Competition: J.League Division 1
Date: Saturday, 6th March 2010 (16:00 kick off)
Venue: Todoroki Stadium
DF TERADA (yellow card 79')
MF INAMOTO (yellow card 81')
MF TASAKA (yellow card 34')
FW CHONG (replaced by YAJIMA 86')
FW RENATINHO (replaced by NOBORIZATO '71)
Frontale turned adversity into advantage on Saturday as they notched up their first opening-day win since 2007.
A full house at Todoroki was in full voice even before the starting whistle as the home team emerged from the dressing room all kitted out in Kengo's number 14 shirt. A touching tribute to their injury-hit captain (watching on from the stands) and a testament to just how much he means to this club.
Boosted by this emotional start to proceedings, Frontale raced into a two-goal lead. Renatinho wasted no time in showing just what kind of threat he'll be hoping to pose this season. Kurotsu escaped down the right and his blocked shot rebounded to the Brazilian in far too much space at the edge of the box. He cut inside the outrushing defender and belted his shot into the top corner.
Niigata's talismanic striker, Kisho Yano, then had a headed goal rightly ruled out for offside, before Kurotsu doubled the home side's advantage.
Inamoto, making his home debut for the boys in blue, gobbled up a loose ball in the Albirex midfield. He then timed his pass to perfection releasing Kurotsu down the right channel from where the gangly striker (who's certainly making the most of his opportunity in Juninho's absence) smashed his unchallenged left-foot shot just inside the far post.
So, barely a quarter of the game played and the visitors already looked out for the count. But, remember - this is Frontale. And as the game wore on, the old familiar flaws started to re-emerge.
My biggest problem with Frontale's defence is their complete inability to cope with long balls in the air. How many times do you see balls that should be cleared first time back towards the halfway line headed straight up in the air or only cleared as far as the edge of the penalty area?
The damage caused by these penalty area scrambles is two-fold. Not only does it put massive pressure on Eiji, who must feel a greater responsibility to deal with balls his centre backs can't handle. It also gives a massive boost to the opposing offence.
We saw it against Seongnam and we saw it again on Saturday. Having looked down and out, Niigata managed to apply a bit of pressure. That pressure turned into winning a few corners. And Frontale's repeated vulnerability from those corners gave their opponents a new sense of belief. Without another string of superb saves from Eiji, the team's problems could have been heavily compounded.
As it turned out, the away goal resulted from another of Frontale's defensive frailties - the offside trap. Much like Seongnam's opener the other week, Cho Young-Cheol looked to have strayed just a yard too far when the ball was played through to him. But, to be fair, Niigata had already seen a couple of close calls go against them.
Would Kikuchi be a better option than Terada in the backline? Well, he's better in the air, and he's certainly quicker...I know who I'd be picking.
I apologise for focussing on the negatives on a day when we should really just be celebrating the three points. But this is a team that wants to win trophies and the fact remains there are far sterner tests to come than Albirex Niigata.