Another away trip yielded another clean sheet and an invaluable point as we struggled to a 0-0 draw at the Yurtec Stadium in Sendai, in front of 13,380 fans. The game will be remembered for us having a solitary shot throughout the 90 minutes.
Kenta Hasegawa made one changed to the starting eleven from the 2-0 win over Albirex Niigata the weekend before as goalscorer Kotaro Omori took the place of Koki Yonekura on the right of midfield. On the bench, Hiroyuki Abe made it in place of Oh Jae-Suk in what was otherwise a consistent matchday squad. Akihiro Sato was fairly given another chance after missing a couple of clear-cut chances against Niigata.
We started the better of the two sides without going anywhere but I felt that if we could get the final few passes right, Vegalta would have a tough time with us. Although we were passing the ball around nicely, we had no cutting edge and neither team did anything in the first 20 minutes of so, with the best chance falling to Sato after Kurata broke forward and crossed, but the cross was too high. We were simply just too slow in the final third, allowing Vegalta to regroup and get numbers behind the ball. Vegalta’s only real chance of the half came after Wilson dived for a free kick 20 yards from goal, but he sent it comfortably wide of the far post.
Vegalta were the better of the sides in the second half, with Tomita forcing Higashiguchi into pushing a fierce 20 yard drive over the bar in the 50th minute, but again their probing caused little trouble in defence. After 65 minutes, Hasegawa had seen enough of Omori and Sato (or perhaps not enough would make more sense) and he brought on Lins and Yonekura in their places. The substitutes, particularly Lins, were full of some needed energy.
The final 15 minutes were probably the liveliest. Muto forced Higashiguchi into a terrific save after the ball bounced kindly to him on the penalty spot whilst Fujiharu sent in a wonderful low cross across the area but nobody attacked it. Lins had our only shot in the 84th minute but sent it well over whilst Endo was just beaten to a Yonekura cross after some nice play down the right. Wilson could have won the game for Vegalta in the last minute of added time but dragged his 20 yard effort comfortably wide of the post to end the game.
There were a lot of problems for us going forward and there was a real lack of cohesion and connection in the final area – when we did make it to good positions, the final ball was lacking. The one shot only hype was taken out of context a bit due to the details in the previous sentence but once again we got a clean sheet. Instead of being rather negative, we should be positive and realistic. The performance going forward was poor but in 2 successive away games, we have taken 4 points. Before the Niigata game, 2 points would have been not bad and if you add in 2 successive clean sheets, things at the back are going very well.
Gamba Man of the Match
The reason for the two clean sheets is down to a much stronger defensive unit even. Even though Iwashita and Niwa were a nightmare together in J2, they look superb together so far this season and this is down to Masaaki Higashiguchi. There seems to be a lot more confidence and calmness at the back and Masaaki himself had to make a decent save or two in what was a rather demanding display by the keeper. He has been our best player this month thus far and will continue to highlight his importance throughout the year. He kept us at 0-0 and can restrain the curious natures of Iwashita and Niwa, so he must be doing something right!
We slip to 9th in the table but again this is all a bit irrelevant thus far. At least we are picking up points when needed despite not playing well. With Sanfrecce Hiroshima up next in the league (Nabisco in mid-week), we will be looking to build on that defensive strength and add some needed fire-power going forward.
Photo taken from Gamba Osaka’s Official Site. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.