|Bang! Bang! The Salad bags a brace!|
Surprisingly, Kohei Shimoda was preferred over Kazumasa Uesato to start alongside Naotake Hanyu in central midfield, while as expected Jade North made just his second start of the season, Hokuto Nakamura came in at right back and Naohiro Ishikawa, captain for the day with Konno away, finally(!) made his first start of 2011 on the right flank, with Tatsuya Yazawa moving forward into 'Hanyu's hole' (ooh, er, mrs). Tokyo lined up thusly:
Mukuhara North Morishige Mukuhara
Ishikawa Shimoda Hanyu Tanabe
LucasThe first half was fairly even and ended goalless, but there were chances at both ends, the best for The Gasmen a 12th minute Yazawa header from Hokuto's cross that was heading in at the far post (I'd even gotten to my feet it looked a certain goal) before Shonan keeper Nishibe scrambled across to tip it round the post.
Our midfield duo were understandably slow to gel, and the first 45 minutes seemed to happen around Shimoda, although he was reasonably effective in protecting the back four from the hosts' dual Brazilian threat of Adiel and Lucas (the other one), and in combination with North and Masato Morishige they were restricted to shots from distance. Hanyu was booked for a late challenge half an hour in, and never really imposed himself on the game, as the Shonan central pairing of Han and Nagaki shaded that particular battle.
The second half began where the first had left off with things fairly even, but the hosts arguably had the better of it up until 'early bath' Sotan Tanabe was replaced by Roberto Cesar in the 60th minute (almost bang on his average!). Just 12 minutes after his introduction The Salad put us ahead with his first goal in almost three months, a fine headed finish after a lovely ball into the box from Yazawa, but with the away end still buzzing, almost straight from the restart the hosts were handed a lifeline after a rash challenge from behind in the box by Hanyu saw the ref point to the spot.
With his man running away from goal there was no need for Roswell to stick his foot in but he couldn't help himself, and while pointlessly arguing the decision Morishige was booked for dissent and will now be suspended for next Saturday's home clash with Mito.
Anyway Adiel fired home the spot kick and we were back on level terms with 15 minutes to go, but Tokyo heads did not go down, and in the 81st minute my new favourite whipping boy Hokuto covered himself in glory, dribbling into the box on the right and playing the ball back to The Salad, who controlled the ball with his right foot and spun onto his left, thumping the ball past Nishibe to restore our lead.
Two brilliant finishes from our No.9, and though Shonan pushed forward in search of another equalizer we held on comfortably enough, a fantastic away win against the odds with almost half of our first choice XI out. Of the players who came into the side Ishikawa was his usual threatening self on the wing, Shimoda and Hokuto were decent, and North was excellent, giving an assured display alongside Morishige, while he also clearly enjoyed his opportunity to sha-sha-shaaa with the away end after the final whistle.
The win kept us four points ahead of Tosu, but other results went in our favour big time, with Sapporo losing 2-1 to The Spews and Tokushima blowing a two goal lead in stoppage time to draw 2-2 with Ehime. That leaves Tokushima (3rd, GD +15) and Sapporo (4th, +13) together on 59 points, nine behind us with four games to play, and saw our Magic Number take another plunge, from nine down to four points.
But with our massive advantage in goal difference (ours is +39) factored in, a win against Mito on Saturday afternoon WILL SEE US PROMOTED as we'd be a minimum of nine points clear of fourth with only three games left. Of course if either Tokushima (away at Tochigi) or Shonan (home to Oita) fail to win their lunchtime kickoffs on Saturday a draw would be enough to make our promotion certain, but lets hope for a win to do it in style, hopefully in front of a big Aji Sta crowd.
Its been a long, grinding season, but we've got one foot back in J1.
Lets do it on Saturday boys! Up the Gas!