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Friday, October 14, 2011

FC Tokyo v Okayama: Sunday 1pm

J2 Matchday 29 Preview

Ten games remain in the J2 season, and if you read The Run In posted here last Friday, you know all about the fixtures the top seven teams have left to play. Then this week both weekly soccer magazines ran in-depth features on the promotion race, and Soccer Digest went the furthest, producing an excellent chart showing all the permutations results-wise for the top six (leaving out The Spews), leaving us with a 'Magic Number' of...22.

Thats right, if we collect a minimum 22 points from any combination of results in the final ten games WE WILL BE PROMOTED as one of the top three teams, 100% guaranteed/nailed-on/no doubt. Those 22 points would take us to 79 for the season, out of reach of Tosu, Chiba and Tokushima (we only need to finish ahead of two of them, anyway), as those three teams have clashes head-to-head remaining, making it impossible for them all to win all their remaining games.

The 'Magic Number' will drop every time we win (and/or any two of those three fail to pick up maximum points), hopefully starting Sunday lunchtime when we host Okayama.

Players on 3 Yellow Cards: Masato Morishige, Hideto Takahashi, Yasuyuki Konno, Roberto Cesar (some conjecture over this, he has 3 but was sent off for 2 in the derby), Yohei Kajiyama.

With Yasuyuki Konno and Shuichi Gonda both away with the national team, we put out our strongest available XI in the 4-0 Emperor's Cup win over FC Kagoshima last Saturday, which was (knowing Big Bear as we do) unsurprising and, I guess, somewhat understandable (banana skin?). Sotan Tanabe returned from suspension, Yuhei Tokunaga moved into central defence in place of Konno with Hokuto Nakamura coming in at right back, and the fit-again Hitoshi Shiota returned between the sticks in Gonda's absence.

Clearly Mr. Okuma is taking the Cup seriously, and fair play to him for that, but with our first choice centre halves and centre mids all on three yellows (see above), we're more than likely going to need the likes of Kazumasa Uesato and Jade North to fill in if and when they're suspended, so I feel the manager wasted a golden opportunity on Saturday to give them some competitive action.

The victory aside, the biggest positive to come out of last weekend was the return of Roberto Cesar. After almost two months out with a calf injury, The Salad replaced Lucas with 12 minutes left and appeared to run out the game comfortably, helping to set up our fourth goal. His return gives us a huge boost for the run home, and a minor (positive) selection headache for the manager once he's at 100%, perhaps as soon as next Wednesday's trip to Yokohama FC.

For this game, the only selection issue - as Konno will return and I've given up hoping Naohiro Ishikawa will ever get a start - appears to be whether Gonda will come back into the team in goal. For me its a no-brainer that he should as he's our best 'keeper, but the manager has previous here, as Shiota's 15-game run in the side began when Gonda was away with the Under 22s in June. Surely, though, it's got to be Gonda here and whenever he's available until the end of the season...

17th, W:8 D:7 L:13 GF:32 GA:48 (-16)
They've only won eight times all season, but they have taken some notable scalps, beating Sapporo (their only loss in the last 11) back at the end of August, Kitakyushu home and away, and Kumamoto.

Takanori Chiaki:
Remind you of anyone?
Hint: he plays for Tokushima
and sleeps in a cave.
Last Saturday they too advanced to the next round of the Emperor's Cup with an extra time win away at Kusatsu, while in their last league game they took a 4-2 beating off Tosu at home. Their XI for Tosu was: (3-6-1) Mago; Kondo, Takeda, Ueda; Chiaki, Kim Min Kyun, Sawaguchi, Seno, Yamazaki, Kobayashi; Kukita.

They'll attempt to clog the midfield when we go forward, and 3-6-1 will most likely turn into 5-4-1 with their wingbacks pushing back, so it'll be up to us to be patient and probe for openings, with our threat on set pieces something they'll be sure to prepare for.

They'll pose some danger to us on the counter, as they did when we beat them 2-0 at their place back at the end of June, but with Tiago missing (ironically, just as we've gotten The Salad back from a calf strain, Tiago has gone down with one of his own) they lack a consistent goal threat to trouble our back line.

This seems a total mismatch on paper: 1st v 17th; we have the only undefeated home record in J2 while they have given up the most goals away; we've won our last five while they haven't won in five; I could go on but you get the idea.

On a huge weekend around the league highlighted by Sapporo v Tosu, which kicks off at the same time as our game, we have the perfect opportunity to keep our momentum going, reduce our 'Magic Number' and possibly extend our lead to 6 or 7 points if Tosu can get any kind of result up at Atsubetsu.
I can't see anything but a....Home Win.

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