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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Nine Months of Job Done - Part 1

FC Tokyo 2011 - The Season in Review

I've had a bit of trouble getting motivated to start this FC Tokyo season review, a sharp contrast of course to the end of last year, when my blood was boiling after our horrific meltdown at Kyoto that led to our season-long stint in the second tier.

Back then the title - Nine Months of Hell - rolled off my forked tongue, but even that has caused me trouble this time around... Nine Months of Glory? No, while we won the league by eight points we had a lot of very inglorious performances, and there was nothing glorious about being in J2 in the first place... Nine Months of Muck? No, a little harsh on the quality of J2 and our peformances in it, though I could see Tokyo Bairn being in favour... and so on and so forth before I finally settled on the distinctly un-catchy Nine Months of Job Done, which has absolutely no ring to it at all, but tries to capture the fact that our 2011 season was all about the job of getting back to our proper 'home' - J1.

As with last year I'll do this in three parts: here a general review with various stats and awards thrown in for good measure; Part 2 a run through of how the squad performed player-by-player; and Part 3 a look at what lies ahead back in the top flight next season, who's likely to come and go, and what our targets should be as we return to J1. So lets crack on then...

At the end of the day, all we did this year was get back to where we belong. I can of course understand the joy of the players and supporters at having clinched the J2 title, after all, its the first league championship we've ever won, but you wouldn't catch me dead buying any J2 Champions gear, as we should never have been in the division to begin with, and I admit to carrying that chip on my shoulder almost the whole season.

To the supporters who made the most of this year: travelling to new cities and towns; visiting new stadiums etc. I commend you, but while I enjoyed several of our performances and especially the emergence of some of the younger players, this always felt like a bit of a lost year. But maybe thats just me being a negative twat.

Right! Negativity stops here (at least for the time being)! It's Goal of the Season time! I thought about doing a poll on it (thanks to purely_belter for the idea), but while there were plenty of candidates from the likes of Sotan Tanabe, Hideto Takahashi, Kenta Mukuhara, Lucas, The Salad and Yuhei Tokunaga, for me there can only be one winner...

Thats right, Naohiro Ishikawa's stoppage time screamer from 20 yards against Yokohama FC in Matchday 30 is the On the Gas Goal of the Season!

If you read my two pieces from the midway point of the season, Halfway Home (Part 1 & Part 2), you'll remember I went through the first half of the season month-by-month, but I'm not going to bother doing that again here, as we spent the entire second half of the season on top (apart from four days in late September when Sapporo went a point above us after playing their Matchday 27 fixture the week before ours).

The key to the whole season for us was our defence, which set several club records, and matched Sapporo's 2000 J2 record for fewest goals allowed with 22 (though Sapporo did it in 40 games). And just for the record, we allowed two fewer goals, in two more games, than Kashiwa did in winning this league last year. No surprise then that the co-winners of the On the Gas Player of the Season Award were our central defensive partnership of Yasuyuki Konno and Masato Morishige.

Club Records Broken or Matched in 2011:
  • Broken: Most league clean sheets - 23.
  • Consecutive league clean sheets - 7: Matchdays 25 - 31.
  • Fewest Goals Allowed in a League Season - 22.
  • Biggest home league win (twice) - 6-1 v Kyoto, Matchday 24, 5-0 v Kumamoto, Matchday 17
  • Matched: Biggest away league win - 5-0 v Ehime, Matchday 25 (5-0 v Hiroshima, Matchday 23, 2007)
Konno was his typical efficient and consistent self, and was my choice for Player of the Season, while Morishige came of age this year and almost matched Konno for dependability, and his six goals tied him for third on our goalscorers list. Yuhei Tokunaga was an almost-constant presence at right back and enjoyed a solid season, with ElGolazo choosing him as the J2 'MVP,' but there was plenty of turnover at left back, with Takumi Abe, Hokuto Nakamura and Kenta Mukuhara all enjoying spells in the first team. In goal Shuichi Gonda and Hitoshi Shiota almost perfectly split the 38 league games (20 & 18 appearances, respectively), and their combined play was again one of our strengths.

Further up the pitch we still struggled to combat the blueprint, as it was even more prevalent than last season in J1, and the first three months we really lacked fluidity and consistency going forward. That was understandable of course as we lost Sota Hirayama and then Daiki Takamatsu to broken legs (one each!), which meant Roberto Cesar had to carry the can on his own up front for long spells. We were very one-paced, especially in the first halves of games, and didn't really try to play to The Salad's strengths, which would've meant the ocassional ball over the top for him to use his pace.

Once we got going, a feature of our play was the even spread of goalscoring, and we finished with 17 individual scorers, tied with Kusatsu and The Spews for the most in the league. No there isn't an award for that, it just illustrates how we weren't as reliant on a big scorer as some other clubs, and for the record Tosu and Sapporo, who will be joining us in J1 next season, had 12 individual goalscorers each.

Top Ten Scorers:
  • 10 - Roberto Cesar;
  • 9 - Lucas;
  • 6 - Masato Morishige, Yohei Kajiyama;
  • 5 - Tatsuya Yazawa, Sotan Tanabe, Naotake Hanyu;
  • 4 - Hideto Takahashi;
  • 3 - Naohiro Ishikawa, Yuhei Tokunaga
Our two Brazilians led the way, and both can be satisfied with their returns. I would've loved to have seen the pair of them start at least a couple of games together towards the end of the season, but thats something the next manager can ponder and work with in preseason next year, as both of them look almost certain to stay with the club.

In midfield we knew what we were going to get from Casual and Roswell, although the injuries to Hirayama and Takamatsu meant Hanyu was more involved than I expected. The most surprising and exciting aspect of the season (for me) though, was the emergence of Hideto Takahashi and Sotan Tanabe.

Takahashi was a revelation alongside Casual in the centre, and I have to give credit to Big Bear on that call, I thought Kazumasa Uesato (and Roberto of course, before he got crocked) was brought in to play the holding role as backup to Takuji Yonemoto, but Takahashi made it his own from Matchday 8, and three of his four goals were long range belters as well, the pick of them probably the one against Okayama in October, when he won possession with a neat turn and lashed home from 25 yards.

Sotan finishes off a great team
goal against FC Gifu.

Tanabe made an instant impact with a brace against Kyoto, followed by a brilliant volley at Komazawa against Ehime, which perhaps raised our expectations a little too high, but although his goals dried up (only two in the last 29 games) he continued to be an effective linkman, and was often our most impressive player in the first halves of games. I guess he knew he needed to impress in the first half, as he replaced Hanyu as 'Mr. Early Bath,' getting through the full 90 minutes just twice.

And finally in Part 1 to the other pleasant surprise of the year - Tatsuya Yazawa. He made 32 starts - contributing five goals and double figures in assists (anywhere from 11 to 14: depends on which magazine or newspaper you read) - and although he has his limitations as a footballer, his goals were handy and he established himself as a favourite with the supporters, which was illustrated when he shared top spot in the On the Gas Player of the Season poll with Morishige.

Part 2, in which we'll go through the whole squad player-by-player, should be up soon.


  1. I`m planning on doing my wrap up over the winter break....maybe:)

  2. Finished! I can put my feet up now.