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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

FC Tokyo 3-2 Tosu

J1 Matchday 12


Photo from FC Tokyo Official Website
The biggest home crowd of the season, just under 26,000, rolled up to Aji Sta on Sunday afternoon to see The Gasmen take on fellow promoted club Tosu. The Kyushu side had enjoyed a remarkable start to their first-ever J1 campaign, and sat just one spot below us, in 7th, at kickoff. They had defied expectations by riding the league's best defence and an unbeaten home record to sit comfortably in the top half of the table, and were sure to prove a tough nut to crack.

We were coming off the unfortunate A.C.L. loss to Ulsan, but having won two on the spin in the league, we hoped to carry on our decent recent form knowing a win would take us a point behind second-placed Hiroshima with a game in hand.

We made three changes to the XI from the Ulsan game, with Shuichi Gonda restored in goal and Yohei Kajiyama and Lucas returning in the hole and up front respectively in place of Hiroki Kawano and Kazuma Watanabe, while pleasingly Naohiro Ishikawa was fit enough to make the bench after not training all week.

There were chances at both ends in the first half hour, and Hideto Takahashi really should've done better in the 12th minute but couldn't hit the target from eight yards, his shot flashing across goal, and later on Kajiyama shot first time from Kenta Mukuhara's cut back but the ball clattered the 'keeper's right hand post and rebounded to safety. For Tosu, Kim Min Woo was lively and gave Jang Hyun Soo a tough time, and he fired over the top from a good position after 16 minutes.

As the half wound down it appeared certain to end scoreless, before a Tokyo cock-up in midfield released Kim and we were caught out on the counter AGAIN. Two of our players crashed into each other in the centre circle, which allowed Kim to run free down the middle of the park with our defence scrambling to regroup. Kota Mizunuma made excellent ground down the Tosu right, and was completely unmarked when Kim fed him in on the edge of the box. Mizunuma steadied, took a touch and fired high into the net at Gonda's near post to give the visitors a shock, but not undeserved, lead.

Nine minutes into the second half Mr. Popovic had seen enough and made two attacking substitutions, hauling off Jang and Yazawa and bringing on Ishikawa and Watanabe. We had been very narrow down the right with Jang playing behind Aria Hasegawa, and those changes meant that Yuhei Tokunaga moved out to right back behind Ishikawa, while Takahashi dropped back into central defence.

Just five minutes after those changes though, we found ourselves two goals down after conceeding another goal on the break. Mizunuma turned provider this time, whipping over an excellent cross from the right just out of reach of Gonda, with the ball rolling into the net off Tosu striker Yohei Toyoda's body.

There didn't appear any way back, and with his final roll of the dice Mr. Popovic sent on Kawano in place of Takuji Yonemoto. Kawano had looked dangerous against Ulsan in the week, and Tosu were clearly wary of his threat, as they tried to get tight to him which meant there was slightly more space in the middle of the park.

The fightback began when Tokunaga played the ball across to Ishikawa in the 75th minute. Watanabe was lurking in the centre just onside, and when Nao dinked the ball through Watanabe shot first-time on the turn, across the Tosu 'keeper and in at the far post. We'd finally broken through, but I still thought it was a bridge too far and that a draw was the best result we could hope for.

We were still in danger of conceeding another on the break of course, but it was one-way traffic at this stage, and we unlocked them again in the 81st minute, with Lucas (extremely quiet on this day) heavily involved. Mukuhara's throw-in from the left found Lucas eight yards out with his back to goal, and the big Brazilian crossed on the turn across the face of goal. The ball looked to be going out of play, but Tokunaga just caught up to it, hooked it back into play and it bounced off Watanabe's thigh and into the net for 2-2!

We were now riding the sort of momentum we used to overwhelm Nagoya in the home opener, and two minutes from time Watanabe was awarded a free kick for what looked a perfectly legal challenge out near the right touchline. Ishikawa stepped up to take the set piece, the ball skimmed off Hasegawa's head and rebounded off Watanabe's shoulder and face and into the net to complete the stunning turnaround and give us just our second home league win of the season.

It looked for so long like there was no way through, but the players deserve immense credit for continuing to push on, and they got their just rewards in the end. It was a sweet moment for Watanabe, who scored his first J.League hat-trick and sets us up very nicely indeed for the massive game at home against the Red Cubic Zirconias on Saturday night.

I'm still bitter about not having my ACL kit yet,
but I made peace with the president after the game.

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