We ended the month of August on a bit of a sour note as we succumbed to a late equaliser as two defensive errors cost us all three points in what was a game we really should have won. Our disappointment was witnessed by 12,490 spectators as we made sure that we beat none of the main Kanto sides this season.
The hosts made three changes to their back line alone as Bae was suspended, Watanabe and Morishita were injured, so they pushed Takeoka to right-back, Morimoto to pair Nogami at centre-back and Nakajima at left-back. They changed their formation from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2 changed their top scorer Okubo for Nagai and Kazu, the latter a surprise inclusion due to his age.
As for us, we changed just one player and that was Kenya Okazaki, who swapped placed with Tomokazu Myojin. This meant that Yasuhito Endo was once again pushed out towards the left-hand side to accommodate the veteran. The bench itself saw a couple of changes, the first being the inclusion of Ken Tajiri over Atsushi Kimura. This was Tajiri’s first ever time on the bench for a league match. The other player to drop out was Takuya Takei in place of the returning Hiroyuki Abe who had been out for a month with an injury sustained after the Vissel Kobe win over a month ago.
Yokohama FC XI – Schneider, Takeoka, Nogami, Morimoto, Nakajima, Sato, Takachi, Terada, Nozaki, Nagai, Kazu.
Yokohama FC Subs – Shibasaki, Watanabe, Matsushita, Na S.S., Patrick, Tahara, Okubo.
Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Nishino, Konno, Fujiharu, Uchida, Myojin, Omori, Endo, Rocha, Usami.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Tajiri, Oh J.S., Niwa, Futagawa, Abe, Okazaki, Hirai.
Things once again started terribly as we gifted the hosts a goal after just 4 minutes and Akira Kaji was the culprit this time. As his first clearance came back to him, he attempted to pass across to Nishino but got nothing on it, allowing Nozaki to steal the ball, turn back onto his left foot and drill a low shot right into the arms of Yosuke Fujigaya. Well it would have been like that if Nishino had not been determined to block the ball, unfortunately getting the slightest touch on his outstretched foot and directing it past Fujigaya. 1-0 to Yokohama FC and that was the 6th time in 9 games that we have conceded first, going on to lose just 1 though.
We did not seem rocked by the goal and Endo went close to levelling in the 12th minute, sending a shot across the box just wide of the far post after lovely play by Takashi Usami and a great tackle by Myojin to get things going. Omori then thought he had set-up Rocha again as the Brazilian tapped in from 6 yards, but the winger was flagged offside. Only just offside too. With our momentum building, Rocha controlled a throw-in on his chest and pivoted to send a volley just wide of the far post although the deflection helped the ball get closer to the goal.
Just as I was starting to believe that we were getting somewhere, Usami pulled us level with another goal from outside the box and again in the 29th minute. Uchida broke the play up in midfield, passed to Endo who aimed a slightly awkward pass towards Omori who nicked the ball in front of his marker, being fouled in the process. With both Rocha and his marker missing the ball, Usami turned on the 18 yard line and fired an unexpected shot past the rooted Schneider in goal, having put it right into the bottom corner. Game back on!
Nothing much happened for the rest of the half. The most action we got was seeing Uchida with a bloody lip as Yokohama looked to squeeze us. They had no threat up front but we had gifted them a goal. There was more to be desired from our limp-looking forward line as the final ball was wasteful. I was expecting more to come after the break.
It was the hosts however who came out the better of the two sides but with Nakajima sending in a poor free kick twice and Terada firing a tame effort at goal, there seemed to be not much of a sting in the Yokohama attack. Meanwhile, Hiroki Fujiharu started to batter their right side as he got in-behind the defence following an excellent through ball by Usami but Rocha could only slide in despair as the ball continued across the 6 yard box.
The hosts responded 2 minutes later with Nagai letting rip from 25 yards after the defence kept dropping away from him but luckily his effort bounced past the far post with Fujigaya clearly beaten. Fujiharu responded again with another superb cross into the box but Rocha was caught on his heels as another good chance waved goodbye to him.
