J2 (!) Matchday 1
Back to Ajinomoto Stadium, we beeped our way in with our new Socio smartcards, got the beers in, and shaded our eyes from the bright green astroturf around the pitch as well as the warm March sun.
There was a decent crowd in (21,408) and Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra got us going. Despite the fact that it was still difficult to believe we were about to watch a J2 game, it was good to be back. And then the game started.
2011 started in much the same fashion as 2010 went, with a furrowing of brows over the Tokyo line up. Most pundits had expected something along the lines of what Ben outlined in his recent preview post, what with Pedro Junior, Ishikawa, Takamatsu, Yonemoto, Kajiyama and Gonda all out. But Big Bear pulled another one of his surprises by suddenly preferring young Hideto Takahashi, nominally a central defender, in the holding midfield role to new signing and J2 journeyman Roberto. Good to see the youngster get a chance, but it did beg the question of why Roberto was bought (and indeed Uesato) if not for precisely this kind of occasion, with both preferred central midfielders missing.
There was further scratching of chins when it was discovered that Otake would miss out on the right side of midfield, and in came the less creative Hokuto who we all thought was unfit, and who had played most of last season at left back. Otake must have joined Roberto and Uesato in the "gutted to find out I am effectively a third string player" camp.
And then the match. The first half was dire. With my co-writer we managed to discuss the A-League, health insurance and even the cricket World Cup so turgid was the first 45. Tokyo had loads of possession but barely mustered a chance. Tosu looked more likely to score, with the experienced Toyoda hitting the bar with a snapshot from outside the area, young midfielder Kuniyoshi testing Shiota with a long range free kick, and then Toyoda again skying a free header from the resulting corner which really should have burst the onion bag. This pattern of play might sound familiar, but the difference was that Tosu were not even playing particularly deep or even playing on the break. They looked well organised and capable of causing problems with crisp passing around the penalty area.
The second half was thankfully much better from an FCT point of view. To give Big Bear credit, he realised he had comitted a howler by including the woeful Hokuto where he did, and he was duly hooked at the interval for our great new hope, Roberto Cesar (Salad). Instantly our shape looked better with the substitute and Hirayama up front and Tatsuya moved to the wing. Indeed (deep breath), Tatsuya was beginning to have a positive influence on the game (I know, I know), and in the 52nd minute combined well with Hanyu and Yazawa before sending a shot just wide of the keeper's right. Not long after the impressive youngster Takumi Abe sent a long cross from the left into the box. Hirayama rose the highest amongst the keeper and the Tosu defence and managed to head it down for Yazawa to prod home. Then we looked at the referee. It was the kind of decision which would normally go the keeper's way, especially in the whistle happy J-league, but the good old guy deemed Sota's challenge to be fair and the goal stood. Relief rather than joy was the emotion.
Tokyo continued to have the better of things and the highlight of the remaining time was a lovely dribble and dart into the box by the Salad but his rather weak shot was dealt with easily enough.
So a much more encouraging second half and the right result in the end. Hard to be too harsh as there were so many key players out and better things are expected soon. The whole thing did have a kind of J2 feel to it though, all being rather low key and flat, but we did leave having watched a game, quite pissed and slightly sunburned, which is after all what we are there for. We also had time to stumble into a couple of Chofu hostelries and slur out a podcast for the fans, by the fans, details of which are below.