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Monday, September 5, 2011
FC Tokyo 0-0 Tochigi SC
J2 Matchday 23
FC Tokyo supporters voted with their feet yesterday, with a paltry 6,795 turning up in Kumagaya, Saitama, for a 'home' game against Tochigi SC. I held my tongue in my preview on Friday, but the decision to play this game at that venue was an unmitigated disaster for the club, with the turn-up well below half our average home attendance, and less than a third of our last game at Ajinomoto Stadium.
WHAT. A. BEER.
For me, there were only two positives to come out of the Kumagaya experience:
1. It didn't rain; and
2. I found Sapporo Classic at the convenience store at Kumagaya station.
On the negative side:
1. Kumagaya is a shithole;
2. It took forever to get there/back on a Sunday afternoon/night;
3. There were no beer girls or guys wandering the stands;
4. You had to go outside the ground to get a beer and then they RAN OUT OF BEER 10 minutes into the second half; and
5. The atmosphere was terrible - despite the best efforts of both sets of supporters.
And unfortunately, the negatives of the game itself also outweighed the positives. I suppose in a clash between first and second in the table we had to expect there would be a degree of the two teams nullifying each other and not wanting to leave themselves too open, but we also had the right to expect a less scrappy game in which the supposed two best teams in the league would show their quality.
Now if the ref (who along with his linesmen had an absolute nightmare) had given a penalty when Tatsuya Yazawa's plant foot got taken out from under him when he was shaping to shoot with ten minutes left, and we'd scored and won, I'd be sitting here saying we deserved to win and life's great, but he didn't, and in truth on our overall performance we didn't deserve to win.
At the selection table Big Bear did as I expected (unfortunately): bringing Yazawa straight back in following his suspension, which meant still no starting spot for Naohiro Ishikawa; and drafting in Kenta Mukuhara to play at right back with Yuhei Tokunaga sliding over into the centre, which meant Jade North had to settle for a place on the bench (but at least he's moved back ahead of Tomokazu Nagira in the pecking order).
We had some decent chances in the first half, the first coming in the 12th minute when Sotan Tanabe embarked on a mazy dribble from around the halfway line to the edge of the box before sliding Yazawa in on the right hand side of the area, but unfortunately Yazawa wasn't able to get around the ball and fired into the side netting.
Then Hokuto Nakamura was heavily involved in two other opportunities from midway through the half, first he whipped in an excellent cross that Lucas could only head across the face of goal, and then from his pull-back Yohei Kajiyama screwed a left footed shot wide.
Tochigi always looked a threat on the break, with Ricardo Lobo well and truly up for a scrap, and he probably should've tested Hitoshi Shiota just before halftime but blazed over from just inside the box. On Shiota, who was captain in Yasuyuki Konno's absence, his overall performance was fine in terms of notching another clean sheet, but he had a poor game when it came to his distribution, I counted at least three times he kicked the ball directly out of play under no pressure.
We could have few complaints with the 0-0 scoreline at half time as despite those chances we'd never clicked into gear, our build-up play was too laboured and the long ball up to Lucas was played a bit too much for my liking.
The visitors were dealt a blow four minutes into the second half when their midfield anchor Paulinho had to be carted off after a clash with Casual, and he'll be a huge loss for them if he's forced to miss any significant time due to injury. We weren't really able to carry any more of a threat following his departure though, as even though Hideto Takahashi was his usual steady self, Casual was caught in possession or dallied too long before passing on several occasions.
Ishikawa replaced Tanabe just after the hour mark and looked to get us going with his trademark darts down the wing, but even Nao was slightly off colour and struggled to impose himself on the game, laying the ball off where usually you'd expect him to try and get to the byline before crossing.
Genki Nagasato was introduced in the 73rd minute, replacing Naotake Hanyu (who had done next to nothing attacking-wise), and our new signing was quite heavily involved firing in a couple of off-target shots as well as looking the part down the left.
Yazawa had already been in the wars - copping a whack on the cheek which drew blood, leaving him quite dazed for a few minutes - before he was at the centre of what was the major incident of the game when he appeared to be hacked down in the box in the 83rd minute. From our beer-goggled vantage point it looked a stonewall penalty, but the ref waved play on, and after working his socks off Yazawa was replaced with three minutes left by Daisuke Sakata Tatsuya Suzuki.... Why the hell Big Bear continues to give this waste of space any time at all on the pitch is beyond me, and so Sakata stayed on the bench when a little bit of quality from him could've won us the game.
There was one final, glorious, chance for us, when Lucas attacked Ishikawa's corner in the 90th minute and thumped a header on target with the keeper nowhere, but unfortunately for the big Brazilian they had a man on the line and he headed clear, with the ref blowing up after four minutes were added on.
So thats three on the spin without a win, but yet again we stayed top because of the incompetence of the teams around us. Sooner or later though if we keep dropping points we'll slide down the table, as the gap between us and sixth-placed Tosu is now just three points. We've had ample opportunities to put some distance between ourselves and the rest, but as we've been guilty of playing down to the level of our opponents that hasn't happened, and we now have no breathing room whatsoever.
We need Roberto Cesar back sharpish, and perhaps some other changes to freshen things up. It was fine and dandy that the manager kept the same team for as many games as he did when we were playing well and winning, but its not working now and he needs to act before we start to slide down the table.
We all know Mr. Okuma is conservative/loyal/stubborn when it comes to making changes, but Hanyu's influence has diminished sharply and Tanabe has looked good in bursts recently but is very inconsistent, so I'd like to see Ishikawa and one of Sakata (in a 4-4-2) or Nagasato get an opportunity in the weeks ahead, starting with Kyoto at HOME, ie. Ajinomoto Stadium, this Saturday.