We continued our excellent form as we eventually took down a stubborn Yokohama F.Marinos side 2-0 at Banpaku to rise up to 6th in the table following 6 wins in 7 league games in front of an impressive crowd of 15,263 people despite the driving rain to begin with and a humidity level of almost 98%!
We made just one change to the side that started against Vissel Kobe with the injured Kotaro Omori replaced by Shu Kurata who got over a knock during the week to start. With Kurata starting Akihiro Sato made the bench in what was the only other change to the match day squad. As always, we lined up with a 4-4-2 system.
The first half did not offer much in the way of goalmouth action with only Abe hitting the target in the opening 20 minutes albeit from range. Marinos did get behind the defence a few times in the spell but they were denied by excellent positioning by Iwashita and Endo.
Marinos could have scored in the 27th minute but a cross was back-heeled across goal and out of danger while it took us until the 39th minute to get another chance with an Endo free kick being punched down by Enomoto but Patric fired well over from 6 yards under pressure and with the ball being at an awkward height.
The first half ended like that and Marinos were playing to frustrate and deny any real chances which they had achieved – it felt like Gamba Osaka v Greece, they were that negative. We just needed to use the ball better and quicker to force a real opportunity to break the deadlock.
Usami started the half by getting booked but just 5 minutes later his deflected cross was well pushed over by Enomoto as we looked to get a foothold in the match. Yonekura was then booked for pulling back Saito with the resulting free kick being headed over by Kurihara. Patric and Usami rounded the hour off with great turns in midfield but pretty poor shots when they had better options.
With Yonekura on a booking, Hasegawa took him off for Fujiharu who went in at left-back and Oh went to the right, dealing superbly with Saito. Fujiharu’s first piece of action was to lose Kobayashi who cut the ball back for Fujimoto but his effort sailed over the bar. With 15 minutes to go, Kurata was taken off for Futagawa in a wise move.
It took us until the 82nd minute to break the visitors down. Usami turned Nakazawa in midfield and the defender had no choice but to pull him down and get a yellow card. A costly mistake as Endo crossed the ball to an unmarked Patric to head home past Enomoto and get his 4th goal in 4 games, but it was Iwashita who made the space for him, standing in an offside position and then blocking off Kurihara – excellent Keisuke!
We took off Usami for Myojin to see out the game but the best defence really is attack as our left side combined superbly with Fujiharu dummying his way into the box before finding Endo unmarked on the other side and he duly placed his effort into the bottom corner to seal the game.
It was nothing but relief and delight after the final whistle. We showed good character to stay positive and patient and finally reap the rewards against an awfully stubborn opponent. I cannot praise the mentality of our players enough who really have turned the corner since the mid-season break. Excellent and deserved win in the end!
Man of the Match
Although Endo got a goal and assist, my man of the match was Keisuke Iwashita. Once again, he signalled that he is definitely returning to his top form by aiding us to another clean sheet – his defensive work was perfect and positioned himself well to provide excellent blocks. His major role in our first goal was not noticed at the time but he gets nothing but praise from me for showing some intelligence. A really professional and smart performance, he is definitely becoming a star in our team.
Higashiguchi – 7.5
Yonekura – 6
Nishino – 7
Iwashita – 9
Oh Jae-Suk – 7.5
Abe – 7
Endo – 7.5
Konno – 7
Kurata – 7
Patric – 7
Usami – 7
Fujiharu – 7 (Sub)
Futagawa – 6.5 (Sub)
Myojin – 6 (Sub)
We took two steps forward to 6th place as the teams around us had a mixed day at the office with Kashima in 4th just 3 points away and Kawasaki in 3rd 6 points away. Whilst I still think we will end up somewhere in mid-table, the sky is the limit right now and with Omiya up next, another 3 points are a must next weekend. In 4 games we have gone from relegation zone to 9 points away from it – the team has just been wonderful. Gamba Osaka Olé!