With promotion sealed, clinching the J2 title is next on our check-list as we head slightly north-east to participate in the final derby match of the season, travelling to Nishikyogoku to take on 3rd placed Kyoto Sanga at 13:00 local time. A win here would very much clinch the title for us given our final two games. There is more than local pride at stake for this one.
Kyoto come into this match on the back of a hard-fought 0-0 draw against Vissel Kobe on the road last week, with that result allowing us to clinch our promotion. Chances were few and far between for either side although both had decent chances to steal all three points. That draw ended Sanga’s 7 match winning streak, but we will get onto that later.
Although that result went our way later in the day, we still had to put in a good performance and an excellent one it was as we completely annihilated Roasso Kumamoto 4-0 at Banpaku, although double figures would still not have been justice on the score line. Endo, Niwa, Usami and the returning Sato netted one each and aided us to our first clean sheet since our 5-0 pummelling of Mito HollyHock.
The fixture between these two sides in the very first round of games this season ended in a thrilling 3-3 draw which Gamba were lucky to get anything from. Jun Ando volleyed the visitors ahead but a quick double by Abe and then Leandro from the spot turned the score around in the second-half. Sanga bit back with Yamase and thought they had won it in the 90th minute when Kubo found his way past the defence at ease. We were not to be denied as former-Sanga man Paulinho came off the bench to win us a penalty and get Bajalica sent-off, allowing Endo to tie the game with practically the last kick of the match from the spot.
Kyoto are unbeaten in 9 games with that run having 7 wins in a row rounded-off at either end with draws. The have kept 5 clean sheets in that time and have risen to 3rd in the table with their place in the play-offs practically sealed. Their last defeat was at home, a 4-2 reverse to Fagiano Okayama back on the 21st August. Their other home wins are not against exceptional teams, having only played and beaten V-Varen Nagasaki of note in their last 4 at home. Actually, beating Nagasaki 2-0 and Kobe 4-1 at home have been the only notable victories in front of their home crowd. Something we can at least take positives from.
More positive news is that two of their better players will not be available tomorrow. Captain Jun Ando has not played since round 36 and the defender looks set to miss out on this one too. Much more interesting for Gamba fans is the unavailability of Shigeru Yokotani. The midfielder is on-loan from us and obviously cannot play against us; he has been the shining star in Sanga’s team this season, netting 10 goals from midfield, 7 of those coming in the last 9 matches he has played in. This purple patch has pushed his side up the table and he is going to be a massive loss for them on Sunday. Great news for us, and you can see Sanga’s predicted starting eleven to the side.
As for Gamba, not much has changed in terms of injuries. Kotaro Omori’s injury is probably not serious but he might miss out this week whilst Paulinho and Iwashita both got time in the training match on Monday so are edging back into the fold, albeit too late. I cannot see us changing the starting eleven that beat Roasso unless we have injuries that have not been reported, so you can see the predicted starting eleven to the side.
Yosuke Fujigaya has been getting a lot of stick recently from fans (me?) and will have to be at his best this weekend to help us win the game. At the start of the season against Sanga, he was our man of the match and seemed to be getting to a confident, mistake-less level of performances. Yet since our match against Matsumoto Yamaga FC, he has been the proverbial shaky leaf of last year. He is not inspiring much confidence and with rumours of us being in the market for a new goalkeeper or two, he will have to be on his best form to even have a sniff of shaking those rumours away. He needs to be strong this weekend and have confidence. Hopefully he will not let us down, otherwise the title could slip away.
This game is going to be difficult, even with Sanga missing two of their main men. We really need to take control of the game and learn from our match against them at the start of the year. We need to pressurise and harry them when they have the ball whilst being the silky smooth team that we have been of recent weeks when we have possession. If we win this, we are almost guaranteed the title given the two matches we have left. So give us one more excellent performance Gamba, and show Kyoto their place!
Photo taken from J’s Goal. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.