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Friday, June 24, 2011

Mito v FC Tokyo: Saturday 4pm

J2 Matchday 12 Preview

Consecutive wins? Check. Within touching distance of the promotion places? Check. Things are looking up for the 4th-placed Gasmen, and we take our five game unbeaten run up to Ibaraki tomorrow evening to face Mito, who sit in 11th. Despite the gap of seven places in the table this won't be a walk in the park though, as the hosts trail us by just three points, and have a two game winning streak of their own going.

This game starts a little stretch where we play three of our next four away, and over the next two months we'll actually play seven of our next 11 on the road, as the postponed games we have to make up begin to come around, the first of those being next Wednesday night at Okayama. It goes without saying then that this is an important part of the season for us, and if we can tread water and stay in touch with the top three (or make our way in, of course), then we'll be set up for our run in the two months after that, when we play seven of eleven at home. But I'm getting way ahead of myself, so lets pull it back and talk about tomorrow...

Following our best home performance of the season last Sunday, Mr. Okuma should have an easy time at the selection table....

That is, if there are no disciplinary procedures against Tatsuya Yazawa, who on Thursday morning became the third Tokyo player to be involved in a traffic accident this season.

Now Yazawa's bingle was no more serious than earlier ones involving Shuichi Gonda and Yasuyuki Konno, and the female 'victim' ended up with nothing more than bruised buttocks, but you have to wonder if the club will say enoughs enough and hand down a punishment, perhaps even a suspension.

Provided Yazawa is cleared to play, the only two possible queries in selection might be whether Naohiro Ishikawa (almost at full fitness) and Gonda (who will arrive back in the country today after this morning's Under 22 Olympic qualifier in Kuwait) are considered fit enough and available, respectively, to start.

Starting with the latter, I'm sure Gonda would love to play as he never likes to miss a game, but as this clash comes just (roughly) 36 hours after the Under 22 game IN Kuwait, commonsense will surely prevail and Hitoshi Shiota will stay between the sticks.

Ishikawa has gotten through three substitute appearances with no after-effects, but you wouldn't think he'd be ready to start two games in five days just yet and I'd expect he and Gonda to come into the XI on Wednesday.

Jade North resumed training this week after recovering from a hamstring strain, and he'd have to be rated a good chance to make the bench for this game, which would probably mean either Kenta Mukuhara or Takumi Abe will have to drop out of the squad altogether. If Big Bear goes for the XI above, the bench should be: Tokizawa, North, Mukuhara, Uesato, Shimoda, Ishikawa & Otake.

The Ibaraki club entered J2 in 2000, the year we began our run in J1, and have never been promoted, so this will be our first-ever league meeting. In their 11 completed seasons they've only ever managed one top half finish - 8th in 2009 - and they did a poor job of following that up last year, as they slid all the way down to 16th (of 19), despite the best efforts of our very own Kohei Shimoda, who played 14 times (9 starts) for them on loan last season.

In the spirit of ridiculous club mascots they've certainly come to the party with their 310kg dragon (with antlers?!), Holly-kun. What those red fish are doing chasing after him though, I have absolutely no idea... Perhaps the travelling Tokyo Kop can report back after the game if there are any more odd red fish sightings.

As I mentioned above they've won their last two, against Toyama and Okayama, and held leaders Tochigi SC to a scoreless draw the game before that, so they're on a pretty impressive run. This will be their seventh home game of the season so far, with their only defeat at K's Denki a 5-0 battering at the hands of Tosu.

They seem to have a fairly settled squad, having started the same XI in the past two games, and have battled on well in the absence of 2010 top scorer Kota Yoshihara, with our former Under 18'er Satoshi Tokiwa their top scorer with three goals. The Mito XI that beat Okayama last Sunday was: (4-4-2) Homma; Okada, Shiotani, Omoto, Hozaki; Koike, Nishioka, Murata, Shimada; Endo & Tokiwa.

We've put together a solid unbeaten run, without ever really being at our best. This shapes as another difficult away trip, but if we play to our potential and take the three points then we may well finish Saturday in the promotion places, as 3rd-placed Ehime FC face a difficult trip to Kumamoto.
Both teams are in form, but for me its......Away Win.

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