Disappointment upon disappointment as we failed to pick up all 3 points at home once again to relegation-threatened Giravanz Kitakyushu in what was a truly lacklustre performance in front of an underwhelming 9,425 paying fans at Banpaku. The performance was not great, the goal was lucky, the penalty was confusing and the weather was so-so. Get your seat-belts ready for this bumpy ride!
Gamba came into this game having been embarrassed by JEF United Chiba who won a simple tactical battle against us at the top. The last time we lost was against Vissel Kobe and we all remember how well we did after that, being unbeaten for 9 games and winning 8 of those. After such a bad day at the office, surely there would be a backlash of some kind against Giravanz.
The opposition had come into the game having been on a terrible run of 3 defeats following what had seemed like a promising time for the Kyushu side. Having played us just over a month earlier, Giravanz had bounced back from the 1-0 defeat thanks to a Shu Kurata goal to thump Roasso Kumamoto 7-0 and then steal all three points from Gainare Tottori, winning 3-2 over the other relegation candidates. Yet they still managed to lose 3-1 to FC Gifu, 2-1 to Nagasaki and 2-0 to Tokushima. Surely they could not upset the odds in this one?
I think it was obvious however that Giravanz would turn up at Banpaku with a plan of sitting deep with 2 rigid lines of 4 and they would only shift from side to side to stop us from passing through them. That was certainly what they showed.
The team selection for Gamba was very interesting. I went to training on the morning and that was only for suspended, slightly-injured, not yet available or not included in the team players. So what was Nishino doing there? And where was Hoshihara? Kaji was suspended so Oh Jae-Suk was in at right-back whilst Hoshihara was the back-up defender having being converted from a forward. Yet Nishino surely should have been in the starting eleven as Iwashita and Niwa shipped 3 goals the other day? It was not to be. The other interesting change was Futagawa out and Okazaki in.
If it was me, I would have played Konno and Nishino in central defence with Endo and Uchida as the central midfielders. I would have played Futagawa and Abe on the wings with Paulinho supporting Kawanishi as Hirai had been poor in the last few games.
As for Giravanz, they stuck with the almost same side that had lost to Tokushima Vortis, this time Ahn out for Arai, and it seems like their preferred starting eleven as we played them only six weeks ago and they made just one change to that starting eleven, with Kim in for Oshima. Would the continuity reap some rewards this time out?
Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Oh J.S., Iwashita, Niwa, Fujiharu, Paulinho, Endo, Konno, Abe, Okazaki, Hirai.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Hoshihara, Futagawa, Myojin, Omori, Uchida, Kawanishi.
Giravanz Kitakyushu XI – Takeda, Miyamoto, Watanabe, Maeda, Fuji, Kotegawa, Arai, Hakakku, Morimura, Ikemoto, Kim.
Giravanz Kitakyushu Subs – Matsumoto, Tada, Tanaka, Ahn, Oshima, Watari, Lee.
The formation that Gamba was playing was very interesting to watch from the stands. Although Okazaki was the “supporting” striker for Hirai, often he could be in the centre of midfield whilst Paulinho or Abe went into his position with Oh Jae-Suk acting as the right-winger, Iwashita as the right-back and Endo at centre-half. The team was all over the place in that regard and it was extremely interesting to watch the changes going on during the first half in particular. It was almost “total football” except for the fact that we looked very sluggish as soon as we got into the final third as Giravanz squeezed the space (little that there was) and we found it extremely difficult to break them down. It was another one of those games.
The first good chance of the game did come to Konno following an Endo corner which came to our number 15 who volleyed the ball with the side of his foot and he hit it crisply but unfortunately, his effort was headed clear a couple of yards ahead of the line by the Giravanz defender.
Giravanz then had a decent effort themselves after they finally got their foot onto the ball and ventured into our half. They came down their right and a pass to Ikemoto was poorly controlled but if fortunately fell to left-back Fuji who let fly from around 30 yards, centrally, and his effort was well palmed away from danger by Fujigaya to concede a corner. I believe it was from this corner that Fujigaya had one of “those” moments; as Morimura sent in the corner, Fujigaya noticed that their number 6 had actually gone for goal and looked to have beaten Fujigaya. Our keeper decided to fall over in the hope that he would get a free kick from the very young referee and so he did as the ball flew in at the near post. What the hell was he thinking? What was the referee thinking? Giravanz had got an unlucky break there.
