We return to good old Banpaku after a weekend away in Yamaga that saw us drop 2 points and give up our lead on points at the top of the table although we still sit top of the pile as we welcome Ehime FC to Banpaku for the first time ever in this 18:00 local time kick off.
We come into this match having let a dominating performance against Matsumoto Yamaga FC be ruined by defensive and goalkeeping failures that forced us to take just 1 point in the 2-2 draw against the 10 men of Yamaga. This allowed Vissel Kobe to sneak onto the same number of points as us but they remain in 2nd on goal difference.
Our visitors, Ehime FC, come into this game on the back of a 1-0 home defeat at the hands of Yokohama FC on Monday, with the only goal coming from ex-Gamba man Shinichi Terada who bought his ticket and won the lottery by netting from 25 yards or so thanks to awful goalkeeping by the “new Fujigaya” Yota Akimoto, who has only made silly mistakes when I have watched Ehime.
It was a goalkeeping error on his part in the reverse fixture that won us the game in a scrappy 2-1 win at the Ninjineer Stadium back at the end of May, with Yasuhito Endo netting the winner direct from a corner with Akimoto’s “goalkeeping” leaving plenty to be desired. That goal and win put us in top spot for the first time this season and we have been there ever since. It would be ironic if Ehime knocked us from that spot after aiding us in getting there in the first place.
The visitors from Shikoku have not been in any sort of good form all season which accounts for their current standing of 17th place. In their last 5, they have won just once and have drew 2, losing 2. They have kept 2 clean sheets in that time but have also failed to score in two of those games, never scoring more than 1 goal in any of these 5 games in what was a run of games against teams in their part of the table. They have difficult games to come and could easily be the outsiders for the drop. They have won just 3 away games all season, taking just 12 points on the road. You cannot really see them adding to that total because they are a team that likes to profligate, scoring from just 6.4% of all their shots this season.
The team selections for both teams will be interesting. Starting with Gamba, I have been told that both Uchida and Futagawa have had knocks this week but the former should be fine. I am not so sure about Futagawa, and I think that Abe was terrible last weekend and so I would like to see Omori and Okazaki back on the wings once more if Futagawa is not fit. I do not think there will be any other changes to the team unless Uchida does not make it. Myojin is not far away from a return, neither is Shu Kurata who might hope to make the bench this weekend. Paulinho could get the nod to start if both Uchida and Futagawa are not fit, but with the news I have, I had made a wobbly prediction for the starting eleven which you can see to the side.
Ehime will be without midfielder Kazuhisa Kawahara through suspension after he picked up his 4th booking of the season. This only adds to their midfielder shortage as Tomic, Shuichi Akai and Yuta Ito are all forecast to miss out. Defender Han Hee-Hoon and striker Kengo Ishii add to the list of players who will not make the match for Ehime. The visitors will be forced into some changes but should keep their 3-4-2-1 formation, so you can see their predicted starting eleven to the side.
We have been leaking goals for fun in recent times and the exclusion of Takaharu Nishino is baffling to say the least. So I will be looking for a strong performance by Daiki Niwa this weekend to prove to me that he has got what it takes to keep Nishino out of the starting line-up. I have a self-confessed dislike of all of our centre-backs except for Nishino and the Niwa-Konno relationship is one not for the fainthearted. In the last two matches though, Niwa has not been under pressure much and has not been at fault for any of the goals we have conceded and that is all good and fine when the team is comfortable but when the team is not, then you start to worry. I would really like to see him prove that he deserves to be in the team and that he can be part of a functional centre-back partnership with Konno. He might not be busy this weekend either, but that does not mean silly mistakes cannot occur. Let’s hope he can be solid (or not, I do not mind seeing Nishino back).
This game cannot be anything but a Gamba win. We have won 4 of our last 5 home matches and seem to be well over the period where we could not buy a win or get a streak going at home. Ehime are downright terrible away from home and could be in for a result akin to our home win over Mito HollyHock home from two weeks ago for us. Their only hope is to defend well and take a chance when it comes, which they are not particularly good at doing. If this is not a Gamba win, you can be sure that Ehime will make some news and probably knock us off top spot. I cannot see that happening though.