A thoroughly professional performance saw us take all 3 points in the 6-pointer against visitors Ventforet Kofu at Banpaku in front of a 11, 373 strong crowd. Two super goals and a solid defensive display ensured that we moved out of the relegation zone and into the lower mid-table.
There was just one change from the starting eleven that beat Zweigen Kanazawa 5-1 in the Emperor’s Cup the week before, with Brazilian Lins being replaced by Hiroyuki Abe in the starting eleven. The Brazilian did not even make the bench but new man Patric did, along with Hiroki Fujiharu – this the first league game that he did not complete the full 90 minutes, ending a run of 94 games. He took the place of Yuto Uchida on the bench which was otherwise unchanged.
We lined up again with a 4-4-2 with Kurata supporting Usami up front. The key to the game would be who would score first and then how they would deal with the lead.
The visitors started the better of the two sides with Cristiano being the key man, having two efforts on goal, the first forcing Higashiguchi into a smart save following a 35 yard thumper from a free kick. He also set-up a decent effort in the box but his team-mate could only place a simple header well wide of the target.
So Usami punished them in the 9th minute with an exquisite finish having started the move in midfield, dribbling past his man and heading over to the left. He passed the ball off to Oh Jae-Suk who returned it to him. A slight dummy just inside the box gave him the time and space to pick his head up and lean back, curving his effort beautifully into the top corner giving keeper Ogi no chance. Brilliant finish – nothing more than we expect from Takashi.
Kofu fought hard to get back into the game on the counter forcing Nishino to step out quickly and dangerous to concede free kicks, we defended the lead superbly with Abe and Omori dropping to made it a 6 man defensive line, making it hard for Ventforet to penetrate. Sasaki went close follow one of those breaks but his effort from the edge of the bar sailed just over the bar.
And we made them pay again – Usami knocking a pass into who took the effort on his left foot and on the turn he produced a stunning finish from the edge of the area on the volley, hitting his effort just moments after flicking the ball up, which found its way into the far corner and against giving Ogi no chance. Brilliant, one of the best goals you could ever hope to see.
With our 3rd and final shot of the game, Usami forced Ogi into a good save but it was our defensive side of things that was very impressive – the midfield wit energy to tackle and prevent Kofu getting anything going really and the solidity of the back four was good to see. We eased to half time with our lead intact with things looking very promising indeed.
The second half was a non-event really. Kofu had two decent chances to score but Higashiguchi bailed us out on both occasions. Patric came on for Usami with about 20 minutes left and looked determined to make an impact – it never really happened but he tried his best. We were too content with sitting on the lead and I couldn’t really blame us for that.
Unfortunately, Kurata picked up his 4th booking of the season after a series of fouls which puts him out of the midweek game against Shimizu S-Pulse. Hiroyuki Abe came off for Tatsuya Uchida with a few minutes remaining as we made it to the finish with an important clean sheet with thanks to our solid defence. We have won 8 of our last 13 games in all competitions now so we are not in such a bad shape as we might actually think.
Man of the Match
The defensive solidity and lack of clear cut chances can go down to two men in my opinion. Masaaki Higashiguchi and Keisuke Iwashita. I am going to give the award to Iwashita though, as his usual flamboyant style and somewhat loose defensive play was not at all present in the win as he put in good tackle after good tackle and lead the line superbly. He was a measure of calm and was extremely impressive. I take nothing away from Higashiguchi though, who made some excellent saves and was once again an ever present barrier that Ventforet could not penetrate.
Higashiguchi – 9
Yonekura – 7.5
Nishino – 7
Iwashita – 9
Oh Jae-Suk – 7
Endo – 8
Konno – 8
Abe – 7
Omori – 7
Kurata – 7.5
Usami – 7.5
Patric – 6.5 (Sub)
T.Uchida – 6 (Sub)
We climbed up into 13th place as it was a great weekend with the other teams around us failing to win their games. We are 2 points clear of the drop zone and a place ahead of The Pigs which is always nice to see. 17th to 10th has a gap of just 5 points though so we need to keep getting the wins in this vital period. We go level on points with S-Pulse who we play next on Wednesday. Another massive match!