The hosts took off Nozaki for Patrick whilst Hasegawa brought on Kenya Okazaki for Kotaro Omori, as well as changing the formation to more of a 4-2-1-2-1 with Endo in front of Myojin and Uchida and Okazaki and Usami in front of him. The change seemed to breathe life into our attack as Usami set-up Okazaki but he fluffed his two chances in the 59th minute whilst Kaji almost scored from a cross as Schneider just about managed to get it away. A minute later, Nishino stepped forward to break up play, passed to Okazaki who played Rocha through on but wide of goal; he still managed to fire past Schneider at the near post from an acute angle but his shot kept going across as he just missed the target. Fujiharu retrieved the ball and passed across goal for Endo but he could not slide far enough to put the ball into the back of the net. He failed to touch the ball by centimetres.
So after his team mates had squandered the chances he had put on a plate for him, Fujiharu stepped up and put us 2-1 ahead in the 67th minute. A corner was cleared to Okazaki around 20 yards from goal. He turned to his inside and spotted Fujiharu unmarked. The left-back let the ball run across him and he let his left foot loose from 30 yards, belting the ball low and hard through the Yokohama defence (it may have been deflected a tad) and into the bottom corner with Schneider again having no chance. That made it 2 in 2 games for the lad and his face showed his joy. We thoroughly deserved to be leading.
The hosts took off Kazu for Na and restarted their pressure that they had commenced in the first half, although we dealt with it quite easily. We seemed to take our foot of the gas a little bit but I never believed that Yokohama would score. In fact, we almost made it 3-1 when Kaji crossed for Rocha to head back across goal and Uchida was denied a certain goal as Schneider pushed the ball onto him and he had little time to react from 2 yards, putting it wide. Usami then clattered the far post as he struck an effort from the left edge of the penalty area, Schneider again beaten all ends up but fortunately for him it rebounded off the woodwork and to safety. Stunning attempt.
Strangely, Hasegawa took off Usami in the 81st minute and brought on Abe, whilst Tahara came on for Nagai a moment later. Yokohama continued to threaten as Patrick headed terribly whilst free at the back post. Nishino denied Na an almost certain goal with a superb tackle. But Yasuyuki Konno gifted Tahara the equaliser in the 88th minute as a cross from the left by Nakajima came towards Konno and Tahara but Konno, not for the first time this month, allowed his man to jump freely without any challenge whatsoever, and his man duly obliged to score. Terrible again by Konno.
Yet we almost scored from the last attack of the game but one almighty scramble later and the final whistle was blown. The draw really felt like a defeat as we let our defensive disabilities cripple us once more in a game we should have won. Taking their goals out of the equation, they brought very little to the game. Very, very disappointing.
Man of the Match:
Hiroki Fujiharu was by far and away the best player of the pitch and he topped his superb display with an absolutely stunning goal. He was not just a goal scorer but the biggest threat we had in the attacking department. Several times he made some excellent chances, notably cutting the ball across the box, but his teammates could not convert his efforts into their just rewards. You really have to admire this man as he has played 69 league matches in succession and he always gives 100%. You rarely see him make an error and he was the standout performer in what was otherwise a disappointing day. Once again, that rang true with his defensive and attacking display. Well done, Hiroki!
Where it leaves both teams:
This draw dented our lead at the top slightly as Vissel Kobe closed the gap to 5 points with a routine 4-0 win over Avispa Fukuoka at home. There was some good news however as JEF United became another top 6 team to drop points to FC Gifu following a 1-1 home draw which allowed our next opponents, V-Varen Nagasaki, to leap into 3rd place after they dispatched Gainare Tottori 3-0 on the road, with a couple of screamers to boot. With JEF drawing, Tokushima and Kyoto could not better each other as their match finished 1-1 as on-loan Gamba player Shigeru Yokotani spared the blushes of the away team in added time.
As for Yokohama FC, they stayed in their comfortable 15th place with the point as Ehime FC lost below them but do have a game in hand. Tochigi SC stretched the gap though to 5 points ahead of Yokohama with their first win in over 2 months, away to Fagiano Okayama.