Our first away trip of the season yielded our first win of the season as Gamba took down Albirex Niigata 2-0 at the Big Swan in front of a crowd of 22,931 people. This meant that we earned our first victory in J1 since a 3-1 victory over Shimizu S-Pulse back on the 17th November 2012. This also ended Albirex’s run of 9 home victories in a row in the league. Character.
There was one change to the team for Gamba which started and lost to Urawa Reds the weekend before, with Takahiro Futagawa dropping to the bench in place of Koki Yonekura, who earned his first start for us. Kotaro Omori may have felt he was unfair left on the bench. One change on the bench came with Atsushi Kimura dropping from the squad in place of returnee goalkeeper Kohei Kawata. A change of formation came about too with Endo moving out to the left and Kurata joining Sato up front, with us set-up with more of a 4-4-2 than a 4-2-3-1, which did appear from time-to-time.
Albirex remained unchanged from their win over Vegalta Sendai, with main man Kawamata fit enough following an injury scare last weekend.
The game started fairly evenly although Albirex slightly shaded it despite having no real attempts on goal. Higashiguchi, on his return to his former team, started nervously, first dropping a cross and then almost parrying a tame shot into his own goal. The hosts were pressing hard and fast whilst our attack was useless – there was again a lack of support from midfield and we could not hold onto the ball. Ono with the best chance in the first 20 minutes after Iwashita cleared straight to him in the box but he blazed over.
Sato was the first to test Morita in-goal with a header from the penalty spot but the keeper was equal to it and Sato should have made it 1-0 to us on the half hour mark after Kurata carried the ball on the counter, fed Yonekura down the left but Sato put it inches wide of the near post on the slide.
Niigata controlled the final 10-15 minutes of the half, garnering millions of corners but we stood strong and put our bodies on the line impressively. Tatsuya Tanaka was the live wire in the team whilst Kawamata was being well marshalled. Under pressure, we did not crack and left Niigata to shots from range which never threatened the goal and we got to half time level.
An improvement over the Urawa game although we needed to dominate the midfield more. Sato with the chance of the half had spurned it. Plenty to improve on but a solid defensive basis which would be the foundation of our victory.
We started the second half lively with Yonekura testing Morita on the slide but the keeper got down low quickly. Albirex were still earning corners and shooting from range again without testing Higashiguchi whilst we looked better going forward, especially with Fujiharu pushing forward more instead of sitting back as much as he did in the first half. The game changed when Niigata’s biggest threat Tatsuya Tanaka was subbed on the hour mark.
Fujiharu first fired just wide via a deflection with his right foot on the edge of the area and four minutes later he was dragged down on the left after breaking past his marker, allowing Endo to come over and weigh-up the free kick. Iwashita started in an offside position and only moved towards the near post as Endo floated in a lovely free kick which our passionate centre back got onto the end of to head past Morita unmarked. Beautiful delivery, smart play by the defender. 69 minutes gone and we had taken the lead.
Whilst the referee was missing handballs and blatant free kicks in our favour (although Fujiharu did get booked for handball), Kurata was dragging us forward in the attack as he looked invigorated playing in his best position as second striker, whilst Iwashita stood strong against Leo Silva down the other end. With 77 minutes gone, Omori replaced Yonekura and set-up Endo to win the game but the captain skied over unmarked from 18 yards…
So the youngster went and showed the captain how it was done by making it 2-0. Omori made a run from the wing to goal side of his marker making space for Kurata to come down the side and slide a pass behind the defence for Kotaro who took a touch wide before firing home at the near post at an acute angle as Morita was left wanted. A smart finish by the lad and the game was done and dusted.
Sato should have made it 3-0 a minute or so later but only managed to hit the side netting in a one-on-one following a defensive lapse. Endo and Sato were withdrawn for Lins and Nishino with the game done but Okamoto had a chance to make it 2-1 in the 92nd minute but blazed over on the penalty spot with Kaji diving across to put him off.
What a brilliant result. A clean sheet and the end of Niigata’s winning run at home to boot, not to mention our first 3 points of the campaign. Sato had an off-day in front of goal but should be credited for making good chances – his time will come. We gave some decent chances to the hosts who on another would have stolen the game but we were clinical in the second half and in an even game, we made better chances that the hosts did. Certainly, we have many things to improve on like not giving such simple chances to the opposition but that second half should be our target throughout the 90 minutes from here on out.
Gamba Man of the Match
It was clear that Shu Kurata was the driving force in our attack and was clearly revitalised in that second striker role. He was brilliant there last season with Leandro as his partner and although injury curtailed his season, it seems like he is getting back to his best this year thanks to the move to partner Sato. He got an assist and whilst he never really threatened the goal himself, it was his overall attacking play that was important. I will also give credit to Daiki Niwa who did the right things at the right times in defence and never looked out-of-place and deserving of that starting position alongside Iwashita. They did superbly to protect an invaluable clean sheet, no thanks to Masaaki Higashiguchi, I feel.
With 4 teams taking maximum points from their first 2 games, Gamba lead the chasing pack on 3 points in 5th place with 6 teams on that tally. The table is not worth mentioning too much yet but it is good to have the first win on the board, along with the clean sheet and a couple of goals to boot. Very proud of the team today and extremely pleased with the overall performance and character of the team.
Photo taken from Gamba Osaka’s Official Site. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.