OPINION – Being patient, understanding and realistic

March ended on a sour note for Gamba as we slumped to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Sagan Tosu. Whilst we showed good signs in the game, we did not get the points we would have wanted and maybe on another day would have collected. Yet the reaction from some fans was incredulous and downright ridiculous. Having gone from a respectable draw against current J1 champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima which should have been a win to a tough defeat to Tosu, fans have gone from positivity to complete negativity in the space of a week. With some fans berating the manager, demanding Gamba’s well-known style of football of the all-out attack style and slating players for having a bad game and the thoughts turning to a relegation battle already, I wanted to have my say on a whole bunch of things. The title speaks for itself if you wish to read no further as this piece is pretty long, but my thoughts are interesting, if I do say so myself.

So let’s start with how March went. Out of 6 games in all competitions, we were equal in all in terms of wins, draws and losses. In the league, we took 5 points from the 5 games in a difficult-looking start to the season and we ended the month in 14th place. To be honest, things could have been worse à la 2012 season. Even years when Gamba have finished high in the table, we have had similar starts to the season. Given that we played 2 teams difficult to beat be it home or away at Banpaku and then the away trips were against recent difficult teams to face at their own ground, 5 points is a respectable haul with some encouraging signs in terms of growth in the team.

Now if we compare out points against that of 2012 against the same teams with the same home/away fixture, this is what we get:

  •   Urawa (H) – 2012, 1-2 Loss; 2014, 0-1 Loss (no change)
  •   Niigata (A) – 2012, 1-1 Draw; 2014, 2-0 Win (+2 points)
  •   Sendai (A) – 2012, 2-2 Loss; 2014, 0-0 Draw (+1 point)
  •   Hiroshima (H) – 2012, 1-1 Draw; 2014, 1-1 Draw (no change)
  •   Tosu (A) – 2012, 4-1 Loss; 2014, 2-0 Loss (no change)

That is a total of 3 extra points over the same fixtures against the same sides. If this is a step backwards then I quit football. We did not help ourselves against Sendai or Tosu where we should have had maybe 3 more points given the way we played/should have played whilst we were robbed of all 3 points against Sanfrecce thanks to a dive to win a penalty. All in all though, 5 points is rather decent all things considered and I would have taken that at the start of the year, being realistic with the fact that 2014 was not going to be one where the team strolled back into the league and did a Kashiwa of 2011.

The fans on the other hand expected Gamba to be back to the top of the league and fighting for it at the start of the season. Firstly, you can blame the club, manager and players for this – the points target that was announced before the season started, a whopping 70 in all, was ridiculous, unrealistic and only helped to fuel the fans’ expectations and put the players under unnecessary pressure. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Gamba need the financial gains of the ACL and a top 4 finish to keep sponsors with the club because a drop back to J2 would dent all the hard work of the last year but that does not mean you need to try and achieve something that is impossible. Even in the J.League where anything and almost everything is possible, Gamba getting 70 points is about as likely as Kamatamare Sanuki winning J2 this season.

Furthermore, people fail to recognise that even though the manager, Kenta Hasegawa, has put himself under pressure to succeed, we only have to look at the squad to see why we will not do as well as he hopes and in order to effectively analyse this, I have to bring up another complaint made by Japanese fans after the Tosu game – the attacking football that Gamba fans got used to during the decade Akira Nishino was in charge of the team until the end of 2011.

