J.League Division 1: Sun, 26th October 2008
|3 - 1|
Venue: Todoroki Stadium
And so the rollercoaster ride continues. From the dejection of last week's title-threatening loss against S-Pulse to this week's jubilation as Frontale clawed their way back to within striking distance of the top. Anyone who didn't have their seatbelt fastened will be wishing they'd heeded my advice!
In fairness, anything less than a win against already-relegated Sapporo would have been like taking the gift horse, collectively presented by Kashima, Nagoya and Oita, and examining its teeth. Still, for a brief spell in the second half this was far from comfortable viewing.
Kengo and Taniguchi gave Frontale a deserved lead in the first half. Kengo shot through a crowd of bodies after a neat back-heel from Juninho, wrong-footing the Sapporo keeper. Then Taniguchi (back from suspension) was at hand to bundle in the second from close range after good play from Mori and Chong Tese down the right.
Sapporo did little to threaten but had one good chance before half time which was eventually sliced wide by Nakayama.
However, the spectre of wasted opportunities almost came back to haunt Frontale in the second half. Juninho was (as he has been for most of this season) the guiltiest culprit. But it was only when Renatinho decided to get in on the act that the real scare came.
Juninho did well on the left wing (a position I think suits him and a role I'd like to see him adopt more, with Yamagishi looking to be out for the rest of the season) and sent a pinpoint cross onto Renatinho's head. But, 6 yards out and under no pressure, the young whippersnapper contrived to steer his header wide.
The next thing you know, with Renatinho still extracting his head from his hands, Davi has broken away at the other end, rounded Kawashima and pulled one back for the visitors.
A draw would have been a disaster and, with the lead now cut to one goal, the pressure was firmly back on the home side. Against better opposition they might have folded, but Sapporo are facing J2 opposition next year for a reason - defensively they're pretty shambolic.
To his credit, Juninho finally reached the conclusion he had missed too many sitters for one game and sealed the victory on 84 minutes. A typically-accurate free kick delivery from Ohashi (on at the end for Vitor Junior) was headed back across goal and the veteran Brazilian made no mistake this time. His relief (and that of his team mates) was palpable.
So now Frontale find themselves with 4 to play and just a 2-point gap to bridge. The Nabisco Cup final next weekend gives everyone a chance to catch their breath, but it's back to the chase in two weeks away to Omiya. In the meantime, there's Montedio Yamagata in the Emperor's Cup on Monday.