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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

FC Tokyo 2010 - Nine Months of Hell Part 1

Same XI for us to start 2nd half. This is like watching a train wreck in slow motion.... #FCTokyo
4:33 PM Dec 4th via ÜberTwitter

My tweet at the start of the second half of the final game of the season at Kyoto.... Sums up the season as a whole pretty well though.

This is the first of three parts I will post over the next week or two covering FC Tokyo's 2010 season, from the first game win over Yokohama through to the darkest day in our club's history, December 4th, 2010, the day we plummeted through the trapdoor into J2, our first ever relegation. Our eleven year run in J1 is over, we've gone from legitimate title contender in '08 & '09 (and Nabisco Cup Champions '09) to relegated laughing-stock in 2010, and we are a J2 team for the first time since our inaugural year as a J.League club, 1999.

Here I'll go through the season in numbers, including how we fared differently (ie. worse) than in '09, and in later installments I'll go through the squad player-by-player before finishing with a look at who'll still be around and how we'll fare in J2 in 2011. Some of you will no doubt want to draw a line under what went on this season, put it behind you and try to forget it, but I'm still processing it all so I'm attempting this as therapy, hoping that at the end of Part 3 I'll finally have "closure" as they say in psychology circles. A mixture of stats, analysis, ranting and foul language, here is my take on FC Tokyo's 2010 season:

 I warned of the threat of relegation as far back as late-August, and, despite chastising those who thought we were "too good to go down," I guess in the back of my mind I thought we were, too. We kept making it so hard for ourselves though, and so many potentially pivotal moments in the run-in: Gonda's penalty save v Niigata; the gutsy win in the Shimizu typhoon; Hirayama's tour de force at Yokohama and Oguro's brilliant lob v Nagoya all ended up being for nought, as Kobe just wouldn't go away, and we shat our trousers in the last ten minutes of the home finale v Yamagata and all 90 minutes at Kyoto.

We finished 16th on 36 points with 8 wins, 12 draws and 14 losses. Tellingly, just half our points came in games against the other eight teams who finished in the bottom half, our record was W:4 D:6 L:6 against those teams, and W:4 D:6 L:8 against the top half. Our inability to do the business against the teams we were scrapping for survival with, like Omiya, Yamagata, Sendai and Kobe ultimately cost us, while we took only one point from a possible six against Kyoto.

 Compared to 2009, we lost only one more game ('09: 5th with 53 pts, W:16 D:5 L:13), but our wins were cut in half and we racked up the draws. Herein lies a big part of our problems on two different fronts, as five of our draws came when we could not hold the lead, and we drew a frankly ridiculous 10 games at home. Ah, home. What torment the lads put us through at Aji Sta, where we did not win after the first game of the season, earning just 12 of the 16 points we garnered in home games (W:2 D:10 L:5, including 1W, 1D at Kokuritsu), whereas in '09, 28 of our 53 points came at home (W:8 D:4 L:5, incl. 1W, 1L at Kokuritsu).

When we look for reasons why we struggled so mightily at home and were unable to break down supposedly inferior teams, it was clear from the start of the season that opposing teams set up more defensively against us, leaving more men behind the ball to prevent us from counter-attacking as effectively as we did in '09. With Yohei Kajiyama in-and-out of the team due to injury, we didn't have enough creativity in central midfield - in many games having to use two defenders, Yuhei Tokunaga and Masato Morishige there - which meant opponents could sit back and soak up pressure before looking to counter themselves. Part of the reason Hiroshi Jofuku had to go as manager was that he was unable to come up with a system or formation to enable us to break down the more stubborn defences.

Another reason we got stuck down in the mire is that throughout the season we were simply unable to build momentum. In '09 we started poorly and lost six of our first 10 (the other four games were wins), but recovered to post a five-game winning streak in May-June, and later a four-game winning run in Sept-Oct, but in 2010 WE DIDN'T WIN CONSECUTIVE LEAGUE GAMES ONCE ALL SEASON. The best we could manage was six games unbeaten either side of the World Cup break (two wins, four draws), while between our wins over Shonan (away, July 25 and home, Oct 3) we went TEN GAMES WITHOUT A WIN (three draws, seven losses). Part of that was our inability to convert possession and pressure into goals, which leads me to....

We scored 36 goals, which was the fourth-lowest total in the league, ahead of only Shonan, Kyoto (both also relegated) and the lowest scorers Yamagata; and allowed 41, which meant we had the joint-sixth best defence, and let in fewer goals than four teams who finished in the top half. Allow me to state the obvious by saying our defence was not the reason we went down. Our joint-top scorers were Sota Hirayama and Masashi Oguro with seven apiece, while the next three spots on our scoring chart were filled by two defenders: Yasuyuki Konno (5) and Masato Morishige (3); and a young, seldom-used striker, Kentaro Shigematsu (also 3). Our impotent wing play was the area where we really fell down (just six goals total between Naohiro Ishikawa, Ricardinho, Naotake Hanyu, Tatsuya Suzuki & Toshihiro Matsushita), and I'm prepared to unload on all of them, but you'll have to wait until Part 2. Ishikawa does deserve a special mention though....

In '09 we scored 47 and let in 39, but our Goals For column was swelled by Nao's remarkable season, when he bagged 15 goals in just 24 league appearances before his knee injury. This season it was asking too much for Ishikawa to come back the same player after such a serious injury, but the fact that he scored just twice in 31 games (26 starts) was startling. Whether or not he was ever 100% fit this season we'll never know, but his belter against Shonan at Kokuritsu in October was, we hoped, a sign of a return to peak form just in time for the last two months of the season, but he didn't score after that and gave further fuel to the argument that this is the real Nao, last season's free-scoring version was the anomaly.

Alright then, it's taken me this long to tell you we were relegated because we were shit at home and didn't score enough goals....again, this was just Part 1 (Step 1 of the grieving/healing process!), and coming soon, I plan to pull no punches on who pulled their weight and who didn't on the pitch for FC Tokyo in 2010.

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