Fans have to understand that a new manager will have his own style of football and with Kenta Hasegawa, this is very evident. Compared to the “old” Gamba, this current team is a bit more controlled with how it plays football. The start of the season has shown this, with 2 clean sheets but 3 shut-outs against us, with us scoring just 3 goals in 5 league games and conceding 4 – the stronger defence will help us when we are not playing so well to scrap out points (i.e. the Vegalta Sendai game this season). This can of course be attributed to the lack of the injured Takashi Usami, but people expecting Sato and Lins to carry that burden are completely insane. The reason for this is simple. Sato was injured for a year and has only started a handful of games since his return – it will take him time to get back to his top level. And even if he did, he is not a player who will score for fun as well as only having a year of experience in J1. Lins on the other hand is brand new to the league and the team and whilst he may have come from Brazil with high expectations on his shoulders, it takes foreigners time to get used to the country, the language, the team etc. He has shown some great performances but we will be seeing the best of Lins next year – getting to double figures would be an achievement this year. Naoki Ogawa has just been promoted from the youth team and is more an attacking midfielder than a striker so what can you expect? We can blame the manager for getting rid of the likes of Paulinho, Rocha and Hirai at the end of last year but he made his choices and will stick by them. With basically a new front line that has hardly worked with each other before, the lack of goals is somewhat understandable. Even when Usami comes back next month, by the time he gets up to speed, the World Cup break will be upon us. We do need a bit of his magic but we cannot rely fully upon him. For the time being, Hasegawa needs to pick his preferred partnership up front and stick with it.

Then you look at the number of players who were with Gamba in 2011 when this “Gamba style” was still in effect. 11 in total, and Endo, Futagawa, Usami (for half the year), Myojin and Kaji can be said to have been regulars that year. Kim, Fujiharu, Kawata, Kimura, Uchida and Omori were hardly used and therefore the team is not the same as it was back then. You can even argue that half of the players from this year’s squad are in their first proper season in J1 (not being regulars in previous J1 seasons) and even then some of them will still not be regulars. We lack a lot of J1 experience in the side, particularly in terms of depth with a bunch of young promising players in the squad and the experience this year will be tough but can only make them stronger. Sure the first team is full of J1 experienced players but dig deeper and that really is not the case. Kenta Hasegawa is making his own team and probably still does not know what his best eleven is, as shown by the changes he makes every game, so he needs time to work that out – we need to give him that time and be patient.

Of course we can blame the manager for getting rid of a fair share of players with J1 experience, the likes of Takei, Hirai, Fujigaya etc. come to mind, but the positive thing is the youth system being used. Giving 17 year-old Yosuke Ideguchi his professional contract a month into the season, as well as bringing in Yuto Uchida and Naoki Ogawa at the start of season, shows that the manager is willing to give youngsters a chance to learn if not play in the first team yet. Whilst Takaharu Nishino has had to bide his time on the bench, Tatsuya Uchida has started 3 of the 6 games so far whilst Omori has shown that he does have what it takes to become a regular starter. This takes time. Time is what is needed. Hasegawa got it wrong to put pressure of the team because his actions with the team show that we are a squad in progress.

One of the big problems I have with the fans from the weekend was being critical of players like Oh Jae-Suk and Tatsuya Uchida. Let’s start with the latter, who came on for Myojin just after the hour and he came on as Hasegawa wanted to regain control of the midfield  and get attacks going, which is what Uchida should be aspiring and be able to do. This was a positive change but fans slagged off the move because Myojin was doing okay. The manager was trying to improve the game in our favour and if we had not lost and had gone on to get a point or three, nobody would have complained. Football is fickle, but I can kind of understand their point – bringing on Futagawa or Kurata and putting Endo in midfield might have been better, but giving a young player a chance shows that the manager has confidence in that player. What I do not understand at all is the criticism thrown at Oh Jae-Suk. For God sake, it was his first ever start in J1 and everyone was expecting him to be as good as Kaji or Yonekura despite the fact that he is blatantly 3rd choice and only came in because the two were injured. He did not even have a bad game but someone had to be a scapegoat and you cannot slate a loved player like Iwashita, can you? Who was at fault for the first goal, by the way. You have to give such players, like Uchida, Omori, Nishino, a chance and take their performances with a pinch of salt. When they play well say “good job”, when they played badly say “he will learn from this”, because they undoubtedly will. To be honest I am surprised Oh Jae-Suk is still around but he played all right on the weekend – if he keeps getting chances, he will show why Hasegawa brought him in in the first place. Support the lad and let him play the football that he has been dying to show since he bloody turned up!

