The second half of the 2011 J2 season began on Saturday night with FC Tokyo hosting Kusatsu. An impressive crowd of 20,790, the second-best of the season, poured into the steamy Aji Sta bowl, with many no doubt looking forward to the fireworks show the club had planned (and the football game that would take place either side of it).
The Gasmen put out exactly the same squad as for last weekend's 2-0 away win over FC Gifu, which meant that new boys Genki Nagasato and Daisuke Sakata were not involved, and the home end was confident that revenge could be had for one of our three defeats in the first half of the campaign.
Hopes were high, but hearts were in mouths in the first minute, as a long ball over the top caught Masato Morishige napping and sent Kusatsu's Brazilian striker Alex racing away down the left. The lanky South American dribbled into the box, but slightly mistimed his shot and Hitoshi Shiota parried clear.
After that early scare the game settled into the familiar Aji Sta pattern, with FC Tokyo dominating possession and probing for openings. The visitors kept a relatively high line as we built play from the back, and there appeared to be clear instructions to spread the field and push the fullbacks up, but things tightened up as we got closer to goal, with clear-cut chances hard to come by as Kusatsu defended stoutly.
We had a few chances from free kicks around their box as the half progressed, with one effort from Morishige drawing a brilliant save from Kita in the Kusatsu goal, but the first half ended scoreless and while we had made all the play, we could have few complaints as our finishing wasn't what it should have been, one perfect example a flowing move that ended with Casual taking an unnecessary touch in the box and getting the ball stuck in his feet.
|I thought he should've been replaced after an hour, but for|
winning the penalty and the way he finished the game
so strongly, Tatsuya Yazawa was my Man of the Match.
Sotan Tanabe was replaced by Naohiro Ishikawa in the 66th minute, and its lucky Yazawa stayed on, because in the next minute he was played in by Hokuto Nakamura on the left side of the box and then pulled back by a defender, with the ref blowing up for a penalty. So, for the fifth straight game we had been awarded a spot kick, but as we'd missed our last two of course (Casual against Kitakyushu and The Salad last week), who would take it?
A few moments of comedy followed, as The Salad and Yazawa played a best-two-out-of-three janken match after Casual stood down early, with The Salad triumphing and slotting home his seventh goal of the season to give us the lead.
We sat back a bit more after the goal, as is our wont, but the visitors weren't able to cause us too many troubles, and there continued to be more chances on their goal, and we saw Lucas come on for The Salad in the 81st and then Tatsuya made a late cameo, replacing Naotake Hanyu.
We pushed and prodded but despite the best efforts of Yazawa, who got stronger as the game went on, we weren't able to score a second, but it didn't matter as Kusatsu couldn't keep the ball or muster a sustained attack, and the game ended with us deserved 1-0 winners.
So we held firm at the top of the table, and with Tokushima held to a home draw by Mito and Tochigi stunned 2-0 at Yokohama FC, we 're now three points ahead of Chiba, who have a game in hand and moved up to second following their win at Gifu.
Next Sunday we face a very stern test at Tochigi, who slipped to fourth this weekend after being the pace-setters for much of the first half of the year, and its games like those against fellow promotion hopefuls that will go a long way towards deciding who goes up at the end of the year.