|(Andy Gray voice) What a hit, son!!! What a hit!!!|
We entered on the back of a six-game winning streak, the hosts hadn't won in seven, and we'd battered them 3-0 just under a month before, so the game had a bit of a men against boys feel to it, which was confirmed when we rolled up behind the goal and saw this (below) banner in the home end...
|Little Boys indeed...|
When we turned the ball over they looked to counter, and had arguably the best chance of the half when Kaio headed down and into Shuichi Gonda's arms from six yards after a lofted cross from Gonda's left. Masato Morishige managed to get his body into Kaio's and prevent the Brazilian from getting any power into his header, but that moment provided a reminder of the danger they could pose if we switched off.
The major flashpoint of the first 94 minutes came as the first half was winding down, and saw the entire Yokohama bench charge to the touchline demanding (in vain) to have Tatsuya Yazawa sent off. After a foul around the halfway line that sent Yazawa to his home away from home, the floor, our man stood up and bumped into the player standing behind him, sending the Yokohama player falling backwards theatrically as if he'd been shot in the forehead.
I didn't see a raised arm from Yazawa, and the contact seemed completely accidental, but the home bench was up in arms and were squealing for a red card. Thankfully, after consulting with the linesman on that side of the pitch the ref produced only a yellow, which was still harsh for accidental contact, but preferable to a red obviously.
In the second half we continued to have the better of things, but with Lucas especially wasteful in front of goal it didn't look like it was going to be our night. Tanabe made way for Ishikawa with half an hour left, but just four minutes after Nao's arrival we were indebted to Gonda for keeping us on level terms after Yokohama midfielder Keiji Takachi worked his way past Tokunaga on the right side of the box and found himself one-on-one with the keeper. Gonda came out and narrowed the target, and Takachi's shot was straight at him, with the defence bundling away the loose ball.
Roberto Cesar replaced Naotake Hanyu with twenty minutes remaining, but The Salad wasn't at his best, and wasted our best chance of the game up to that point when he somehow headed over unmarked from six yards. We continued to pour forward as the hosts sat deeper in the last ten minutes, and even though they had Hiroshi Nakano sent off for a second yellow in the 90th minute, as the game entered four minutes of stoppage time the pessimist in me thought the moment of magic we needed to crack them open wasn't going to come.
The Yokohama players resorted to wasting time, with midfielder Kensuke Sato rolling round their six yard box for two minutes after a clash of bodies at a corner, but ironically their play acting saw the ref add on more time and allow Ishikawa's 95th minute heroics to occur.
With seemingly our last roll of the dice Tokunaga lofted in a (pretty ordinary, actually!) cross from the right that was half headed out by a defender and sat up perfectly for Nao just outside the D. With only one thing on his mind (Copyright, John Gregory) he lashed a shot almost waist-high on the volley, with the ball curving away from Yokohama keeper Seki and inside the far post, sending the away end into raucous celebration.
There was just enough time for the players to do the Bebeto rock the baby celebration in honour of Nao's newborn daughter before the ref blew up on an in-the-end memorable win, our club record seventh straight in the league that kept us seven points clear at the top and extended our buffer over fourth-placed Tokushima (who lost to The Spews) to 11 points.
We sang the 'Nao Goal' song until our throats were hoarse, and the whole away support rocked the baby with Nao as he came round for the post-game bows and sha-sha-shaaa-ing, on the night where our Magic Number for promotion shrunk to 12 points. Happy days against the Little Boys. Next it's Tosu away on Sunday. Up the Gas!