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Monday, May 16, 2011

Kusatsu 2-1 FC Tokyo

J2 Matchday 6

Well....is that it, is that rock bottom? Can things get any worse than being beaten by a middle of the road J2 team from the middle of nowhere? Unfortunately, the answer to those two questions appear to be no, and yes, respectively, as our frankly dreadful start to the season continued on Saturday.

Again having the chance to notch consecutive league wins for the first time since October 2009, FC Tokyo travelled up to Maebashi to take on Kusatsu, the very epitome of an average J2 team we thought we'd chew up and spit out this season. But as we are quickly discovering, we are the big fish that all other teams are looking to take a bite out of.

Roberto Cesar returned from suspension but had to make do with a place on the bench, as Daiki Takamatsu was preferred as the lone frontman in the same 4-5-1 formation as we used against Toyama. You have to wonder at this point how much the boss rates The Salad, as Takamatsu had been poor the past three games and Cesar appears at (or very close to) full fitness. Elsewhere Tatsuya Yazawa came in on the left of the midfield 5 in place of Hokuto Nakamura, but otherwise it was the same XI that laboured to that win at the end of Golden Week.

Anyway, to the game (if I must...!). After a slow start, we grew into the game and took the lead in the 28th minute when Yohei Kajiyama slotted home from the spot after Tatsuya Suzuki was brought down. Goals in consecutive games for the first time this season gave us something to build on, or so we thought... Just three minutes later though, the hosts pulled level after Rafinha lashed a first-time shot back across Shuichi Gonda after he was played in by a nice ball from Shingo Kumabayashi.

Just before halftime Kazumasa Uesato fired in a shot from the right that the keeper couldn't handle, but Takamatsu was slightly slow pouncing on the rebound and the teams retired to the sheds level. We started the second half on the front foot, with the Tatsuyas both firing in efforts, and perhaps sensing a chance to take better advantage of our build-up play, Okuma introduced The Salad in the 53rd minute, with Uesato making way and Casual moving back into the centre of midfield alongside Yuhei Tokunaga.

Our plan to go with two strikers lasted only four minutes, however, as Takamatsu was forced off after a clash following a chance set up by The Salad, further depleting our already stretched striking ranks. Naotake Hanyu replaced the big man and went to the right of midfield, with Tatsuya joining Cesar upfront. Kusatsu dominated possession for the next few minutes though as we lost our rhythm, and it all culminated in the 66th minute with Rafinha netting his second with another first-time finish, this one a composed effort from around the penalty spot after a clever pull-back by their first year fullback Shota Kobayashi.

25 minutes remained for us to equalize or hopefully (somehow) go on to win it, but Okuma disappointed many fans with his final substitution, introducing Hokuto instead of the more creative yet clearly out of favour Yohei Otake. Masato Morishige moved out of defence as we changed to a back three, but despite some half chances it wasn't happening, again, for us, and we even had the sight of Gonda charging up field to try and get on the end of a series of set pieces we had in stoppage time. It wasn't to be, though, and the ref blew up on a famous victory for the hosts, and, while just our second loss, another disappointing result for us.

I was interested in the post-game reaction of the fans (with thanks to raisummer on You Tube) - just listen to the non-reaction from the travelling Tokyo Kop as the players did the usual walk-by & bow (if you don't mind the dodgy trance music being played over the P.A. in the background). No booing, no singing, very little clapping...were they just stunned and bewildered? Totally indifferent?

With my finger over the panic button, I called for the sacking of Mr. Okuma on twitter on Saturday evening, however as the club haven't acted already, it appears he'll have at least another week or two to try and save his job. The club waited too long before realising that Hiroshi Jofuku had run his race last season, they absolutely cannot dawdle on this decision if results do not improve in the next fortnight.

I mentioned above it was a disappointing result, but whats arguably more important this early in the season is the performance, and we are yet to see anywhere near our best this season, with Saturday being no exception. I know its a marathon, not a sprint, I know we're only six games into a 38 game season, but there are no signs that things are turning around from game-to-game and I feel a change is necessary NOW.

The only possible silver linings we have to hang on to are the fact that we are only five points outside the promotion places as the other middling teams continue to take points off each other, and we have Naohiro Ishikawa and Pedro Junior to return from injury at some point - although that is offset for the moment by the possible loss of Takamatsu for an extended period depending on the severity of his injury.

Shonan visit Aji Sta on Sunday, they currently lie in fourth and boast the joint-best defensive record in the league, but we have good memories of playing them in the top tier last season, and you'd expect them to try and play rather than follow the blueprint, so it should be a decent game, and yet another chance for us to get our season going. 

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