J.League Division 1: Sun, 4th October 2009
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Venue: Todoroki Stadium
Frontale bounced back from last week's disappointing ACL exit with a 2-0 victory over Yokohama F Marinos on Sunday.
Second-half goals from Taniguchi and Renatinho ensured that Kanagawa bragging rights remain firmly rooted in the prefecture's northern reaches. And the ebullient nature of Kengo's post-match team talk suggests this victory has restored some much-needed self-belief in a team whose prospects had been looking increasingly gloomy.
That said, Frontale could well have continued on their downward spiral were it not for some first-half goal-keeping heroics. Twice big Eiji had to be at his cat-like best to keep the Marinos strikeforce at bay and his team in the game. And it was only after the break that the home side really started to gain the upper hand.
Even then it was far from inevitable that a breakthrough would eventually come. Frontale were enjoying plenty of possession deep in Marinos territory, but the final ball was never quite up to scratch. In the end, it required some Sekizuka tinkering before the goods finally arrived.
Switching Mori across, in place of a tiring Murakami, and adding Igawa on the right didn't seem the most obvious solution to Frontale's offensive dilemma. But within moments of the change, Mori swung in a right-footed delivery from his new position on the left and Taniguchi leapt expertly to direct the ball goalwards, just beyond the reach of Marinos keeper, Tetsuya Enomoto.
Some audacious Juninho skill on the left wing - stopping a loose pass going out of play and beating his marker in one balletic move - almost brought about a second. Chong Tese should have converted the ensuing cross, but could only head tamely into Enomoto's grateful hands.
The Brazilian resumed the role of provider minutes later. Racing at the heart of the Marinos defence, he slipped a pass out to Renatinho on the right, who took a touch to set himself before firing calmly inside the far post. Certain elements of the crowd are still recovering from shock that the team's top striker didn't opt to go it alone.
So, a good day at the office all-round. Pat on the back for the defence (but mostly Eiji) for the clean sheet. Pat on the back for the goalscorers (Renatinho must be especially relieved to be back in the goals). Pat on the back for Juninho for discovering his altruistic side. And pat on the back for Sekizuka for his timely changes.
Now, I'm no counter of chickens, but assuming Kashima don't stage a miraculous comeback on Wednesday night it leaves Frontale just one point off the top of the table with 6 games to go. Up next, after Renofa Yamaguchi in the Emperor's Cup, is an away day at Omiya - the scene of last year's title capitulation. If the team can banish those demons with a 3-point haul, who knows what could happen...