J2 Matchday 19 Preview
This game, our second against FC Gifu in three weeks, marks the halfway point of the 2011 J2 season. Its certainly been a very interesting year to date, with its fair share of highs and lows, but I'll be doing a seperate 'halfway home' piece next week, so for now lets focus on our first-ever trip to bottom club Gifu, originally scheduled to be played in Matchday 3.
Yesterday's training match against Chuo University, which we won 6-2 over four 30 minute quarters, saw a few spanners thrown into what I thought would be our XI for this game. As expected, Hokuto Nakamura returned and played the first two quarters, so he's almost certain to return at left back in place of Takumi Abe, but things get a bit cloudy after that.
Worryingly, Hideto Takahashi was carted off 17 minutes into the second quarter and is now in serious doubt for Sunday, while surprisingly, Lucas started up front alongside Naotake Hanyu, in place of Roberto Cesar.
On the Lucas front, he's probably fit enough to start games and get through 60-odd minutes now, and while Big Bear may have just been giving him a proper run out with Hanyu yesterday, there's a good chance he could make his first appearance in the XI since his return here.
While I'd like to see Lucas and The Salad paired together in a 4-4-2, our lack of any other fit strikers (Tatsuya Suzuki is not a striker, kids) means it has to be one or the other for the time being, and if Mr. Okuma feels that The Salad needs a rest, as he's been carrying the can on his own up front for so long, then we all know Lucas won't let us down.
In other squad news, while I thought we may see the return of Jade North to the 18, he may still be a bit short of match fitness, and as Tomokazu Nagira started the first two quarters against Chuo U. (with Yasuyuki Konno away at National Team training), it looks as if Nagira will keep his spot in the squad.
They're suffering through a horrible season, nine points adrift at the foot of the table, having scored the fewest goals while letting in the most (both by comfortable margins) to this point. After their back-to-back trips to Aji Sta - a 3-0 loss to The Spews followed by our 4-0 win - they've actually acquitted themselves reasonably well in the past two, 1-0 losses to both Tochigi SC and Sapporo, who both look likely to be involved in the promotion race in the second half of the season.
With five of their next six at home, they'll be hoping for at least a couple of wins during that run, and they're more than welcome to them...after we've left with three points!
Last weekend against Sapporo their XI showed only one change from the game against us, with Hideyoshi Akita in defence in place of Shun Nogaito: (4-4-2) K. Noda; A. Noda, Tanaka, Akita, Kan; Someya, Arai, Mita, Oshitani; Shimada, Nishikawa. We almost certainly won't see Bruno off the bench, as he continues his recovery from his 15 second cameo against us, but that young striker Nishikawa looked decent, while they have leading scorer Koichi Sato to come off the bench.
They've not kept a clean sheet all season, and I know I'm potentially jinxing us by mentioning that, but the simple fact of the matter is we are a class above these, and if we can get an early breakthrough you can easily see the floodgates opening again as they did three weeks ago.
The impetus will again be on us to take our chances and then look to pick them off when they're forced to come out, and really, if we can't win this game we should all pack up and go home.
Don't think I'll be hearing from 'Mr. Anonymous' this week....Away Win.