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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Chiba 3-0 FC Tokyo

J2 Matchday 2

The J.League resumed this past weekend, but a casual glance at the scoreline from FC Tokyo's first game back would seem to indicate the players thought they had another weekend off. In truth though, until Chiba's first goal in the 77th minute, we looked good value to at least hang on for a point, having wasted two glorious chances earlier in the second half. But the Chiba player we feared the most in the lead up to the game, Tor Hogne Aarøy, finally had his way, putting them in front and then adding the gloss with the third in the dying minutes.

In my Preview last Friday I said "there [was] no doubt whatsoever about the 'keeper and back four," but I clearly didn't factor in the possibility that Kiyoshi Okuma would channel Hiroshi Jofuku and think that playing Yuhei Tokunaga as a holding midfielder was a good idea, despite having the entire 2010 season available as a reference that it wasn't. And despite having Naotake Hanyu and the fit-again Kazumasa Uesato - actual midfielders(!) - on the bench.

I've said enough about what I think of Tok playing in midfield - if you read any of my Nine Months of Hell... series at the end of last season you know my feelings there - but on a different point I think the choice of two out-and-out holding players sends out the wrong message in a season when we should be going out to attack teams and impose ourselves on games, rather than worrying too much on restricting opponents. Far better, surely, to include a more creative player alongside Takuji Yonemoto: the Kofu practice game the previous Saturday was a perfect example of that, when Hanyu and Yohei Kajiyama worked well in a central three with Yone.

Anyway, Tokunaga's selection instead of Roswell in the centre of the park meant that Kenta Mukuhara slotted in at right back, but otherwise the team was the same as I'd predicted and was widely expected: Gonda; Mukuhara, Morishige, Konno, Abe; Tatsuya, Tokunaga, Casual, Yone, Yazawa; Takamatsu, with Shiota, North, Uesato, Hanyu, Hokuto, Otake and The Salad on the bench.

Chiba's gameplan was predictable: get the ball up to the big man, but our defenders did a good job in the early going of restricting his chances. We'd seen quite a bit of the ball, and our first clear chance came in the 37th minute. Yone found Tatsuya on the right, who swept the ball to the far post for Takamatsu, but just a fraction high. Abe was following up the play well though and the ball carried through to him wide on the left. Takumi squared back for Yazawa (playing against his former club, of course) on the edge of the box, and he just got his shot away but a defender, standing in front of the keeper, blocked it out for a corner.

Almost immediately after that action in our attacking goal mouth came a moment that left a sick feeling in all Tokyo fans' stomachs. Yone jumped for a high ball that was slightly under him, and as he landed at an awkward angle first his ankle then his knee buckled under his weight. As he lay on the floor clutching his knee we all feared the worst, and after three or four minutes of treatment he was carted off and Hanyu came on to replace him. An absolute tragedy for the young man, we are still waiting to hear the results of his MRI as I write this, but if he's done ligaments again that could be his season shot.

Each team made a change at halftime, with The Salad replacing Tatsuya for us, and Australian international Mark Milligan coming on at the back in place of Ryota Aoki for Chiba. Milligan was to play a major part in the opening goal, but earlier in the second half we had two golden chances to go in front. The first came in the 56th minute when Mukuhara got down the flank and whipped in a cross from the edge of the box. With good pace on the ball, the keeper could only parry the ball out, and the on-rushing Yazawa, in loads of space, had a great look at goal, but fired narrowly wide with his left foot. Just two minutes later Mukuhara himself was the culprit, missing the target at the near post after Casual dinked a delightful ball over the top of the defence.

Big Daiki's day was done in the 76th minute, with Otake coming on as our third sub and The Salad moving upfront on his own, but just a minute later Gonda was picking the ball out of his net and Tokyo were behind after a slightly controversial incident. Milligan took a throw from the left sideline almost adjacent to our box, and pulled a Rory Delap on us, flinging the ball to Aarøy standing dead centre nine yards out. The big man held off Morishige and nodded the ball just inside Gonda's right-hand post, but replays showed only Milligan's left heel was on the line when he released the ball and a foul throw should've been given.

Anyway, whatever, it wasn't, and as we pushed forward Chiba hit us twice on the break in the last 10 minutes, Yonekura firing through Gonda's legs after a neat through ball from Aarøy, and then the big man got his second and Chiba's third late on burying a free header at the far post.

The scoreline perhaps flattered them, but we didn't take our chances, and that's how it goes. More worrying than one loss is the possible long-term absence of Yone, and we've all got our fingers crossed that his diagnosis is better than is expected/feared. The only comfort for our prospects going forward is that we've got central midfield cover this season - and we don't need to play defenders in midfield, Mr. Okuma - in Uesato and Roberto.

Starting this Saturday we have three games at Aji Sta in eight days: Sapporo, The Spews (away) and then Toyama on Sunday week, so we have the perfect oppotunity to put this loss behind us, get on a winning run and build momentum, something we completely failed to do all last season. We should have Pedro Junior available to play a part in at least the last two of those games, as he got through 45 minutes in yesterday's practice game against Tsukuba University (which finished 2-2), and I for one am really looking forward to seeing him in a red and blue shirt.

There'll be new installments of Gas Talk coming soon too, so look out for them.

You'll Never Walk Alone

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