A thrilling derby saw both sides take a point each after each took and squandered the lead in front of a packed Nagai Stadium holding 42,723 spectators and even though we were the away side, you would have been forgiven to think that The Pigs have no real fans and we were at home. Both teams will claim that they should have won and a draw was probably the right result.
Daiki Niwa, despite the speculation, kept his place at the heart of the defence next to Keisuke Iwashita which saw the back 5 unchanged. In defensive midfield, Tatsuya Uchida surprisingly (but wonderfully for me) returned after being kicked out of the team last weekend which meant Endo pushed forward into his fake 9 role behind Lins. Uchida took the place of Sato whilst Omori can in for the out of form Kurata, who also dropped to the bench. Uchida’s inclusion saw Ogawa drop out of the match day squad. Kenya Okazaki had a set-back in training on Friday, spraining his ankle, and will be out for at least another two weeks, the poor lad.
Coming into the game, given the league positions of both teams, I would have taken a draw. Every little helps especially when you lack your main man up front as well as having your forward thinking players in a period of uncertainty.
Cerezo started the brighter of the two teams, testing Higashiguchi twice in goal within the first couple of minutes, first Kakitani and then Yamaguchi getting the goalkeeper to make a couple of decent saves. Their high tempo did not last long though and we took control of the game after those scary moments. Abe was the first to shoot but his effort was dragged well wide of the post but we were quick and smart on the break, looking dangerous each time we set away after a Pig mistake or a snapping challenge. Abe had another chance in the 17th minute but Lins’ short cross to hit was knocked out for a corner just ahead of our number 13. At this point, Endo was pulling the strings in his free role, finding space easily in the opposition’s half.
So we only went and conceded to that guy Forlan. Cerezo went on the counter and switched the ball to the right and with Omori and Fujiharu not communicating, Kakitani found Yamaguchi in some space in the box and he laid off a simple pass to Forlan who took a touch and poked the ball home. Niwa and Iwashita were not tight enough to their men in the box and Kakitani was allowed time to play his pass. Forlan was never marked – he sat in-between the line of defence and midfield – and finished clinically. I thought at this point that it was going to be one of those days again for us.
Cerezo pushed for a second but found our defence hard to beat whilst Konno was unjustly booked after slipping and falling into his man whilst Yamaguchi was bizarrely getting away with everything. Konno then injured himself at a corner that bounced to Lins, who chested the ball down and had his scuffed shot at goal blocked. Konno was replaced by Sato, pushing Endo back next to Uchida. Kakitani had a couple of half chances but that was all they were.
Kaji was dived at by Yamaguchi who magically avoided a yellow if not a red but we scored from the resulting free kick, with Endo’s cross being flapped at by Kim in the Cerezo goal under no pressure and he laid it into the path of Abe who steadied himself before smashing a half-volley into the top corner to make it 1-1 just before the break. A deserved equaliser and a superb finish – excellent technique and precision on his weaker foot. Wonderful goal, and all square at the break.
We started the second half excellently, pressing the Pigs high up the pitch and hard which allowed Endo to pull the strings even more. He picked out Omori and delivered a wonderful ball over the defence and Omori drilled a shot across goal that Kim could only push into the path of Lins but a goal saving tackle denied him right at the very last moment. That pressure continued and a clearance was cut out by Uchida, Abe picked it up and turned his man, shrugged him over and bent a 25 yarder around the defender which unsighted Kim and the ball nestled into the back of the net. Another class goal, a deserved lead and Hiroyuki’s first ever brace. Even Higashiguchi came forward to join in the celebrations which shows that the team is united as one.
The Pigs had enough of Kim in goal and changed him for former Giravanz keeper Takeda and moments later that were given a debatable free kick 25 yards from goal after Niwa was perhaps harshly penalised for hand ball. Forlan curled the resulting free kick into the bottom corner on Higashiguchi’s side, the keeper fatally taking a step in the opposite direction otherwise he would have saved it – the man himself blamed himself after the game. Things were going to get rocky again.
Omori was subbed for Kurata and the latter, who previously spent a season on loan with the Pigs, came on with a point to prove. Not before Hasegawa forced Higashiguchi into a good save as Cerezo looked for a winner. Entering the final 10 minutes, it was end to end stuff with Sato going down in the box as he was about to shoot – surely a penalty?! Then he played a great one-two with Kurata who dragged his effort well wide of the target. He then had a chance to win it, again linking with Sato, but instead of shooting across goal he went right at Takeda who had an easy save to make. Futagawa – who came on for Lins – had the final notable chance of the game which was heading for the top corner following his strike on the edge of the box but Takeda pulled off an exquisite save to deny us all 3 points.
I would have taken a point at the start of the game, all 3 points would have been deserved. We dealt with the threat of their forward players quite well, a few mistakes cost us again. Positively, the forwards seemed to be connecting very well and it only looks like a matter of time before Lins gets his first league goal. Proud.
Gamba Man of the Match
There were two guys who looked great. Endo and Abe. The former was excellent in both the positions he played, being an integral part in turning our defence into a swift counter attack. It was probably his best performance thus far and it was really great to see him hitting some form, just like the rest of the side. He looked so comfortable and keen to make an impression – he can play like this every week if he really wanted which is what he should be looked to do. As for Abe, he was drifting all over the front line whilst putting in a superb shift when in defence. His two goals were superb thanks to a superb technique and confidence. He is slowly getting back to his best and should be looking to improve more and more in each game.
Higashiguchi – 7
Kaji – 7
Niwa – 6.5
Iwashita – 6.75
Fujiharu – 7
Konno – 6
T.Uchida – 7.5
Omori – 7
Abe – 8.5
Endo – 8.5
Lins – 7
Sato – 6.5 (Sub)
Kurata – 6.5 (Sub)
Futagawa – 6 (Sub)
We rose a place to 15th after Ventforet Kofu lost to our next opponents Sagan Tosu. Below us, Sendai won to close the gap to 1 point whilst FC Tokyo slipped closer to us along with next league opponents Omiya Ardija close by. Shimizu S-Pulse garnered a win against the latter but with Usami soon to return and a promising performance like this can only bode good things going forward. We will be fine.
Photo taken from J’s Goal. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.