J.League Division 1: Sun, 17th August2007
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Venue: Todoroki Stadium
A combination of woodwork and Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi meant two points were dropped to a plucky, yet eminently beatable, Jubilo Iwata on Sunday.
Frontale's tactic of handing the opposition a one-goal lead and then clawing things back has worked out well in recent weeks. So it wasn't a huge setback when Ryochi Maeda got his chest in the way of a fierce cross to give the visitors the lead early on.
Despite bombarding the Iwata goal for much of the remainder of the first half, Frontale were clearly unwilling to break a winning formula of only mounting a comeback after the break, and went in at half time with it all still to do.
The start of the second half was delayed slightly as Vitor Junior required treatment for a leg injury. However, it was the diminutive Brazilian who had the first real opportunity of the second half as he broke away down the right before cutting back and crashing a sublime effort against the crossbar.
Frontale now had the wind in their sails and it wasn't long before returning Olympian, Hiroyuki Taniguchi, thundered a header into the back of the net from a Vitor Junior corner.
With the game all square, things appeared to be going to plan. But then within 60 seconds of the restart, a lapse in concentration saw the visitors back in front.
Satoru Yamagishi (who seems to be getting far more defensive responsibility than he can handle) was harshly judged to have broken up a Jubilo attack illegally. The resulting free kick, from wide on the right, was whipped in to the box by Kota Ueda and before you could say "Yours, Eiji!" the ball had found its way over the heads of the defensive line and into the corner of the net.
Not to be discouraged by a bit of bad luck (or carelessness, depending on how you want to view it), Frontale were back on the attack. Reassuringly, Chong Tese saw fit to reward the faith put in him during what has been a fairly patchy season. On 64 minutes the burly Korean used all his strength to beat off a defender and lash his shot just inside the near post to even things up again.
So once again the plan was back on track, with plenty of time left on the clock to find a winner. But then came what was probably the pivotal moment of the game. With Iwata looking shaky and Frontale ready to go for the jugular, Vitor Junior, clearly still struggling with his first half injury, was replaced by Masahiro Ohashi, who proceeded to squander two great opportunities - one a free header that he sent wide and the other a mis-kick from the just inside the penalty area.
You've got to feel sorry for Ohashi. He put in some really encouraging performances in the first half of the season and looked like the sort of player who, with a bit more confidence, could cement a first team spot. Then what happens? Vitor Junior comes along and consigns him to the role of bench warmer. I guess the pressure of knowing this could be his one chance to impress was too much for him.
With those two misses a seed of doubt was sown in the Frontale attack. Players were making bad decisions, taking shots when they should have been passing and the window of opportunity was lost.
The last throw of the dice was the introduction of new 21-year-old Brazilian signing, Renatinho. Straight away there were glimpses of brilliance in his touch and control, but after ballooning his one real chance over the bar he looked to be trying just a bit too hard. Promising signs though, especially if he can strike up an understanding with Juninho and Vitor Junior.
So 3 points it wasn't to be. But overall it's not looking too bad. Only 4 points off top spot, with Urawa and Kashima returning to ACL action next month. Would have gladly taken that back in May!
Overall, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic at this juncture. The team is playing well, for the most part: Juninho is a constant threat in his new position on the left of a 3-man attack; can't really say enough positive things about Vitor Junior (hopefully this injury won't turn out to be serious); early signs suggest Renatinho could be a quality signing. And that's just the Brazilians!
The only real problem areas are the flanks. Murakami and Yamagishi are currently required to play as wingbacks, but what Murakami lacks in attack Yamagishi lacks in defence. Barring injury, Mori would normally start ahead of Murakami, but then there's the same problem that Mori isn't great defensively.
One solution would be to go with a flat back four with Murakami and Ito as full backs and two out of Igawa, Terada and Yokoyama in the middle. But with Igawa and Terada both out that's not really an option.
Another issue is where to play Taniguchi now that Vitor Junior's taking up the central attacking midfield role. Hard to leave him out when he's so often in the right place at the right time to knock in important goals. I guess time will tell.