After an awful September in the league which saw us lose top spot last time out, Gamba travel to Tochigi in search of 3 points on the road since our 7-1 win over Gainare Tottori in the middle of August whilst hosts Tochigi SC will have a packed Green Stadium, more commonly known as Utsunomiya, for this game which kicks-off at 13:00 local time.
The hosts come into this game having picked up 7 points from an available 9 after sacking former manager Hiroshi Matsuda after the club went through a rotten spell of picking up just one win and 10 points in 14 league games. He was replaced by Ikuo Matsumoto and his tenure has seen the club move back in the right direction although the play-offs are all but gone. Their last game ended in a 2-2 draw away to Matsumoto Yamaga FC. Tochigi are certainly back on the rise and will be a dangerous opponent.
As for Gamba, we lost 1-0 at home to Ehime FC and have looked out of sorts in recent times, not being able to kill games off as well as failing terribly in defensive situations, although for once it is not the centre backs… it is a small consolation when you notice that Vissel Kobe have cut down a 7 point lead to have their own 1 point lead at the top and with 7 games to go, we need to finish the job properly.
The meeting between Gamba and Tochigi earlier in the season was the first game of June and Gamba won that at a trot as Leandro netted either side of Hiroki Fujiharu’s first goal of the season in the perfect first half that saw us take a 3-0 and keep it until the end of the match. At that point, Tochigi was in the play-off places and it was an excellent result, especially having the first-ever partnering of Uchida and Okazaki in central midfield. Tochigi now sit in 12th place and will end the season thinking about what could have been.
Tochigi picked up their first home win in 9 matches in their last home match, which was an epic 7 goal thriller against Consadole Sapporo which saw the hosts edge the game 4-3 thanks to 5 minute of added time winner from Cristiano. Their problem is keeping clean sheets at home, as they last kept one against Avispa Fukuoka in the middle of June and have not beaten any of the current top 6 teams on their home turf.
Onto the team selections, starting with Tochigi SC. They will be without the banned Kazunori Kan after the midfielder picked up his 4th booking of the season last weekend. The hosts are also set to be without defender Hiroshi Nakano who has not featured since round 20 and midfielder Takumi Motohashi who picked up an injury against Consadole Sapporo in round 33. The hosts do have captain and talisman Paulinho back in midfield after 4 months on the side lines and he will certainly boost his side’s chances. The predicted starting eleven is to the side.
As for Gamba, a couple of players will return from injuries this weekend, with the most important being Shu Kurata. After injuring himself against Tokushima Vortis at the end of June, he has been patient and has finally reached some sort of fitness which will allow him to make the bench this weekend. What a relief! We have missed the fellow and his energy in the attacking areas. Another player we will need is Takahiro Futagawa, who missed out last weekend due to a slight injury but he is fine to travel to Tochigi and hopefully start on the left wing with Omori on the other. That was our biggest problem against Ehime, and this pairing of wingers is the best we have. Apart from those changes, I cannot see much happening, so my predicted started eleven is to the side.
Although I am a big fan of Tatsuya Uchida, I believe he could do a lot more for the team and is therefore my man to watch this weekend. Recently, he has been a bit negative in his play, not taking control of the game like he did away to Fagiano Okayama at the start of August. Many fans are calling for Konno to be moved back into midfield to take Uchida’s place. I have to disagree on that point but the fundamental issue is that he could play better. I want to see him grab the game by the scruff of the neck and push us towards victory. He needs to control Paulinho for Tochigi and stamp his authority on the midfield which will help us to win the match. If he does that, we have an excellent chance of getting the victory.
This game is not going to be easy at all and if anyone tells you any different, then they underestimate Tochigi. With the hosts in better form than they were under their former manager, it seems like they are improving slowly but surely and even though their chances to reach the play-offs are probably gone, they will no doubt give 110% in front of a packed stadium. I am sure we will be put under some tough periods but we need to show some character and get out of this rut. A draw might not be a bad result but the win would boost our confidence and push us forward once more. We have the quality but we need the right attitude to take all 3 points back to Banpaku. Who knows what will happen…
Photo taken from f.image.geki.jp. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.