We were finally beaten at home for the first time since mid-July 2012 in the league as worthy winners V-Varen Nagasaki took all 3 points back to Kyushu with them as they stunned the 9,895 people at Banpaku with their organisation and determination, as well as their ability to exploit our defensive weaknesses thanks to the same culprits as in previous games.
We made one change to the side as Endo was put back into the centre of midfield next to Uchida, meaning that Myojin dropped to the bench in place of Kenya Okazaki, who started on the left. On the bench, Kimura and Paulinho returned after illness and injury respectively for Tajiri and Oh Jae-Suk, the latter being a surprise indeed.
As for V-Varen, they came with the same starting eleven that had beaten Gainare Tottori 3-0 from the weekend before and set themselves up in their standard 3-4-2-1 formation as they used high pressure, speed and distributed the ball excellently, as well as defending well for most of the time, to gain a famous win.
Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Nishino, Konno, Fujiharu, Uchida, Endo, Omori, Okazaki, Rocha, Usami.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Niwa, Futagawa, Abe, Myojin, Paulinho, Hirai.
V-Varen Nagasaki XI – Kanayama, Okamoto, Yamaguchi, Takasugi, Kanakubo, Iwama, Inoue, Furube, Sato, Okuno, Kouno.
V-Varen Nagasaki Subs – Iwamaru, Shimoda, Maeda, Jung, Ogasawara, Mizunaga, Komatsu.
The first real chance of the game came to V-Varen after just 21 seconds but Sato could not keep his header down after finding himself free between Endo and Fujiharu. In the 10th minute, Rocha flicked on well for Usami but he could only put his shot from the edge of the area past the far post. The visitors responded with a 35 yard shot from Kouno in the 15th minute that was pushed over the bar by an unhappy Fujigaya. What was most apparent was Nagasaki’s desire to shut us down immediately, getting onto Endo quickly which forced us into losing the ball several times.
From the small amount of chances we made, we maybe should have done better. In the 21st minute, Kaji crossed to Rocha on the edge of the box who turned smartly but sent his shot wide of the far post too, and once again only just. Even two through balls by Okazaki and then Kaji that were good enough to bypass the defence could not beat Kanayama in goal who was alert to play the sweeper-keeper role.
So it was only apt that V-Varen went on to score the opening in the 41st minute. Following a lovely ball from the inside left from Kouno to Kanakubo, the latter volleyed his cross from the right side of the penalty area towards the back post. A lovely ball thanks to excellent control which took Fujigaya out the game and allowed Okuno to beat his other free team mate at the back post to make it 1-0 to the visitors. The problem with this goal comes from Omori and Konno. Neither of them tracked their player with the latter walking and looking half-arsed. He goes lower than Niwa in my estimate as Konno has made too many simple errors in recent times.
The first half ended there and it was pretty easy to see why we were losing. We were not creating many chances, we were not taking a hold of the game, we lacked a high tempo and we conceded thanks to poor defending. We were the opposite to V-Varen. That needed to change in the second half.
To be honest, we really did not come out of the traps flying as we continued to make few chances even though we were significantly improving our control of it as Nagasaki looked to be slowing down following their amazing efforts in the first half. It was the left side that was causing doing the most damage as Fujiharu was once again wreaking havoc, but it was only after the introduction of Takahiro Futagawa for Kenya Okazaki in the 56th minute did we finally equalise.
Fujiharu held the ball on the touchline and passed to Futagawa, who seemingly had nowhere to go. He however turned into space after being surrounded by 3 players and passed back to Fujiharu who continued his run into the box with the ball. With 2 defenders blocking his way, he cut in on his right foot and fired towards the far post. His shot took a massive deflection on its way in past the helpless Kanayama but he took a gamble, unlike the others, and was reward with the jackpot. His 3rd goal in 3 games. Maybe he should become a forward!
Nagasaki responded by bringing on Jung for Kanakubo and Komatsu on for Iwama, whilst Paulinho made his return to the first team since the Tokyo Verdy match by replacing Omori in the 73rd minute. The goal seemed to give us a lift in energy and Paulinho was the man at the centre of it all as he battled for everything. He certainly should have won a penalty in the 74th minute as he rolled his man in the area and was shoved over. The referee was unmoved, not for the first time this season against Paulinho. That was potentially a game changing moment. Paulinho was however exceptional and forced Takasugi into taking a yellow card as he got turned in midfield.
As the visitors took off Inoue for Maeda, they seemed to get the spring back in their step. In the 85th minute, after Uchida was caught on the ball in midfield by Kouno, he evaded a challenge by Futagawa and sent the ball out wide for a first time cross which came to the substitute Komatsu to break our hearts as he nodded back across goal and into the back of the net. Kaji got caught under the ball but after the Nagasaki set-piece, things were all jumbled and they took advantage of it. The defensive weak links are Konno and Kaji right now.
Hirai came on for the ineffective Rocha but was not given enough time to make an impact as time was practically up. Nagasaki deservedly won the match, nobody can deny that, not even me. But I can only wonder what would have happened if Paulinho had won the penalty kick. Not like we deserved to win, but he deserved something for sure. The beautiful streak came to an end against a worthy winner. Congratulations to Nagasaki, you were excellent. The less said about Gamba the better.
Man of the Match:
Today, I cannot pick a Gamba player even if I really wanted to. I think Fujiharu was once again our biggest threat from left-back whilst Paulinho was stunning when he came on. The latter has really impressed me since I doubted him last season and I know he is a lovely guy and works his heart out. But for me, Shuto Kouno was the best player on the pitch as he had a decisive hand in each of the goals. His work ethic was incredible, his awareness is exceptional and his ability to make something happen was what won Nagasaki the match. The 20 year-old on-loan from FC Tokyo was the difference between Nagasaki losing 1-0 or drawing 1-1 compared to them winning. If he carries on like this, he will have a bright future at the top of the J.League. Of course, this is just an analysis from one match, but he was brilliant.
Where it leaves both teams:
The gap at the top for us was cut down to just 2 points as Vissel Kobe picked up a 3-2 away win against Giravanz Kitakyushu. As V-Varen won, they kept their spot in 3rd and cut the gap to Gamba to 11 points, whilst being 9 points behind Vissel Kobe. The rest of the top 6 teams won to keep the pressure on each other as JEF beat Avispa 4-3 on the road, Tokushima Vortis beat Tochigi SC 1-0 away from home too whilst Kyoto Sanga recorded a comfortable 2-0 home win over Roasso Kumamoto. This was vitally important as Matsumoto Yamaga kept the gap to Sanga to just 2 points after a 2-1 home win against Gainare Tottori as they leapt past Consadole Sapporo who drew 2-2 with Fagiano Okayama after conceding in stoppage time.
A disappointing result and the only thing in jeopardy now is the title. We will still be promoted.
Photo taken from J’s Goal. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.