The lack of patience by some fans in shocking. Blame Hasegawa for the points total target, blame him for not bringing in an experienced replacement for Usami, blame him for the lack of goals but stick with the manager. Anyone can tell you we are not as strong as everyone thinks and that is clear enough but to believe we are going to be in a relegation battle after one month is pushing it considering the fixtures we have had and the good signs we are showing. The games against teams at our level like FC Tokyo, Shimizu S-Pulse etc. will be what put us in such a position or not. The first 7 fixtures were as hard as they could get really, so 5 points from 5 games is fine. Getting some overall better performances would be nice and consistency with the team selection is important, but we have not been that bad.

What we have to do now is stop all this complaining, be realistic, patient and support the team and the manager, letting go of all this nostalgic crap from 2011 and before. This is not the same Gamba Osaka. This is a weaker, younger and much more fragile team. I believe that the manager will get it right in the end and I do not believe we will get relegated. Sure we might struggle for a bit but things do look good – especially in goal, where Higashiguchi has been immense. He will be a big difference for sure. I believe the team will go in the right direction and all these players without J1 experience are going to face good and bad times but the team will be better next year. You just have to buckle up for those difficult times and enjoy the good times. Start judging the team when we hit the World Cup break and how we start after it. It is the club’s fault so many fans are expecting big things but the fans should know their team and its weaknesses if they are true supporters. I am not worried, I am just annoyed with how blind and ignorant fans are. Maybe this piece will clear your mind a bit and focus you to the right level instead of passing the season with rose coloured glasses. Nobody said J1 was going to be easy but the fans can make it easier but just being supportive and looking at the good things for once – leave the bad things to the manager, who is only trying to do the best he can.

Have faith, trust the team, believe in the players and enjoy everything they give us.

WE ARE GAMBA OSAKA!

Yosuke Ideguchi signs a professional contract

Highly-rated 17 year-old midfielder Yosuke Ideguchi has signed a professional contract with Gamba and will therefore be promoted from the youth team that has churned out the likes of Takahiro Futagawa, Takashi Usami, Shu Kurata and the recent pairing of Yuto Uchida and Naoki Ogawa.

It comes as little surprise that the team has decided to do this as Ideguchi has been training with the top team since he turned 17 last year towards the end of the J2 season. He also took part in the training camps in Okinawa and Miyazaki in preparation for the 2014 season and will have no worries in fitting right into the team.

Ideguchi is widely regarded as a future start and the midfielder is known for his good balance between attack and defence as well as being good on the ball whilst still having a very good physical side to his game. He will take the number 26 uniform that was vacated by Takaharu Nishino after he took number 3 at the start of the season.

I doubt that Ideguchi will be getting many games this year but you never know. I am looking forward to seeing him make his pro-debut and that will be sooner rather than later, particularly having made the bench for the Nabisco Cup tie against Vissel Kobe earlier in the month.

Good luck to Yosuke! I doubt he will need it though!

Photo taken from Gamba Osaka’s Official Site. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.

NEW STADIUM: Donation Period Extended

With the period for donations for the new stadium ending on 14th March, we thought that was it regarding the new stadium coming Gamba’s way but the Osaka Regional Taxation Bureau has accepted the club’s wish to extend the deadline in order to get the remaining money for the full specification stadium.

New Stadium Complete SpecsThis comes as a welcome piece of news as the club can almost certainly attain the remaining ¥1,070,413,715 in order to achieve the complete Field of Smile. This will be the third period of donations and will run from 1st April 2014 until 31st December 2014, giving the club a full 9 months to reach the ¥14 billion mark, which we are already 13/14 of the way to achieving. The club will be offering tours of the stadium whilst it is under construction as well as giving details about other events in the future.

