J2 Matchday 16 Preview
Our five-game winning run was halted in a 0-0 draw at Oita last Saturday, but we're nine games unbeaten and level on points with third-placed Tochigi, so things are still looking good for The Gasmen. This is our longest league unbeaten streak, by the way, since we ended the 2005 season on a 12-game run (13 if you include our win to start 2006). There's your FC Tokyo trivia for the week sorted...
The Oita draw, a game we dominated but might've come away with nothing were it not for Hitoshi Shiota and his huge save in the 81st minute, may actually prove to be a blessing in disguise as the players can refocus and start afresh, hopefully starting a new winning run on Sunday night in our first ever meeting with cellar-dwellers FC Gifu.
This is the first of two in a row at home before we embark on a run of four of five away (well you could say five of six away, as our "home" game at the end of that run is Tochigi at Kumagaya, which I still insist is ridiculous).
Providing Lucas pulls up alright from yesterday's 3-1 training match win over Rissho University (3 x 30 mins), in which he played 45 minutes, he's an excellent chance to make the squad, and if he's in the 18, you'd bet your house on him getting at least half an hour off the bench (providing he doesn't start of course, which seems very unlikely) as he rounds into fitness.
It will be very interesting to see how Roberto Cesar and Lucas combine once the big man enters the fray, you'd expect The Salad to drop deeper, where he likes to operate, while Lucas will likely play the target man role, holding the ball up and creating in the final third.
That excitement about Lucas' return aside, it looks as though Mr. Okuma will be forced into one change to the XI, as Hokuto Nakamura played no part yesterday (mysterious injury? We'll never find out from the club), with Takumi Abe filling the breach.
Abe hasn't started since the loss at Kusatsu in Matchday 6, so if he gets the call he'll be out to impress, and will hopefully have the freedom to roam up and down the left flank as he did so impressively in the first few games of the season.
Another issue is whether Hitoshi Shiota will continue to keep Shuichi Gonda out of the side, although his brilliant one-on-one save, not to mention his strong all around performance against Oita, might have turned that into somewhat of a non-issue, so you'd guess that Gonda will have to continue to bide his time on the bench.
I mentioned that Abe will hopefully have the freedom to roam, and that's certainly something that Masato Morishige had against Oita, as he made several forays from centre back into our attacking half in open play. He'd scored in three straight games before Oita, so you can't blame him for being drawn forward, although we do have to keep our width when "Morige" moves up, as the extra body just tends to increase the congestion in midfield and around our opponent's box.
Scoring from open play continues to be a struggle for us, and it may again take a set piece for us to break through before the floodgates hopefully open (touch wood), though after 19 shots and no goals against Oita we're due a little luck in front of goal.
Elsewhere in the squad it looks like Lucas will replace Hokuto in the 18 and the other names will stay the same, as Naohiro Ishikawa isn't ready to return quite yet (thanks to @Hiroshixyz for the twitter updates yesterday), and Jade North should be back in the country soon but is not available for this game.
Unfortunately FC Gifu don't appear to have a mascot or players with odd heads I can post to boost my pageviews (although the no.s 15 and 26 both really need to sort their hair out), so lets just get cracking on them.
This is their fourth season in J2 since being admitted at the end of 2007, and its turning out to be their worst, as they sit bottom, five points adrift of Kyoto and Toyama after just two wins in the first 15 games. They're the joint-lowest scorers with Toyama (11 goals), and have allowed a league-worst 28 goals, including three to The Spews at Aji Sta last Saturday.
In another example of the sometimes very odd scheduling that goes on at J.League House, they have to return to the same stadium eight days later for another away game, and while this is our first-ever meeting, we'll see them again very soon when we visit the Nagaragawa Stadium in three weeks for the return fixture (though that is no one's fault, it was originally Matchday 3 before the earthquake and tsunami).
They appear to be a permanent 4-4-2 team home or away regardless of opposition, the best indicator of that being in Matchday 10 when they visited Chiba. Last Saturday their XI was: (4-4-2) Murao; Noda, Tanaka, Akita, Nogaito; Shimada, Arai, Mita, Nagayoshi; Sato, Nishikawa.
They boast a bit of height up front with Nishikawa (187cm) and four-goal leading scorer Sato (184cm), so they'll have to be marked tightly at set pieces, while they list three Brazilians in their squad on their website, but only Bruno has seen any time on the pitch this season, making five appearances including one start.
This looks like a massive mismatch on paper, but as we saw last weekend dominating a game doesn't always lead to three points. An early goal would be great to draw Gifu out, from where we should be able to exploit space and push on for more.
The likely return of Lucas should lead to a festive atmosphere inside Aji Sta, and hopefully we can match or even better The Spews' result from last Saturday.
Surely, surely, surely, this has got to be.....Home Win.