We earned our first victory for over a month as a win inspired by our youth team graduates helped us along the way to a very much needed and well deserved victory over a Kataller Toyama side that did not show many qualities in either attack or defence. The match was watched by 9,286 people as we kept the pressure on at the top whilst securing our play-off place.
Ironically, there was just one change to the starting eleven that was defeat by Tochigi SC two weeks ago. Takaharu Nishino came in for Shota Kawanishi but this meant a hell of a lot of positional changes. Nishino came in at centre back which pushed Konno into his better central midfield position. This meant that Endo move forward and was the central support player to Usami, who became the main striker. Whilst Endo was the main support player, we formed up as a 4-2-3-1 rather than a 4-4-2.
As for Toyama, they made a total of 4 changes to the team that lost to Roasso Kumamoto in round 36. Out went defenders Yang and Uchida as well as midfielders Onishi and Kuniyoshi for Ikehata, Asuke, Funtasu and Seo. Their formation was also a very interesting 3-3-3-1 which meant that they were aiming to stay compact, although their formation was often a 3-5-2 or a 4-5-1 due to the amount of defending they had to do.
Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Niwa, Nishino, Fujiharu, Konno, Uchida, Omori, Kurata, Endo, Usami.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Hoshihara, Futagawa, Abe, Takei, Rocha, Hirai.
Kataller Toyama XI – Morita, Ikehata, Mikuriya, Asuke, Kim, Funatsu, Kimura, Kimoto, Shirasaki, Seo, Kokeguchi.
Kataller Toyama Subs – Iida, Hiraide, Yoshikawa, Yamamoto, Muramatsu, Mine, Nishikawa.
We thought we had taken the lead after just 5 minutes as Takaharu Nishino headed across goal from an Endo free kick with the ball being parried out for Niwa to slam home from a couple of yards, only for the flag to be raised for offside, and rightly so. And whilst we were holding onto the ball well and have a couple of crosses with Omori being involved in both, we could not quite make the breakthrough. When we did get in-behind the defence thanks to Fujiharu, crossing for Usami but the ball fell to Endo to net from a few yards, the flag once again when up for offside and this time wrongly in my opinion as the replay showed he was level.
It took either team until the 29th minute to show a threat and it was Shu Kurata who found the back of the net on his return home after injury after Usami tried to flick back to Omori after he burst into the box but his marker flicked it away yet only into the path of Kurata who took a touch before firing home past Morita to give us a deserved lead after a good 30 minutes of football by us. I, being a massive fan of Kurata, was rather delighted to see him score.
Yet Konno and Endo had other ideas and allowed Toyama to nick an unexpected equaliser through Shirasaki. After Uchida played a simple pass forward to Endo, he stupidly sent a looped pass backwards to Konno after he was put under pressure. Konno was caught out by the fact that the pass was going upwards and backwards and let it bounce behind him, ridiculously believing that Nishino would be waiting with open arms for the pass that he should have dealt with. This confusion allowed Shirasaki to steal the ball and, despite Nishino’s best efforts, he smashed home from 6 yards at the near post as Fujigaya should also have done better. Another error, another goal conceded.
Nishino was determined to right the wrong of his colleagues before half time and did so beautifully. After reading the play well and intercepting a Toyama pass just our inside the attacking half, he passed to Kurata who send the ball out wide to Omori. He waited for Kaji to overlap before passing it to him to fire a first-time cross into the middle and Nishino rose the highest to head the ball into the back of the net from 5 yards. Just excellent by the youngster to make the goal and finish it off at ease but even better was we went in at half time 2-1 up with that 44th minute bullet.
The second half started with Toyama kicking-off and almost scoring within 30 seconds as Kokeguchi got free but Fujigaya sent him wide and forced him to shoot straight at him. Whilst Toyama had a couple of minutes where they were in control, they were never really threatening after that chance and Usami should have made Kokeguchi pay for that miss as he headed over from 6 yards following a cross from the right by Endo – he really should have scored. 6 minutes later and just after the hour mark he spurned a chance once more as Kurata danced into the penalty area, drawing the defenders to him, which allowed him to slip the ball to Usami but he could only curl his shot within reach of the diving Morita.
It was third time lucky for the 21 year old as he put the game to bed in the 65th minute. Niwa played a simple pass out of defence to Uchida who found himself in acres of space in the centre of midfield. Usami was already on his way before Uchida slid a pass down the side of the centre-back for Usami to run onto. He still had a lot to do as he turned towards goal but even from his acute angle, he still managed to fire home at the near post, although Morita should have done better.
Not much happened really in the next 15 minute as both sides made 2 changes each. For Kataller, Ikehata and Kokeguchi were withdrawn for Nishikawa and Yamamoto, whilst Kurata and Usami were given well-earned breaks for Futagawa and Hirai. Omori had 2 golden chances in 5 minutes to get his first ever goal, firstly cutting in onto his left foot and curling one to the side of Morita who just got a touch on it to force it wide, whilst the second chance was a free header which he inexplicably sent wide from a Kaji cross. Mine came on for Kimura for the visitors who had the final 3 chances of the game through Yamamoto, said Mine and Kim but Fujigaya was up to the challenges they presented.
So it was by no means a classic victory but a victory it was and a deserved one at that. We just needed to get back on track and did it quite comfortably in the end. We took all of our goals well and on another day, we would have had 5 or 6 but that can wait for our next match, right? Toyama deserved to get nothing out of the game and the silly goal we gave away was as good as they were going to get. Let’s keep going, Gamba! (Minus the mistakes, of course)!
Man of the Match:
Whilst some people will say it was his fault for the goal, Takaharu Nishino definitely underlined why I love him so much and why he always deserves a spot in the team. I completely disagree with those people who say Nishino was at fault for the goal but even if it was his fault (which it was not), he showed excellent character to step forward and get us back on track by starting and ending the move for the 2nd goal. His partnership with Niwa gives me more confidence in the defence as they seem to have a good understanding which is good to see. The pair of them limited to Toyama to less than half-chances and have been convincing in past games when they have started together. It was good to see Nishino make an effective return in the league.
Where it leaves both teams:
As Vissel Kobe absolute trounced play-off hopefuls Matsumoto Yamaga FC 7-0 at home, they stay top by their previous 1 point lead. We stay in 2nd on 74 points, 8 points ahead of Kyoto Sanga in 3rd after they did Toyama a favour by coming back from 2 goals down to beat 9-man Gunma 3-2. JEF United jumped back into 4th place after thumping Roasso Kumamoto 6-0 at home whilst Tokushima Vortis were their victims as they lost 1-0 to Yokohama FC – the losers there will be our next opponent. V-Varen Nagasaki beat 21st place FC Gifu 3-0 to make a 6 point gap to 7th place as they edge to securing their play-off spot. The other key fixture of note for Toyama was bottom-placed Gainare Tottori picking up a point and a 1-1 result against Avispa Fukuoka, the latter’s future in the league remains in doubt.
Photo taken from J’s Goal. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.