Here is the kind of stadium we will get at various donation interval:

¥13 billion – 40,000 all-seater capacity, grass field, roof and electricity.
¥13.5 billion – All the above plus solar panels and an in-stadium screen.
¥14 billion – All the above with one additional TV screen and a VIP area.

After much slipping and sliding, it looks as though the desired stadium specification set will be achieved. The sooner the money is received the better so that the construction can move on quicker. I wish I could donate more money myself but am afraid I might have to leave it into the hands of others. Nonetheless, I am looking forward to supporting my team in such a beautiful stadium.

For more information on these designs and additional features, please check the official site’s own press release (Japanese).

Match Report – 29/03/2014 – J1: Match Day 5 – Sagan Tosu 2-0 Gamba Osaka

Tosu was a wet and horrible place on Saturday night as Gamba slumped to our second defeat of the season, going down 2-0 to hosts Sagan Tosu. It was probably a result that we did not fully deserve but defensive lapses and a bit of impotence up front cut us short of taking at least a point back to Osaka. The majority of the 12,115 rain-drenched fans went home happy.

Kenta Hasegawa made two changes to the side that started against Sanfrecce Hiroshima last weekend. In came Oh Jae-Suk For Akira Kaji at right-back, with him not even on the bench whilst just before kick-off we discovered that Koki Yonekura will be out injured for around 8 weeks with right knee ligament damage – Oh’s first appearance in J1. Going forward, Sato came into the starting eleven in place of Shu Kurata who has seemed a little off this season. This sent Lins out to the left and Endo behind Sato, although the former sometimes made it a 3-man midfield. Places on the bench came for Kim Jung-Ya against the team he was loaned to last season.

First Half
AWAY v Sagan TosuGamba started beautifully and continued to do so as we dominated the first half. Niwa had the first chance but headed into the side-netting from a corner whilst Sato almost got through on goal a minute later but his heavy touch let him down. 5 minutes later, Lins barrelled an effort on goal with his left foot following a corner which Hayashi had to push over. Shortly after, the joke performance of the referee Junpei Iida started as he was giving Sagan free kicks for nothing and not awarding us free kicks in spite of similar fouls.

Sagan’s first chance came from a free kick that should never have been which they duly moved 10 yards back to get good distance from goal but the effort was still sent wide of the post. The next 10 minutes were fairly uneventful and we held onto possession well before Endo turned on the style to split the defence open for Fujiharu but his cross was blocked. Lins was looking bubbly throughout the half but we were unable to break the deadlock before half time.

It was a great half with just rewards for our play. Sagan did not seem like much of a threat but the referee did. Yet would our impotence from the other league games thus far come back and haunt us was the question?

Second Half
Niwa started the half wobbly as he got himself caught on the ball as the last man and managed to sneak it away to the opposition who worked the ball left and just missed the far post with a shot across goal. Iwashita was then booked for handball and the following free kick hit the wall but a stunning double save from Masaaki Higashiguchi five minutes later kept us level. Niwa got caught out by a simple ball from the middle of the park and his marker headed across goal with the goal begging but his low header was well saved by our keeper, pushed onto another Sagan attacker who dived in for the first cross and he saved it again on the line. Terrific goalkeeper!

FutagawaEx-Gamba man Yasuda then forced Higashiguchi into a low save at his near post whilst Myojin was withdrawn for Uchida as Gamba looked lost in the second half – a complete transformation. Higashiguchi got booked for something and then had to pick the ball out of his net as a long ball from the right wing near the half-way line managed to find Toyoda completely unmarked although surrounded by 4 players – Iwashita looked the guilty party as he flailed to get back at him.

Niwa was pulled out for Futagawa as Konno dropped back to defence and Endo to partner Uchida in the middle. We were almost level minutes later as the sub slid a ball through for Lins who drilled across goal but also centimetres past the far post with Sato not quite quick enough to get there. Futagawa gave the ball away, Sagan attacked down their right and cross for Kim to poke in ahead of the covering Oh with Konno nowhere to be seen.

