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Saturday, June 18, 2011

FC Tokyo v Tokushima: Sunday 6pm

J2 Matchday 11 Preview

Roberto Cesar's brilliant Karate Kid volley sealed FC Tokyo's second away win of the season in horrible conditions last Sunday in Kumamoto, and The Gasmen will look to build on that victory and finally get our season going when Tokushima visit Ajinomoto Stadium tomorrow evening.

The Salad's second league goal since his arrival from Avai saw us move up just one position in the table (to 8th), but more importantly we gained two points in the race for promotion. We now sit just two points behind Tosu, who are third, as well as three other teams on 18 points - including Tokushima.

This will be the third weekend in succession we'll face a team higher than us in the table, but while our home form remains inconsistent (two wins, three draws, plus a draw in the 'away' derby), this is as good a time as any to notch consecutive league wins for the first time since October 25th, 2009 - this will be our 13th attempt since we beat Shimizu 2-1 that day at Nihondaira (sorry for being such a stats geek).

This week Mr. Okuma is forced into one change, with Hitoshi Shiota set to start in goal in place of Shuichi Gonda, who's with the Japan Under 22 side for their Olympic qualifiers against Kuwait. Apart from that there's little chance of the manager changing a winning side, as evidenced by the same 10 outfield players from the Kumamoto game starting Thursday's training game against Sony Sendai, but stuff it, I'm going for the XI that I WANT to see. Now of course I'm taking our injuries and the departure from the club of Pedro Junior into account here, but if I was Mr. Big Bear, I'd give Tatsuya Yazawa and Naotake Hanyu the boot, and bring in Naohiro Ishikawa and Yohei Otake.

According to the manager, Yazawa started ahead of Otake last Sunday because of "the rain and ... the team's need for hard work more than anything else at the moment" but the former Chiba man hasn't really convinced apart from a decent performance against his old team in Matchday 2.

Strangely, he was chosen as Man of the Match against Kumamoto by El Golazo, but failed to poll a single vote (out of 170 cast) in the Tokyo Chunichi Sports "Man of the Tokyo" fans vote, so I'm siding with my fellow supporters, and switching them back. The fact that there is no rain forecast for Sunday also helps....

Hanyu has worked hard as he always does, but despite playing behind The Salad, "in the hole" as they say, he's failed to launch a single shot in the past three games. I realise that just looking at shots on goal stats is not the only way to judge a player's value or importance to the team as a whole, and in Roswell's case a lot of what he does goes unnoticed (intelligent runs off the ball to stretch the defence out of shape etc.), but the simple fact of the matter is that when you play in such an advanced position you have to be integral to the attack, and he just hasn't been a factor at all in that regard in games he's started there.

So my second change is Ishikawa in, and its probably a little premature, as he's only played about 45 minutes of football all season - coming off the bench in the last two games - but he's far and away our best winger when fit, which he now appears to be (or close to it), his burst was there against Kumamoto, and I'd like to see him get his first start in almost seven months at home. His inclusion would allow Sotan Tanabe to slide over into the hole vacated by Roswell.

Sotan has never lined up in that position in a league game for us, but he's done plenty of work in practice games at Kodaira there, and Mr. Okuma himself said after the Shonan draw "He's still young but I believe he's going to become a central player," so why not start now, give him a try in the hole and see how he goes?

I've already written this week how excited I am for Tokushima's visit, in particular at the chance to see their chromosome-challenged fullback Yuya Hashiuchi, but in all seriousness this will be a very stern test for The Gasmen. They haven't won in three, but like us, they've only been beaten twice this season, and were the first team to beat leaders Chiba (1-0 at home in Matchday 3).

Last Sunday they were held to a 2-2 draw in their home 'swamp' (diabolical conditions) by Okayama, with the visitors' equalizer coming in second half stoppage time. Ominously for us though, their two goals were scored by key attackers Douglas and Tomohiro Tsuda, the Brazilian netting his third of the season and Tsuda scoring on his first start of the year. They also have threats on the flanks, with Yusuke Shimada and Yoichiro Kakitani, so the Tokyo midfield and defence will have to be wary of committing forward too much, as they will definitely be dangerous on the counter.

Their XI from the Okayama game was: Oh Seung Hoon; HASHIUCHI (!!!), Bae Seung Jin, Miki, Nishijima; Shimada, Kuranuki, Eto, Kakitani; Douglas & Tsuda, but whether they stick with this tomorrow or look to follow the blueprint (maybe dropping one of the strikers) is up in the air. We shall see.

As I've said, this will be another tricky game for us. Tokushima are not sixth by accident, they're a good, balanced team that should be able to hang around in the top half of the table all season. But again, we've got the chance to win consecutive games for the first time in almost 20 months (f##ken hell thats a long time!), and its time to get that particular monkey off our back!
Gotta back the boys here....Home Win.

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