Sunday, April 19, 2009

Kawasaki Frontale v Omiya Ardija

J.League Division 1: Sat, 18th April 2009

Kawasaki Frontale 3 - 1 Omiya Ardija

Venue: Todoroki Stadium
Attendance: 16,224

Roll up! Roll up! Summer's on its way and the Kawasaki emotional rollercoaster is back in town!

Omiya Ardija arrived on Saturday defending the league's only unbeaten record. But a determined second-half display from the boys in blue made sure the Saitama Squirrels didn't get their nuts.

Despite dominating the game, Frontale were up to their usual tricks - conceding a soft early goal and struggling to make their superiority count. Given the way things have been going, even the most optimistic fan could be forgiven for anticipating another case of "How on god's green earth did we lose that one?". But three goals in the final 30 minutes, from Chong Tese, Taniguchi and Juninho, stole a deserved victory from the jaws of defeat.

Frontale started brightly and were playing all the football early on. Juninho had an effort cleared off the line by Croatian colossus, Mato Neretljak. And Kengo watched his free-kick from the edge of the D fly narrowly wide.

Their best chance of the half fell to Chong Tese, latching onto a long ball after a moment of indecision from Omiya keeper, Koji Ezumi. The visitors, however, were not made to pay for their mistake as the Korean (never known for his subtlety) gave too much welly to an attempted lob.

There was a horrible inevitability that Frontale would live to rue this missed opportunity. An inevitability that was all too quickly realised as Omiya put themselves in front, neatly capitalising on a mistake by their opponents' centre-back pairing.

A stooping header from Terada fell straight to the nimble feet of Chikara Fujimoto. The Ardija stalwart then released Naoki Ishihara through a gaping hole left by Ito's attempt to cover for his out-of-position partner. The goal was nicely finished by the young number 9, but the defending was poor.

Omiya had given their hosts very little to worry about before taking the lead. But they could easily have been two up before the break, as their rattled hosts struggled to regroup. A free kick from out wide (conceded petulantly by Murakami) was met by an unmarked Daisuke Tomita, but the defender blasted his shot high and wide.

The troops managed to gather themselves at the interval and the second half started much the same as the first. Frontale were enjoying the lion's share of possession, but unable to make the all-important breakthrough.

Denying Frontale the chance to counter was working a treat for the orange army. Their defense was under fairly constant pressure, but they looked to be coping pretty well.

Then on 60 minutes Sekizuka made the first of two crucial substitutions, sacrificing the hard-working Vitor for the more direct Renatinho. Omiya immediately benefitted from the swap, finding the space to launch their first attack of the half. Sadly, they'll be wishing they'd kept their hatches firmly battoned as a sweeping Frontale counter-attack, culminating in Chong dispatching Kengo's perfectly-timed pass, finally put the sides level.

The visitors might have cut their losses at this stage and sat back to play out the draw. However, possibly victims of their recent success, they decided to press for the win.

With spaces now starting to appear in Omiya's rearguard, Seikizuka brought fresh legs to the attack replacing Chong with Yajima. But it was his third change that was to prove decisive.

Initially Tasaka was stripped and ready to come on up front. But, in a strange twist of fate, an injury to Yokoyama called for a quick change of plan and instead Igawa, looking like a spare member of Japanese R&B entourage "Exile" with his new tidily-shaven scalp, was added into the mix.

Omiya's response was to bring on Klemen Lavric, Igawa's tormentor in last season's fixture at Omiya Park, and quite probably the final nail in Frontale's 2008 title challenge. But it was Igawa who was to have the last laugh this time.

With the seconds ticking away, Mori (whose maturity so far this season has been an absolute revelation) opted to keep possession rather than send over the kind of ball Omiya had been defending with ease all day. He passed back to Igawa who had time and space to deliver from a deeper angle. The ball sailed to the far post where the elusive Taniguchi outleapt his marker and headed in the decider.

Juninho added a third moments later, giving the scoreline a gloss that was by no means unrepresentative of the balance of play. The elder statesman of the Frontale attack caught a lucky break when his attempted cross was blocked back into his path, giving him the chance to prod the ball past Ezumi and wrap up the three points.


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