The game was not done though as Konno had a clear header in the 90th minute pushed away superbly by Hayashi in goal – the defender should have done better – whilst Lins went solo and crashed a beautiful efort off the cross bar in what would have been a deserved goal for him and the team.

Gamba Man of the Match
I think Lins was our best player today. He was bubbly and sharp and was always looking for go forward even if that meant going by himself. He had a handful of superb efforts on goal that on another day would have given him a goal or two but right until the end, he was positive. He is starting to grow into this team and the sooner he starts scoring the goals regularly the better. I was really pleased with his performance and never give up attitude in such tough conditions and with another crap referee. I am expecting big things from this man and he will come good soon I am sure.

Table Standing
Gamba slip to 14th in the table after the first month of the league season. But what do people expect, for us to be in the top 4? Yes actually people do which is baffling and annoying, but 14th is probably not where we deserve to be going on performances (I would say at least 3 points more would be about right) but when you cannot score, you must not concede and today we did not do that. It looks like it will be another tough year at this point but the season is on

Photo taken from Gamba Osaka’s Official Site. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.

Match Preview – 29/03/2014 – J1: Match Day 5 – Sagan Tosu v Gamba Osaka

The first and only trip of the season to Kyushu in the league sees Gamba take on Sagan Tosu in the late game, the kick-off time being 19:00 JST at the Best Amenity Stadium. Both sides sit in mid-table in this game following the opening 4 fixtures in the league and this, on paper at least, looks like a really balanced game.

Sagan have a balanced set of results after their opening fixtures, winning their first two and then losing the next two. Their home record is split for a win and a loss, first battering new boys Tokushima Vortis 5-0 but then getting schooled by early leaders Kashima Antlers by a scoreline of 3-0.

Gamba have lost the two meetings between the two sides in the league to date, somehow turning a 2-0 lead after an hour into a 3-2 defeat in the home game at Banpaku, followed by a 4-1 drubbing at the Best Amenity Stadium later on in the season. That home defeat could have been the difference between survival and the actual relegation we got.

There seems to be no new updates on any of the injured guys but at least Usami is getting his fitness back slowly and surely. Okazaki will be getting back later than Usami. There have been no new injuries to report, so all is good on that front.

AWAY v Sagan TosuKenta Hasegawa has been quoted in saying that he would like to use Sato as his main striker with Lins and Endo behind him, as well as Shu Kurata or Hiroyuki Abe. I like the fact that the manager wants to be positive and give the team an attacking boost that we have been missing thus far. My starting eleven would see Shu Kurata drop out for Akihiro Sato to give us a bit more of a constant threat going forward – Shu has also not been at his best yet and Abe has been excellent in the last two games. It is a shame for Kurata but if the manager will go with Sato up front, then I can only see Abe being the third player in-behind the forward. The rest of the team should stay the same.

I will expect us to take at least a point away from Tosu and I would be fairly happy with that. Yet it would do us a world of good to get the balance of the team right sooner rather than later, meaning more goals and more of the same at the back. I think we are more than capable of taking Tosu down with recent signs suggesting that we are slowly but surely getting it right. Lins and Abe will need to shoot a lot more on target than they have been but the use of Sato and Lins, coupled with the energy of Abe and skill of Endo should see us get our fair share of chances. Keeping it tight at the back against Yohei Toyoda and stopping crosses getting into the box will be vital. Iwashita will need to lead as superbly as he has been in recent times.

Match Report – 23/03/2014 – J1: Match Day 4 – Gamba Osaka 1-1 Sanfrecce Hiroshima

In front of a strong crowd of 18,301, Gamba did not disappoint and were rather marvellous as we attained a draw against current J1 champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima at Banpaku. To say we will feel disappointed by some diving and poor refereeing that cost us a deserved win is an understatement as we were superb. But we will get onto that later.

