We finally won at Banpaku in J1 for the first time since our 7-2 defeat of Consadole Sapporo on 25th August 2012. The game was a rather dull one until the final 10 minutes suddenly produced the goods, with us Gamba fans going through elation, tears and elation once more within the space of 5 minutes in front of a crowd of 11,059 people.
Kenta Hasegawa was forced into a change in defence from the previous league match as Akira Kaji bruised a bone in his foot, putting him out for 3 weeks and allowing Oh Jae-Suk to deputise once more. With Yasuyuki Konno only fit enough for the bench, Akihiro Sato was given a chance from the start up-front alongside Lins – this move meaning Endo shifted back into defensive midfield alongside Tatsuya Uchida. Naoki Ogawa came onto the bench in place of the injured Kaji.
I was expecting nothing less than a win after our good performances in the previous two games and after the hard start to the season, we needed to pick up the points against teams like Omiya.
The first 10 minutes of the game were even with neither team making an attempt on goal. We got the first effort away through Sato after he combined well with Lins but his effort was right at the opposition goalkeeper – definitely not the last time during the day – whilst Oh Jae-Suk started well, making a good recovery to prevent Cho firing on goal after he broke through our defence. Watanabe and Ienaga then had efforts go to waste for the visitors before the 30 minute mark whilst Sato did well again, tackling high up the pitch to get Lins at the sparse defence and play in Abe but he could only fire right at Ezumi when face-to-face with the keeper – he ought to have done better.
What was evident was our poor ball control and touch in the attacking areas through Sato and Lins, who looked like they were lacking sharpness but chances still came for both sides in the remaining 15 minutes of the half. First for Omiya was Zlatan’s blocked effort by Niwa who made a superb block, then against a few minutes later he hit the post with a header following a corner after out muscling Oh. His final chance of the half was another free header that was flicked just wide of the far post.
As for us, Abe forced Ezumi into a very good save after Lins somehow managed to hold onto the ball down the left, with Abe shooting from the edge of the box. Oh’s worrying defensive moments were outweighed with his attacking prowess, sending in a good cross to Sato but he could just not reach far enough with his outstretched leg. Although it seems like Sato was doing well in the half, his contribution getting forward was overall poor.
There were no changes at the break but it took less than 10 minutes for Hasegawa to take off Sato for Kurata – good on the manager’s part to do it quickly and early which is in stark contrast to his changes in recent games. Abe almost presented Omiya with a goal after being caught 25 yards from goal but Higashiguchi just about bailed him out.
Niwa was smacked in the face by a powerful shot that forced a bit of a delay but he returned soon after leaving the pitch. Down the other end, Kurata was pulling the strings as he played a delicious through ball for Abe and although he got a touch, Ezumi was too close and made a good save. Up until the 80th minute, we did not look like scoring from this point and Hasegawa decided to chance things up with Futagawa coming on for Omori.
It was with thanks to the subs that we scored the opening goal in the 83rd minute. Kurata dribbled into the box from the left, passed to Abe who kept the ball going to Oh who should have scored but Ezumi pushed it over well for a corner – this was taken and cleared back to Endo whose first time touch to Futagawa was exquisite and so was his cross, putting doubt in the defence and allowing the ball to come through to Niwa, unmarked at the back post, to flick home put us 1-0 ahead.
Konno came on for the woeful Lins to sure us up in defence. You would have forgiven me for thinking the game was ours, but Higashiguchi had other ideas… a simple cross from the Omiya right was called as the keeper’s but he did not get there and Kikuchi looped a header over him and into the goal to give the visitors what looked like a valuable point. Shocking goalkeeping for the second week in a row now from Higashiguchi but I said before, he will save us more points than cost us.
So it was with great relief that we actually won the game through a Konno strike just a minute later. What a wonderful 10 minutes! Kurata kept the ball alive in the Omiya area and he played it out to Endo who slide it to Konno to his left who took a touch and barrelled it home with his left foot. There might have been a slight deflection but Ezumi in goal was poor, moving away from the ball that was down the middle of his goal. Not like I cared, we were dramatically back in front and we actually hung onto the lead to claim all 3 points.
The game was anything but a classic but we got the job done. I think that if we were back in 2012, we would have not come back from the blow from Kikuchi so fair play to the guys for having the character and determination to fight back and gain us a valuable 3 points.
Gamba Man of the Match
First of all, fair play to Kenta Hasegawa whose substitutes were the difference between the two sides in the end. One of those subs gets my vote for man of the match, and that guy was Shu Kurata. I really do think he changed the game for us, being the one guy up front whose touch was solid and effective, making chances for his teammates and himself. He has had a tough time of things recent but he looked the part when he came on – he vitalised the team to a point and pushed us forward. Sure, most people will say Niwa was man of the match because he scored but if you are looking at things in terms of the influence a player has on the team, Shu was the one, even more so when you compare him to the limp and weak duo of Lins and Sato. Shu might just have earned his starting place against Kawasaki Frontale next week.
Higashiguchi – 5
Oh Jae-Suk – 6.5
Niwa – 7.5
Iwashita – 7
Fujiharu – 6.5
Endo – 6.5
T.Uchida – 7
Omori – 6
Abe – 6.5
Sato – 5
Lins – 5.5
Kurata – 8 (Sub)
Futagawa – 7.5 (Sub)
Konno – 7.5 (Sub)
We move up to 13th place following this win from 16th with Omiya taking our place down there. Ventforet Kofu were the only other side near us who picked up points and that was down to them beating Nagoya Grampus who we now join level on 9 points with, the same as Kofu. Sendai and Tokushima both lost to keep their places as the bottom two confirmed but with a trip to topsy-turvy Frontale on the books next week, we could be looking decent in mid-table if things go our way next weekend. We just have to stay positive and realistic – this win would have done the players a world of good.
Photo taken from Yahoo. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.