tokushima sat back once more but we finally made the breakthrough in the 32nd minute after a Kaji cross was directed out to the edge of the box to prevent Hirai from getting his boot on it, but the ball fell to Paulinho who chested the ball inside onto his favoured left foot and his standard 25 yard screamer-gone-wrong was now a 100% 25 yard screamer as he shot swerved away from Matsui and into the bottom corner of the net which gave the keeper no chance. Stunning finish! Myself and the fans around me went ape shit.
And we did not have to wait long for the second goal as Paulinho now turned provider for Hirai. The team had kept the ball for at least 3 minutes with Tokushima getting so much of a sniff and Paulinho cut inside from the left once more to pass to Kurata, who turned and played a delightful pass towards Futagawa but he jumped over it to let Paulinho, who had ran around the back and was now into the penalty area, to slide the ball across the goal unselfishly for Shoki Hirai to get his foot onto the end of it and make it 2-0. The same celebrations came from us fans whilst Hirai gave us his standard dance once more (long time no see!). Leandro who? Ienaga who?
Half time came and I had the feeling that the game was over and done with. Was I to be proven right? The defence was solid, the passing was crisp and we were patient. Tokushima did not seem to have it in them.
Tokushima were limited to half-half-chances from range whilst we were able to counter in the 58th minute through Paulinho who passed to his right to Kurata who looked up and picked out an unmarked Hirai at the back post but the defender put him under enough pressure to force a weak header right at Matsui. Unusual to see Hirai not score when he hits the target.
Uchida was also booked for something that goes beyond me. Futagawa was traditionally replaced by Abe in the 74th minute whilst Hirai picked up a tiny injury towards the end of the game and was replaced by Kawanishi. In-between those subs for us, Okazaki had a header well saved by Matsui following an Abe cross whilst Fujiwara came off for Hanai with a minute to go for the visitors. Douglas had been wasting his chances all game and continued to do so in the 91st minute as he headed straight at Fujigaya whilst being unmarked.The referee was having a shocking day as all the calls he made were wrong and he particularly had something against Paulinho and he decided to book Iwashita for I don’t know what whilst Shu Kurata got injured in and around the 65th minute but no card was given, neither was a foul. Shu was replaced by Kenya Okazaki and with Kurata out for around 8 weeks, maybe Endo will take his place coming forward. Suzuki and Kim were brought on before that injury for the visitors as Aoyama and Tsuda were taken off.
I was a happy chappy at full time and even the Kurata injury could not mask my happiness. It was not a classic by any means but going into the half-way stage of the season, we kept top spot. Kurata will be a loss but if there is anything that we have shown this season, it is adaptability to losses of players. We will continue to do that!
Next stop, Gifu!
Man of the Match:
Many players impressed me on my first visit to Banpaku like Niwa who was calm at the back, Fujigaya who made some terrific calls and saves. Fujiharu and Kaji were great as always, Uchida was cool, Kurata was his usual self until his injury and Hirai did what I expected of him. Yet in a game with few clear chances, it was Paulinho who added some spice to the game with his stunning goal and unselfish assist and made my day at Banpaku a very happy one. He was all of the pitch and was a huge threat coming in off the right to use his left foot and he worked extremely hard which made all the fans happy. He has really shown his worth to the team in these last few weeks and will do a better job than Ienaga did. Excellent stuff mate!
Where it leaves both teams:
At the half-way stage of the season and it is Gamba of course who take the lead at the top of the table thanks to this victory. Vissel Kobe did keep the gap to 2 points though as they won in the last minute of their match against Roasso thanks to a penalty by Sugiura. The gap to 3rd for us is now 10 points after Nagasaki, Kyoto and Tochigi all drew whilst JEF moved into 5th after a 2-1 win over rivals Tokyo Verdy. Montedio Yamagata are in full steam as they were the only team from 7th to 15th (excluding Yokohama FC) to pick up a win. Tokushima slipped down to 15th and are closer to the relegation area than the play-off places.
Things at the bottom could not be more exciting as FC Gifu and Gunma both won which put Tottori in 21st, 2 points ahead of Gifu, whilst Gunma rose to 20th and are within shooting range of Kumamoto and Kitakyushu. FC Gifu are our next opponents at the Nagaragawa Stadium on Wednesday at 19:00 local-time, a game which I will also be going to. They are in some great form at the moment so the game should be a cracker.
Photo taken from sanspo. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.