There were a few changes from the last league game following some impressive performances in the Nabisco Cup as well as a few returns from injury. In defence, Kaji and Fujiharu returned to the starting eleven after being rested in midweek meaning Yonekura dropped to the bench whilst Oh Jae-Suk dropped from the team. Iwashita returned from a small injury to re-partner Niwa at centre-half, pushing Nishino to the bench. In midfield, Myojin retained his place in centre-midfield meaning Uchida stayed on the bench whilst Kurata took the place of Futagawa. Abe kept his spot on the opposite wing following a good showing against Vissel. This meant that the front two was a never-before-seen pairing of Endo and Lins, the latter taking over from Sato and getting his first league start for Gamba. Kawata and Omori took the final two spots on the bench.

HOME v Sanfrecce HiroshimaFirst Half
The first 20 minutes or so of the game was fairly even although we shaded it on chances created. Sanfrecce were allowed to have the ball in defence but as soon as they got into midfield, we pressed them hard and they did not seem to have much of a threat – like the whole game really. The first decent chance came for Abe after Endo pinged a pass into his path but under pressure, he fired high and wide via a deflection. The resulting corner allowed Sanfrecce to break away following a poor pass Iwashita but we got back in numbers well and Takahagi fired comfortably over the bar.

25 minutes into the game and Endo made it 1-0 to us. Kaji spotted Abe losing his marker (superbly I will add) and he played a ball over the top for the winger to get onto the end of and in the box he squared to the captain who wonderfully curled home at the near post – which seemed near impossible to do. Smart would describe that goal but all three players involved and it was nothing more than we deserved.

The next 15 minutes was a continuation of the sparing match before the goal and we looked comfortable, no doubt thanks to Iwashita getting his head on every cross that came into the box – he was rock solid. Our hard work was shining through and it was very pleasing considering the Sendai performance the weekend before. We could have made it 2-0 in the 43rd minute through Lins following a cross from Konno that hit the defender and came out to the Brazilian but his effort from 6 yards took a decisive deflection that unfortunately took it away from goal. Nonetheless, it was a brilliant first half – 2-0 would not have flattered us at all.

Second Half
After the interval, the game continued at its first half pace with Gamba creating the best opportunities although nothing really threatened the goal of Takuto Hayashi. As I was starting to think that a second goal was going to be crucial, the referee gave a penalty to Sanfrecce and it was a terrible call. The ball came out the air and Ishihara took the ball past Niwa who had raised a foot but not at Ishihara, who opportunistically went past that leg and decided to run into Niwa’s back leg – if at all touching it – and then fallingg over. He convinced the referee and nobody else. Hisato Sato put the resulting terribleness just beyond Higashiguchi’s left hand to unjustly make it 1-1. So angry!

Then the side that people do not see of Sanfrecce came out. Ishihara threw an elbow at Kurata but got Shu booked whilst Notsuda took a dive in the penalty area but this time the referee got it right and booked him. Kaji, Kurata and Myojin were all exchanged for Yonekura, Futagawa and Sato with 15-20 minutes remaining and it was Futagawa who was looking to get the match back in our favour once more. First he sent a teasing cross towards Sato who was just beaten to the cross by his marker denying a certain goal whilst Abe crossed for our number 10 a few minutes later who lost his marker but from 6 yards out was quickly charged down by Hayashi who stopped an inevitable goal. Fujiharu then whipped in a cross which was somehow put over the bar from a couple of yards by a defender whilst Sato picked up his first booking for pulling.

