Unfortunately, I am back in England and now have some time to give you a brief piece on Gamba’s last 2 matches which were both on the road, first against Tokyo Verdy and then against Fagiano Okayama. These two games continued the trend of going behind in games but picking up points, although it should have been 6 instead of 4. And the defence is having a terrible time.
For the Tokyo Verdy match, Kenta Hasegawa made one change from the starters against Vissel Kobe, with Takahiro Futagawa dropping to the bench in place of Okazaki. It would turn out to be the first time he has not appeared in any game this season. Other than that, the team stayed the same as Rocha was limited to a place on the bench once more.
The game got off to a terrible start as Tone put the hosts ahead after just 4 minutes as Keisuke Iwashita played him onside and Daiki Niwa was determined to claim for the offside rather than defend. He was wrong on both accounts.
After the goal though, it was all Gamba with Takashi Usami having an effort cleared off the line and Hiroki Fujiharu almost catching Sato out from distance. This was all after Keisuke Iwashita was injured in-an-around the 20th minute after falling awkwardly on his right foot, signalling the debut of Rocha as Konno shifted back to defence and Endo to his standard volante position. But all that pressure equated to nothing at half time as the hosts lead 1-0, but I was sure we would overturn the deficit in the second half.
That got off to a terrible start though as Konno and Niwa were both turned to easily in defence after 2 speedy passes by the Verdy attack which allowed Nishi to slam home the hosts 2nd goal of the match and I could not believe it. Niwa and Konno really do not mix well together. Where the hell was Nishino!
Yet we had to wait 2 minutes for a response as Kotaro Omori continued his excellent form to cross for Rocha to head home on his debut, seemingly outnumbered 2 to 1 but still strong enough to get to the ball in-between the Verdy defenders. Cue “Olé, olé, olé, olé, ROCHA, ROCHA!” from the away fans. He milked it all, and he certainly deserved it.
You could sense we were getting a head of steam and we equalised in through Paulinho, who came on for Okazaki after Rocha’s goal. Takashi Usami was the provider after some nice play down the left and he slipped a lovely pass to the Brazilian who lashed home a beauty at the near post to deservedly tie the match. Stunning goal, that!
But it took just 9 minutes to top that excellent goal as Yasuhito Endo completed the turnaround in the 73rd minute with an absolute peach of a goal. After Rocha (I believe) was pulled down around 25 yards from goal, centrally, Endo and Fujiharu lined up the shot. Endo stepped forward and send the ball over the wall and into the bottom left corner of the goal, with goalkeeper Sato not moving at all, even if it was on his side. Delicious, simply delicious. Yet Paulinho was injured and had to be replaced by the always impressive Uchida. Endo moved back to a forward role behind Rocha.
Even before that, Rocha had been causing trouble and had been taken down several times and yet the referee was determined not to give a penalty to the Brazilian. There has now been 3 or 4 games in a row where the referee has just been dire. Okayama included in that one too.
With that goal, you just fancied us to go on for the win. But the heavens opened, the rain came crashing down and the thunder and lightning halted the match for an entire hour for the safety of the players but even after the restart, the pitch was unplayable as the ball did not move, the water sprayed everywhere and tackles could have been extremely dangerous if mistimed. The referee persisted with the game and with our style caught out in this sequel now named Ajinomoto Swamp: Part II, Verdy got their equaliser. Fujigaya screamed for Kaji to clear it but he wanted to head it back. This proved fatal as it was poor and a scramble lead to Ishigami pouncing on the loose ball and smashing the ball in from just a few yards…
An underserved result in the end but if you do not defend properly, you do not deserve to win. I really could not understand why Nishino was being left out, but the inclusion of Kotaro Omori in recent weeks has been great. He just gets better and better and seems to have a lot of confidence in his own ability. Not only that, but he thrives upon having Usami as his rival and teammate. I hope they continue to blossom together.
With the draw and Vissel winning 1-0 to Yokohama FC, the pressure was right back on at the top as the gap was back down to a single point.
I was lucky enough to have some wonderful fans get me a ticket for the match in Okayama, even if it was sold out. With it being my final Gamba game before returning to Birmingham, I really wanted the team to send me off with a win.
