J2 Matchday 11
Well, well, well! How does that feel? If its a little unfamiliar, thats because you haven't felt it for almost 20 months! I'm talking, of course, of the feeling you have after your team has just won consecutive league games (and played well doing it). Finally that monkey, actually it had gotten so big it was more of a gorilla, is off our backs and I can stop banging on about it! But, while I've got you, do you know how long its been since we won three in a row in the league....? No, enoughs enough!
Right, best get on with things. We lined up as expected, with Hitoshi Shiota replacing Shuichi Gonda in goal the only change from the Kumamoto game. Tokushima stuck with their 4-4-2, meaning strikers Douglas and Tomohiro Tsuda both started, as did my new best mate Yuya Hashiuchi at right back.
Hideto Takahashi fired off our first shot, a 35 yard range finder in the third minute, but for the next few minutes things settled into a familiar pattern at Aji Sta, with us dominating possession and looking for a way through them, while being cautious of their counter-attacking ability.
A couple of observations from the early stages: our players appeared to have been instructed to try and switch the play whenever possible, as Masato Morishige and Yohei Kajiyama, in particular, were spraying balls out to the flanks quite effectively; and Yasuyuki Konno was clearly up for the challenge of marking Tsuda as he was all over our backline, right on top of things whenever they attempted to counter.
Chances started coming more regularly from the 11th minute, when Casual had a shot saved at the far post after some typical fancy footwork on the left hand side of the box, then Roberto Cesar tried his luck from a similar spot five minutes later but the keeper pushed it out for a corner at his near post. Headed chances came for Morishige and Sotan Tanabe around the half hour mark, Morishige's was just wide after Konno had smartly taken a quick free kick, but Tanabe's effort was miles off target.
Tatsuya Yazawa had stayed quite narrow on the right, perhaps following instructions to allow Yuhei Tokunaga to overlap whenever possible, and the two of them were involved in a glorious chance in the 34th minute, with Yazawa somehow failing to get Tok's low, driven cross on target from just six yards out.
With the visitors failing to cause us any real problems the chances kept on coming, Takahashi had the next as he lashed a brilliant volley just over after some good work by Hokuto Nakamura and a lofted cross by The Salad. Then as the seconds ticked down to halftime, with Tokyo Bairn out having his pre-rush hour p##s, and with The Gasmen practically camped in the Tokushima half, we went ahead!
The ball broke to Yazawa out on the right and his cross to the far post seemed to have too much on it, but The Salad arrived in the nick of time and nodded it back in to the mixer, where Casual was on hand to poke out his right peg and bundle it past their keeper, who was rooted to the spot. Our pressure had finally borne fruit and the ref blew up straight after, as we took a well deserved lead back into the sheds. I've not mentioned Konno enough as he wasn't involved in much of our attacking play, but he was outstanding in repelling any Tokushima threat in the first 45.
We'd seen it all before though, as the previous two home games had seen us take the lead but then be pegged back, so there was still plenty to do. After a fairly even start to the second half we were back on the front foot 10 minutes in, and Takahashi would've scored but couldn't get his feet right after Morishige's lofted cross found The Salad, and the Brazilian drove the ball low and hard across the face of goal.
Yazawa was still roaming fairly freely, and he got three shots off in a 12 minute stretch starting in the 62nd minute, the first well tipped over by the keeper, then after Hanyu had his first shot in four games saved (good involvement by Morishige in the build up), Yazawa tried again, first firing wide after an excellent Gasmen counter attack and then narrowly over with 74 minutes gone.
To a big reception Naohiro Ishikawa had entered the fray three minutes earlier, and his first involvement got the crowd out of our seats as he flew down the right touchline and crossed into the danger zone, but he'd gone too quickly (!) and Hanyu, the nearest attacker, couldn't keep up and the ball rolled across the box before being cleared.
There were a few anxious moments for us up the other end though, and their left winger Kakitani wasted probably their best chance with 12 minutes to go, firing wide under pressure after they had stretched us on the break, and then with six minutes remaining a lazy cross-field ball from Morishige resulted in a Tsuda (I think?) effort from distance that Shiota initially spilled but controlled comfortably.
Our last real chance saw undoubted Man of the Match Konno get decent contact on a header from Ishikawa's free kick, but while there were a few minutes left Tokushima weren't able to muster any late heroics, we played out time and the gorilla was taken off our backs, marched outside and shot.
The final scoreline suggests a tight game but in all truth we had totally dominated the Shikoku side, just failed to put them away. It was hard to find a weak link anywhere, although Hanyu was a peripheral figure once again, and Tanabe failed to hit the heights he had in recent games. I went away fairly impressed with Yazawa, as although he clearly has his limitations, he's not lacking in confidence and on another day might've scored at least once, and also Takahashi, who is not a great passer but he knows it, and keeps things simple. It was also good to see him get more involved going forward.
Other results in this amazingly unpredictable league saw us climb all the way up to 4th, as the four teams on 18 points all lost, and we're now just a point off the third promotion spot held by Ehime FC, and four points behind joint leaders Tochigi SC and Chiba (who meet in Matchday 12, by the way).
Next Saturday afternoon The Gasmen take the short trip up to Ibaraki to face 11th-placed Mito, and we may have Jade North back in the squad, as he'll resume training tomorrow after completing recovery on his hamstring strain.