Speaking of which, our goal was a lucky break. Konno picked a pass to Abe who had found space on the left and he passed towards Okazaki. It was an awful pass though as Hakkaku seemed to have it covered but so did Maeda, and the lack of communication, along with the soaking pitch, made Hakkaku slip slightly which allowed his “clearance” to land to the feet of Kenya Okazaki who ended up centrally and finished calmly with his first touch as Takeda rushed out at his feet to make it 1-0 to Gamba in the 36th minute. That made it his first ever goal at Banpaku and his second league goal of the season.
The final decent chance of the half came to Endo as he took control of a free kick just outside the penalty area and curved the ball around the massive wall but Takeda save comfortably. So we were leading 1-0 at the break but the football was not so good and Giravanz had stuck to their game plan. We were fortunate with the goal but we really needed to make it 2-0 as soon as possible to end any hopes that Giravanz may have had.
It was not for a lack of trying in getting the second goal. Paulinho had the first great chance to net it with the move starting with Endo passing to Konno on the left, who quickly played on to Fujiharu. He wasted no time in passing further left to Abe who played a great pass to Konno who had continued his run into the box and he drilled a lovely pass across the box towards Okazaki but he slipped over. Nevertheless, Paulinho came in from behind and shot from 8 yards but the keeper saved his shot with his feet. So close.
Hirai was taken out for Kawanishi after being very quiet in the game in the 61st minute and the lad did superbly to break the offside trap not long after coming on and he squared a pass to Kenya Okazaki, beating 2 defenders with that pass, but Okazaki could only slip as he went to hit the ball and he missed the chance.
The visitors made two changes as Ikemoto and Morimura went taken off for Oshima and Lee in the 69th and 71st minutes respectively. Then chaos wreaked havoc as a simple ball over the top from Fuji at left-back caught Niwa sleeping as he was defending higher than Iwashita and Fujiharu. The latter rushed back with Kim the only Giravanz player forward. Iwashita insisted on running back onto the line instead of marking his man which left Fujiharu and Fujigaya to solve the problem. Kim won the ball and Fujiharu jumped up, put a little kick into Kim’s back and had his hands around the Korean whilst Fujigaya did not help him out. This was deemed a penalty, and rightly so, for the visitors whilst Fujiharu was given a yellow card. I have sympathy for the man though as neither of the centre-backs took control of the situation or their marker whilst Fujigaya was not in control either. What the centre-backs were doing is beyond me and it shows that there is no leader at the heart of defence. Nishino and Konno anyone?
Nevertheless, my favourite Giravanz player Kotegawa stepped up to take the penalty and with Fujigaya very bad at stopping them, it seemed inevitable that Kotegawa would score. And empathically he did, putting the kick into the top right corner, giving Fujigaya no chance. From nothing, we had shot ourselves in the foot. Hasegawa was too slow in trying to get the second goal by making another change and it had cost us. Back to square one.
Changes were made with Okazaki coming off for Futagawa whilst Kim was taken off for Tanaka for the visitors. It was Futagawa who had a superb chance to score from an Oh Jae-Suk cross almost immediately after coming on as the right-back found Takahiro unmarked at the back post and he hit a volley into the ground and past Takeda in goal, but unfortunately he hit the crossbar too, whilst the rebound was cleared off the line Maeda.
Oh Jae-Suk was taken off in a surprising substitution for Hoshihara who made his first appearance of the season as it was like-for-like. I wanted Uchida on for Abe so that Endo could push forward and support Kawanishi. Kotegawa and Oshima were booked in the 5th and 6th minutes of additional time but the visitors held on for an important point which sent their 150 or so fans home happy whilst it was disappointment upon disappointment for us. Usami and Rocha are available next week!
Where it leaves both teams:
Kobe won which sets up Saturday’s top of the table clash perfectly as both teams are on 50 points but we still lead on goal difference. What a match that will be! V-Varen Nagasaki will be hoping to capitalise on that match as they moved within 5 points of the top two whilst JEF United recorded their 5th win in a row to sit 6 points behind us. Avispa Fukuoka entered the top 6 in the place of Tochigi SC as they beat the former holders of 6th place. That 6th place looks up for grabs with 9 teams within 6 points of that position. It is going to be a fascinating battle. As for Giravanz, they stay in 20th, 3 points ahead of bottom Gifu and 2 ahead of Gunma as the mini-league at the bottom means they are within 4 points of Ehime in 16th. That will be extremely interesting indeed.
Photo taken from ameba. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.