The build-up to this game was all about us getting revenge on the team that sealed our fate and relegated us on the final day of last season (though in truth, we owe Urawa almost as much for laying down against Kobe, but I digress...), but in reality it was more about us trying to build on the stretches of good play we had shown in the first seven games, and putting it all together for 90 minutes. We were still looking for our first away win of the campaign as well, and what better place to get it, and bury the demons of last season, than at our own Theatre of Nightmares?
After his promising season debut in the home draw against Shonan we all expected to see Sotan Tanabe get another start, and it was happy days when the teamsheet was released, with Yohei Otake drafted in to the XI for his first start since Kobe away at the end of August last year. Ironically, after calling for him to be picked in my last four match previews, I didn't bother putting him in for this game as it appeared to me that Mr. Okuma just didn't rate him! Just goes to show I'll never work out the Big Bear...
Anyway, so apart from Otake in for Tatsuya (Injured? He wasn't even on the bench), the other change was one I did get right (kind of), with Yuhei Tokunaga moving back to right back, Kenta Mukuhara dropping to the bench and
Otherwise it was as expected for Tokyo, and the hosts kicked-off in pretty shitty weather, with steady rain falling. Despite the conditions we made a bright start, and Yohei Kajiyama fired off a range-finder in the 5th minute, missing at the near post after Roberto Cesar had done well to control a throw-in and slide the ball back to Casual on the left side of the box.
Nine minutes later we were ahead, after a brilliant move started and finished by Casual. Firstly he slipped a short pass to Takahashi, who played it out to the left sideline to Tanabe. After some fancy footwork Tanabe played it back to Casual, who nutmegged his man and advanced into the box, with Sotan continuing his run and overlapping to the left. Casual slid it ahead and Sotan, who had no time to take a touch with the keeper coming out to close him down, pulled the ball back perfectly for Casual to fire home with ease from the six yard line.
Hang on though, you knew it wasn't going to be that easy, and just six minutes after we went ahead it was Kusatsu flashbacks all round, as the hosts drew level after Shuichi Gonda could only parry out a fierce low shot and their midfielder Naito drove home the rebound. It was a pretty poor goal to concede, as the defence should've been able to clear after Gonda's save. And again without singling out Hokuto too much, he was guilty of ball-watching after following Diego's run into the box, leaving Otake to challenge Naito for the loose ball.
It really would've been Kusatsu all over again were it not for a brilliant but somewhat fortunate save from Gonda in the 28th minute. They broke at speed after a set piece was cleared and Hokuto, who had stayed back, half came for the ball at around the halfway line but didn't commit. Atsutaka Nakamura knocked it by him, and zoomed off, with Hokuto and Casual trailing in his wake and Tokunaga desperately trying to get over to cover. As he bore down on goal Nakamura fired low and hard from inside the D, with Gonda just getting enough on it for the ball to skid off the surface and loop over the bar onto the roof of the net.
We were back on top two minutes later though, after a goal that showed the value of Otake's dead-ball skills. Casual's shot was deflected out for a corner, and from the right, Otake curled in an absolute peach of a ball that begged to be headed in, and Sotan didn't disappoint, planting a bullet that the keeper could only parry into the roof of the net. Questions have to be asked about their defending, as Sotan was completely unmarked as he began his run from the edge of the box, but he still had work to do, and he finished very well, netting his first league goal to restore our lead.
Eight minutes before halftime Otake extended our lead with his first league goal in nine months, as their defence gifted us another chance. After Takahashi lumped a harmless-looking ball into the box, the Kyoto defender made a complete hash of his clearance, and Otake strode onto the ball and lashed home on the half volley from 16 yards, the ball squirming through the keeper and into the net.
With a comfortable 3-1 halftime lead, the only question was if we would go back into our shells, or kick on and try to extend our lead, and with Sotan in the mood the answer was well and truly the latter. Thirteen minutes into the second half he grabbed his second, and our fourth, after a lovely one-two with The Salad, and Sotan's touch to take the return pass and ease it past the last defender was excellent. From there he fired past the keeper into the far corner and that was game, set and match, although The Salad did his best to try and pile on more agony for the hosts, but was unable to add to his goal from last week. Hopefully he's saving a few up for Ehime on Sunday!
On a personal level it was also great to see Jade North get on the pitch to make his FC Tokyo debut, even if it was for only the last minute or so of stoppage time.
So revenge was well and truly had, a thoroughly deserved win, we doubled our goal tally for the season(!), and most pleasingly, two of our younger players, who had been starved of opportunities in the past, were the architects. Sotan was clearly Man of the Match (so much so I didn't even bother putting a poll up on the blog!), and Otake's performance was also worthy of mention, for his delivery on set pieces almost as much as his goal. The Salad continues to improve as he gets fitter, and Casual is playing better back in centre mid than he did in the more advanced role.
That was the sort of team performance we had been waiting for, and while I wasn't getting carried away after our win over Toyama, this was the sort of display (with the only caveat that Kyoto's defending was woeful) that could kick start our season. The result moved us up three spots to ninth, still four points out of the promotion places, and as I mentioned above, it's Ehime (at Komazawa) on Sunday. With our young guns leading the way, you'd have to like our chances.
Come on you Gasmen!