We swiftly got over our first league defeat at home for over a year to V-Varen Nagasaki by dismantling Mito HollyHock at a slightly battered Banpaku as the raging typhoon that had cancelled one game did not quite have the same effect on the proceedings in Osaka. The crowd did get affected though as only 6,559 people braved the rain and wind to see us hold onto top spot and almost guarantee our top 2 finish.
Hasegawa made 3 changes to the starting eleven as the unsurprising changes of Omori and Okazaki dropping to the bench in place of Abe and Futagawa on the wings. I would have liked to have seen Omori given another chance but the depth we have is good enough to push him out of the line-up. The disappointing change was seeing Takaharu Nishino drop to the bench in place of Daiki Niwa. Nishino has been the strongest centre back we have used this season and why Konno was not dropped instead baffles me. National team member = invincible? I was hoping that Niwa would have a good game, however. On the bench, the slightly injured Myojin and Paulinho made way for Kenta Hoshihara and Shota Kawanishi. Oh Jae-Suk is injured so Hoshihara came in as the back-up side defender.
HollyHock kept their formation as their standard 3-4-2-1. With Yuto Suzuki and Tsukasa Ozawa injured, Mito were forced into two changes which saw Tomita come into the back three, allowing Ishigami to move into midfield as a wing-back. The other change was to bring in Yamamura as one of the support strikers to Takayuki Suzuki up front.
Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Niwa, Konno, Fujiharu, Uchida, Endo, Abe, Futagawa, Rocha, Usami.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Hoshihara, Nishino, Omori, Okazaki, Hirai, Kawanishi.
Mito HollyHock XI – Honma, Hosokawa, Tomita, Shinzato, Ishigami, Nishioka, Funatani, Wako, Hashimoto, Yamamura, Suzuki.
Mito HollyHock Subs – Kasahara, Omoto, Kigure, Shimada, Uchida, Namba, Mishima.
We tested the opposition first in the 5th minute with Fujiharu being allowed to cross towards the centre of the box, around 15 yards out, to Usami, but his header went straight at Honma. Abe then did the same thing just 6 minutes later, with Fujiharu again being the provider from the left. Although the first 10 minutes or so were comfortable, we did allow Mito a good chance in the 15th minute as Suzuki caused havoc on the left, came into the middle and crossed a ball over the top to Yamamura, who squared to a pass to Wako but his shot was saved low by Fujigaya, and very well indeed.
However, we soon lost Akira Kaji to a foot injury and he had to be replaced by Kenta Hoshihara in the 31st minute. I have come to understand that Kaji’s injury is not a serious one and he should be okay. To be honest, the next 20 minutes after the goal were pretty quiet and it was only when Hoshihara crossed neatly for Futagawa to kick the air after completely missing the ball did the game wake up. Mito spurned two good chances either side of added time as a cross from Suzuki from the right threatened the goal but Konno put off Funatani which allowed Fujigaya to pick up the ball. Konno has not been doing that for a while, so I was glad to see it. The second Mito chance fell to Yamamura who slashed a shot low and right at Fujigaya from 10 yards following a free kick from Hashimoto that evaded everyone at the near post. Poor defending but we got out of jail.
Only 5 minutes later, Mito were made to pay for that miss as Usami headed home from an Endo corner, which was won by Fujiharu and Abe combining down the left. Endo sent the corner towards the near post with Rocha being the target but the ball beat him and his marker, Usami’s marker but not Usami who headed in from 2 yards. Honma did not control his area but the set-piece was superb. What a beautiful assist from Endo. 20 minutes gone, and we were 1-0 up.
The first half ended with us in the lead and an impressive start wavered after the goal and we allowed Mito a step back into the match. The game was not full of action but you felt that if we stepped up the pace a bit more, we would win at a canter.
So we came out in the second half and made it 2-0 a little over 3 minute after the interval. After a bit of swift passing in the midfield, Uchida decisively found Abe in acres of space. He turned an attacked his marker who stood off him, allowing the lad to dummy onto his left foot after advancing to 20 yards before letting a beautiful shot curl into the bottom corner, giving the unsighted Honma no chance. An excellent individual goal after good midfield play, and surely it was now game over.
Uchida then tried to score himself but his touch let him down when he was through on goal but with Nishioka going off for Mito’s own Uchida and the ineffective and quiet Rocha going off for Kawanishi before the hour mark, we seemed to get back into the groove after a 15 minute period of nothingness.
Usami and Kawanishi both missed chances by firing past their near posts within 2 minutes of each other before the latter netted his second goal of the season in the 67th minute. The swift counter attack started with Abe winning the ball back just outside his own box with Endo playing a one-two with Futagawa after Kawanishi used his strength to keep the ball. Endo was freed down the right and sent a wonderful cross-field ball to Usami whose control was exceptional. He took it down, passed to Fujiharu on his outside who drilled a low cross to the back post for Kawanishi to slide home from 2 yards. Stunning goal, excellent attack and overall great desire and work ethic by the whole team.
Not much happened for the next 12 minutes until Usami scored again to make it 4-0. Endo with another excellent pass from midfield, this time to set Fujiharu away behind the Mito defence and he picked out Abe but his shot was blocked from 8 yards and looped into the air but Honma flapped at the ball, allowing Usami to pounce on it and poke it past the hopeless, hapless keeper. Terrible goalkeeping but excellent passing again by us.
Then the HollyHock defence decided to go to sleep and gift us our 5th goal in the 83rd minute, this time Futagawa finding the net. We pressed their defence high and forced them into a mistake, with Usami picking up the ball, passing to Endo who turned to his left to find Futagawa unmarked and the number 10 curled it into the far post from 18 yards with a clinical finish.
That was the game. Mito did not threaten at all in the second half and were extremely sloppy at the back. We were clinical with our finishing and controlled the game for its entirety. After losing our last league home match, it was a good way to bounce back, especially with the clean sheet, and Abe, Futagawa and Kawanishi all netted on the same night once more (previously in Gifu). Happy days.
Man of the Match:
There was only one man who could win this prestigious award and that man is Yasuhito Endo. Mito could not live with him in the midfield and they ultimately lost out from then on. Yatto was clinical when he needed to be, getting two assists as well as playing an important role in two of the other goals. He was simply untouchable and Mito had no clue as how to stop him. Even after having such a busy period of games, he has kept his level consistent and has shown that he is a good captain. We needed him to drag us forward after the defeat, and he did that extremely well. A 10/10 performance.
Where it leaves both teams:
We stay top of the pile and have now reached 70 points. We continue to keep the gap to Vissel Kobe to 2 points after they triumphed over V-Varen Nagasaki on the road with a 2-0 win which allowed Tokushima Vortis to slide into 3rd place despite drawing 2-2 against Montedio Yamagata after conceding a 90th minute equaliser. This makes the gap to Vortis 14 points for us which all but guarantees our return to J1. The other top 6 teams JEF and Kyoto battled it out in Chiba and it was the visitors Kyoto who took all 3 points in a 2-1 win which means that they sit in 6th with a 5 point gap to Matsumoto Yamaga, our next opponents.
As for Mito, their play-off hopes are all but gone as they now sit in 12th place and 10 points off Sanga and will be looking to finish as high as possible but with 9 games to play and 44 points on the board, it may just be a season of what could have been. With only Fagiano Okayama above them winning (except for the mentioned teams), they still have a chance to make 7th. A bad weekend in a sense but they still have a chance to improve their league standing.