J1 Matchday 6
The Aji Sta trudgePhoto from Tokyo Chunichi Sports
In a game packed with incident we saw goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda stretchered off in the first half after a clash of knees with Kashima striker Shinzo Koroki, two backpasses leading to point-blank indirect free kicks in the second half, and both Kashima goals coming on the counter attack after careless misplayed balls that we only have ourselves to blame for.
Tokyo lined-up as expected with Takuji Yonemoto replacing the suspended Aria Hasegawa in the only change to the XI from the win over Kawasaki, with Jang Hyun Soo continuing at centre half. We were given an early scare when Yuya Osako was almost played-in in the first ten minutes, but while we probed for openings through their compact midfield, the first major incident came just after the twenty minute-mark, when Koroki was released through the middle by an incisive ball from the impressive Yasushi Endo.
Koroki was just first to the ball, but the advancing Gonda made good ground out to the edge of the box and as both players slid in, Gonda gathered but they crashed into each other and our 'keeper came off second best, requiring extensive treatment before the physio gave the dreaded 'X' crossed arms gesture to the bench, meaning Hitoshi Shiota would have to come on in his place.
Not long after coming on, Shiota had to be quick off his line to deny Koroki again, with the ball rebounding to safety off the 'keeper's face. Both chances for Koroki were eerily similar to the one from which Keiji Tamada scored the opening goal in our 3-2 home win over Nagoya, as the centre of our defence was carved open again.
The remainder of the first half passed with us enjoying more possession but yet again at home struggling to create clear cut chances, and the pattern continued early in the second half, before, 14 minutes in, there was more controversy when Hideto Takahashi's hoofed clearance backwards from about 40 yards out was caught, under no pressure, by Shiota. The ref blew up for a backpass, and from inside the penalty spot Kashima attempted to blast the ball in, but with all our players back on the line we managed to scramble it clear.
Seven minutes later though, Antlers got their goal through Koroki. If the earlier chances he had were similar to Tamada's goal, then the move from which he scored had inklings of Hisato Sato's goal that gave Hiroshima their win two weeks previously, as a careless square pass from Kosuke Ota was intercepted by Endo, who raced clear down the right. When he cut inside, Osako made a smart run into space down the right, took the pass from Endo and slid the ball across to Koroki, who chipped over Shiota.
Ota was promptly hauled off by the manager, who was clearly unimpressed by A) the pass itself; and B) his failure to track back, and interestingly Sotan Tanabe came on at left back, where he had of course been tried in the preseason. Tanabe saw quite a bit of the ball, but his major contribution to the game came with six minutes left, when he tucked in the rebound after Lucas' shot and follow-up were both blocked following an indirect free kick we won when Toru Araiba was harshly punished for a backpass, inadvertantly kicking the ball back to Hitoshi Sogahata.
The onus was on us to go and get the winner, but with five minutes added-on at the end of the second half (as a result of the time it took for both indirect free kicks to be taken, and ours re-taken) we had to be careful not to leave ourselves too exposed at the back, but when we lost possession just inside their half in the fourth minute of stoppage time, our old nemisis Juninho took off. With Yuhei Tokunaga trailing in his wake, Juninho dribbled into the box and tried to fire across Shiota, the 'keeper parried but right into the path of Endo, who chested down and tapped in to an empty net to send the Kashima bench and fans wild, while our players slumped to the floor.
A horrible way to lose, a draw would've been a fair result on the run of play, but we couldn't really begrudge Endo, the best player on the pitch, his goal. Worryingly for us, the last two home games have felt a lot like 2010, as our failure to pass through teams who are happy to soak up pressure has seen us drop points where we had 'deserved' at least a point from both.
But its back to Aji Sta, sorry Tokyo Stadium, tonight, where a win in the return fixture against Beijing would see us within touching distance of a spot in the last 16.