|What a belter from Hideto!|
Okayama set up 3-4-2-1 as expected, and they were on their heels from the start as we looked to exploit space on the flanks, with fullbacks Kenta Mukuhara and Yuhei Tokunaga encouraged to go forward to support wingers Sotan Tanabe and Tatsuya Yazawa.
The home fans didn't have to wait long for a goal, and unsurprisingly, given Okayama's compact formation, it came via a set piece. Yazawa, now the league leader in assists this season, whipped in an outswinger from the right that cleared a group of players at the near post and fell right onto the bootlaces of Masato Morishige, who held off a defender and volleyed in his fifth goal of the season from close range.
Chances continued to come after the opener, as Okayama had to come out a little more, but we had a major scare, and were indebted to the lightning reflexes of Gonda, in the 28th minute. They passed right through us down the left, and their winger Yusuke Kobayashi tried an audacious lob which sailed over Gonda but luckily for us came back off the bar. Masahiko Sawaguchi pounced on the rebound and smashed at goal from six yards, but somehow Gonda got back in position to make a superb instinctive save and the danger was gone.
Seven minutes later though normal service was resumed and it was goodnight nurse after a fantastic strike from Hideto Takahashi. The width I spoke of earlier was on display again as a cross from Tokunaga found its way to Mukuhara on the left of the box, and Okayama must have thought they'd escaped after his shot was blocked and half-cleared...but Hideto had other ideas, he nipped ahead of a defender, won the ball and turned in one motion, before unleashing a thunderbolt with his right foot past a despairing Hidenori Mago for 2-0. Thats three this season for him, and all have been quality strikes from distance.
If we thought we were home-and-dry two up Yohei Kajiyama made absolutely sure of it in the 41st minute, netting for the sixth time this year with a crisp finish from dead in front after another period of sustained Gasmen pressure. We went in at half time 3-0 up then, and while I was speculating if Okayama were Tajikistan in disguise, the early afternoon heat perhaps took its toll on the players in the second half, despite the earlier-than-usual introduction of Naohiro Ishikawa for Naotake Hanyu (58th minute).
The pace slowed noticeably, but Tanabe did have an excellent chance eight minutes into the half, trying a lob of his own that cleared the keeper but unfortunately also the crossbar. Sotan was replaced by Daisuke Sakata with 25 minutes left, and it was interesting to see the new boy go wide again rather than play through the middle, with Yazawa deployed behind Lucas after Hanyu was taken off.
With 20 minutes remaining The Salad made his return to league action replacing Lucas, and while he was busy there was no goal for our No.9 on this day, though the time on the pitch will serve him well, and could see him challenging for Lucas' starting spot on Wednesday away at Yokohama FC or the weekend at Tosu. Okayama were better in the second half but Gonda was up for stopping anything they could throw (or shoot) at him, and though there were no goals in the second 45, we'll take a 3-0 win any day of the week, especially in this totally unpredictable league.
Thats six wins on the spin, with 21 scored and only one conceeded, and on another crazy J2 weekend that saw Tosu win at Sapporo (not so crazy), Chiba throw away two leads and lose 3-2 at home to Kusatsu, and Tochigi get battered by Shonan, our lead at the top of the table is now seven points, and most importantly, our 'Magic Number' for promotion is down to 18 points, and if you factor in goal difference its 17 in practical, though not mathematical, terms.
To Mitsuzawa on Wednesday evening then, where we'll go for a club record seventh straight league win, against Yokohama FC. Up the Gas!