Therefore, here's a quick update on recent games, and it hasn't been smooth sailing in the league...
Sendai 4-0 FC Tokyo - J1 Matchday 7We travelled up to Sendai on the 21st of April hoping to maintain our unbeaten away record in the league, but after an even first 45 minutes things began to unravel in first half stoppage time, when Shingo Akamine just managed to beat the offside trap, controlled a free kick over the top and fired past Shuichi Gonda to give the home side the lead.
Thirteen minutes into the second half Sendai doubled their lead, and things fell to bits in the last twenty minutes, as Sendai scored twice more to send us to our heaviest league defeat since October 2008 (a 5-1 loss to Shimizu).
FC Tokyo 0-1 Shimizu - J1 Matchday 8We finally had good weather for a home game on Saturday, April 28th, but a disappointing crowd of 22,406 (including a brilliant turnout of travelling S-Pulse supporters) rolled up to Aji Sta. After a dire first half things looked to be going our way as first Jymmy Franca and then Alex Brosque were sent off for the visitors, but even playing against nine men didn't help us and we could find no way through.
Four minutes after Brosque's red, Kosuke Ota, who was heckled by his former club's support all day, again gave away possession and Naohiro Takahara was off to the races. He played the ball inside to fellow substitute Toshiyuki Takagi, who took a touch and lashed home past Gonda to give Shimizu a shock lead.
With 13 minutes left to rescue a point, we threw on Sota Hirayama and the returning Hiroki Kawano, but it wasn't our day and S-Pulse celebrated a famous victory against the odds, condemning us to our third straight league defeat.
FC Tokyo 4-2 Brisbane - A.C.L. Matchday 5We went into this game last Wednesday knowing a point would be enough to seal our spot in the Round of 16, but we got off to a shaky start when the A-League's golden boot winner Besart Berisha gave the Roar a 4th minute lead at a rainswept Kokuritsu.
Mr. Reliable Hideto Takahashi got us back on level terms just a minute later though, firing home first time from the edge of the box after Yohei Kajiyama's shot was blocked and ricocheted out to him. On 20 minutes we went ahead when Kenta Mukuhara, who replaced the dropped Ota at left back, tapped in at the far post after Kazuma Watanabe's low cross from the right evaded a group of players in the centre.
Thirteen minutes later it was Brisbane's turn to equalize when the impressive Thomas Broich fired past Gonda at the second attempt to make it 2-2, but just before halftime we retook the lead when Watanabe won a slightly debateable penalty, dusted himself down and knocked in from the spot for 3-2.
Brisbane continued to give a good account of themselves, but Watanabe struck the killer fourth goal 15 minutes into the second half after an excellently-weighted through ball from Tatsuya Yazawa played him in on Roar keeper Michael Theoklitos, and our number 11 stroked home at the near post to put the game to bed.
The result guarantees our spot in the Round of 16, but we need to avoid defeat in the final group stage game away to Ulsan (who are level on points with us after a 3-2 win in Beijing) if we are to top the group and get the one-off Round of 16 game at home.
Niigata 0-2 FC Tokyo - J1 Matchday 10As both ourselves and Kashiwa were busy with the A.C.L. in midweek, we were unable to play our J1 Matchday 9 fixture during Golden Week, and it will be made up at the end of June.
Therefore we looked to snap our league losing streak up in Niigata, against an Albirex side who have made a terrible start to the season and look like relegation candidates. That said though, they were coming off an impressive win away at high-flying Hiroshima, so we looked to be in for a decent test. Jang Hyun Soo was dropped with Ota returning at left back, so Mukuhara switched to the right and Yuhei Tokunaga slid over into the centre to partner Masato Morishige.
Further up the pitch Naohiro Ishikawa was rested, with Naotake Hanyu coming in to play on the right of midfield. I was worried about a lack of pace in our XI, and that was a factor in a fairly labourious first half that followed the pattern of recent league games, as we huffed and puffed without really looking like scoring.
Six minutes into the second half though the impressive Mukuhara was the architect for us taking the lead, as he overlapped down the right and fired in an excellent low cross that Kajiyama fired home on the turn with a minimum of fuss. I hope Ota was watching carefully, as the sort of determination Mukuhara showed to first beat his man and then cross with accuracy has been sorely lacking from our left back's play in the last month.
With Niigata forced to chase the game now we held them at arm's length fairly comfortably, and in the 71st minute Mukuhara was again the provider of our second, though perhaps we'd be a bit cheeky to give him an assist, as the goal came about thanks to a defensive cock-up. Mukuhara took a throw-in deep in the Niigata half, flung the ball into the box and two home defenders contrived to both misplay the ball, and it broke to Yazawa who fired home from around the penalty spot.
That was job done, we were back to winning ways and with a game in hand we sit in 8th spot in J1, with games against the other two promoted teams, first Sapporo away and then Tosu at home, sandwiched around that vital final A.C.L. group game in South Korea.
And you are up to date!