And I felt like we had already won when I saw that Niwa had been dropped to the bench with Takaharu Nishino making a return to the starting eleven, his late appearance was in the 8-2 away win to FC Gifu. He partnered Yasuyuki Konno in the heart of defence, whilst Futagawa came back in for Kenya Okazaki and with Iwashita injured, Rocha started his first game for Gamba as he partnered Takashi Usami up front. These changes meant that Shota Kawanishi and Shoki Hirai made the bench, for the time being.
And although we started the better side, we did not create any real chances, with the majority coming from range. The midfield was too compact as Futagawa kept moving in to the middle of the pitch which was not helping things going forward, whilst there was a lack of movement going forward. As for the midfield, we did not press quickly enough and we left too much simple space for Okayama to exploit, which they did with ease to make it 1-0 in the 14th minute through Kukita. Fagiano passed the ball around Endo and Myojin with ease and Kukita attacked the space left behind them and fired a shot from 25-30 yards which took a deflection off Konno on its way into the goal after leaving Fujigaya unfortunately flatfooted. First goal to the opposition, once again…
Konno was terrible all day as he found himself out of position on several occasions, leaving Nishino as the soul defender with Myojin or Uchida, who replaced Futagawa in the 37th minute in what was a piece of tactical magic by Kenta Hasegawa. Uchida slotted in next to Myojin whilst Endo found himself out on the left of midfield. Konno was guilty of continually leaving too much space between himself and Nishino, as well as being too far ahead of his partner.
Yet we got a goal just before half time thanks to Takashi Usami. Omori tried a chipped ball to Rocha which failed but he picked up the rebound and squared to Usami who took a touch and swivelled to fire low into the near post from 16 yards although Nakabayashi should have done better. 3 goals in 3 games, no bad eh? But with our lack of flare going forward, the 1-1 score line at half-time was welcomed.
The second half came and it looked like we were really up for it. We were finding space much more easily and we did not have to wait to see Rocha net for the second game in a row. Endo went past 2 players and led them away from goal which allowed him to back heel to Omori to fire a shot from 18 yards across goal. Nakabayashi could only push it straight to Rocha who had the simplest of tasks to take a touch and roll it into the corner of the goal. Great attacking play and Omori’s second assist of the match. Olé, olé, olé, olé, Rocha, Rocha!
Talking of Rocha, he only added to his tally for the day to make it 3-1 just 3 minutes later. Endo whipped in a corner and with Fagiano zonal marking, Rocha took a couple of steps before being Nakabayashi to the punch and thundering home from 4 yards. All too easy at this point but a thoroughly deserved 3rd for us.
After this, the hosts seemed worn out and both Yasuhito Endo and Kenya Okazaki both had efforts cleared off the line in the same sequence. The latter came on for Omori who picked up a slight knock but is okay, as did Takaharu Nishino in the 80th minute and he was replaced by Daiki Niwa. Fear ran through the fans, but it was Konno who was the terrible one as he allowed Fagiano back into the match as Oshitani was allowed to jump unopposed from 10 yards to put a lovely header past Fujigaya. Konno did not even bother to make a challenge and really summed up his day. He was the worst player on the pitch bar none.
We somehow managed to hang onto the win after Fagiano fluffed a huge chance in the 94th minute to equalise and it was a deserved win. After the singing had ended, I could only cry. It was my last game with Gamba and it was such a happy, such a sad time for me. I will never forget it. I could never forget it. It was the best way to end my trip – in typical Gamba style.
Rocha got 2 goals and was given MVP by the TV; yet it was very evident that Tatsuya Uchida was running the show. He came on dishing out orders to his fellow players and he controlled the final 8 minutes of the half with pure ease. His positional sense and awareness was excellent and his distribution of the ball was excellent. Furthermore, he was not afraid to do the dirty work and really pushed us up the pitch and lead by example, forcing Okayama into tighter positions and forcing them to handover the ball. How he does not make the starting eleven, I will never know. He is such a talent. Forza Uchida!
Vissel also won to keep the pressure on but the win was massive. The problem we have is the defence and Nishino has to be a part of it. You could see throughout the match that he was always talking, taking charge and we need that. Konno really needs to switch on and wake up; he kept vacating defence and needs to remember that he was playing as a defender. He was terrible but Nishino was pretty good.
That is the end of my round-up. I apologise for the length!
WE ARE GAMBA OSAKA!