Hiroyuki AbeThe game ended that way and it was a really disappointing result in the end, and not because we had shot ourselves in the foot. We were excellent and I was really proud with the way we played – we defended astutely and were an attacking threat and Sanfrecce will count themselves fortunate to leave with a point. I am very displeased with the manner in which they got that point. Our effort and all-round brilliant performance was ruined by someone who wanted to fool the referee, and he succeeded. However, I would have loved a point before the game so I cannot to be too upset about it but on another day we would have deservedly taken all 3 points. Such a shame, but well done Gamba Osaka! More of the same please!

Gamba Man of the Match
There are a couple of candidates for me. I think the runners-up today were Myojin and Konno. They were our solid foundation to build upon and they seemed to give us a good balance in midfield. Konno in particular was given freedom to go forward when necessary and he got in the tackles and made some good chances. I see Myojin starting ahead of Uchida as long as he keeps up his level of performance. Yet, Hiroyuki Abe stole the show for me. He had a tough 2013 due to injuries but is a talent and a great all-rounder and showed that today. He worked hard in defence and supported Kaji well there but also had confidence going forward, assisting Endo brilliantly for our goal and not being afraid to take a shot – something we have been lacking in recent times. If he continues like this, we will be seeing the Abe we all know is there. It would be nice for him to be more clinical going forward but he was a true asset today. Excellent work by the whole team though, against the best in the land for the past two years!

Table Standing
Despite this excellent point, which should have been 3, we slip down to 11th place in the standings. Although given our tough start I think we are holding our own very well thus far and I would have expected us to be at 5 points after these games so I am not disappointed. We need to just keep plugging away but I can already see at least 4 teams worse than us in the league – so there is no reason to worry, we have done well so far!

Photo taken from Gamba Osaka’s Official Site. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.

Match Preview – 23/03/2014 – J1: Match Day 4 – Gamba Osaka v Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Yet another mouth-watering game at Banpaku awaits us as Sanfrecce Hiroshima visit town for the second J.League away day in a row having already beaten Cerezo Osaka in matchday 1. This game kicks-off at 15:00 JST and is the first Sunday game of the season.

The previous match between the two sides came towards the end of the 2012 season which saw the game finish 1-1. Yasuhito Endo gave us the lead during the second half following some fancy footwork but the defence went wandering and Kazuyuki Morisaki equalised 15 minutes before time. Sanfrecce have picked up a couple of Nabisco Cup wins at Banpaku in the last decade but have not won at Banpaku for over 10 years now.

The teams come into the game in 9th and 7th place respectively, Sanfrecce losing 2-0 in their last game which was against Urawa Reds at home, whilst Gamba tied 0-0 with Vegalta Sendai away from home. With Sanfrecce playing the in ACL, they have won just one of their 3 away games, losing the other two, with that single win as mentioned before against the Pink of Osaka…

HOME v Sanfrecce HiroshimaTakashi Usami had his first run outdoors this week after his injury picked up at the end of February so he will be back in action around mid-April which is brilliant news. Iwashita and Endo should come back into the starting eleven in place of Nishino and Futagawa respectively following slight niggles whilst Omori will probably make the bench. I expect Lins to start up front with Sato following their first goals of the season each against Vissel on Wednesday. Although Myojin was apparently brilliant against Vissel, I would expect Uchida to come back into midfield having being used as a substitute during midweek and Kurata should come back in for Yonekura. Kaji and Fujiharu will be expected to start following their rest from action, the latter missing his first game and minutes since 15th December 2012 when he sat out of a 3-2 Emperor’s Cup win over Machida Zelvia – a deserved rest. Do not doubt the power of our subs though as Yonekura, Abe, Futagawa and Myojin in particular may have their say on the result.

This game is not going to be easy at all and you would feel like a point would  be a point well-earned indeed. However, to make a statement and win our first game at Banpaku in J1 since a 7-2 mauling of Consadole Sapporo in August 2012, a victory would be a good start. A clean sheet would not go amiss either considering our last one in J1 was in a 1-0 over Vegalta Sendai in November 2011. Yeah, that long ago. But this is the team that looks like it will break those ducks sooner rather than later.