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Thursday, September 13, 2012

FC Tokyo Update: 3 Out Of 4 Ain't Bad...

Wow, its been almost a month since my last post - apologies on that. Until last Sunday, everything had gone swimmingly for the Gasmen, two straight league wins and a narrow victory in the first leg of the Nabisco Cup semi-final, but then we were stunned by a 92nd minute winner from JFL'ers Yokogawa Musashino, ending our reign as Emperor's Cup Champions.

First things first though, and after not winning in five in the league, a formation tweak has freshened things up and contributed to us winning the last two, the first of which was a stunning upset away at then-leaders Hiroshima.

Hiroshima 0-1 FC Tokyo

J1 Matchday 23

In my last post all that time ago, I suggested a number of changes to our first-choice XI that I hoped would help us turn things around (and perhaps was the reason 'Anonymous' labelled me "A dickhead in a shitty blog"), but the manager had other ideas (thankfully) and chose to match Hiroshima's stock 3-4-2-1 formation, with Kenichi Kaga, Hideto Takahashi and Masato Morishige as the back three and Yuhei Tokunaga and Kenta Mukuhara as wingbacks. Further forward Yohei Kajiyama and Naohiro Ishikawa set up behind Lucas, with Edmilson returning to the bench.

There were teething problems with the new formation, and throughout the 90 minutes we were outshot and, if we're honest, outplayed, for most of it, but Lucas' goal four minutes into the second half, when he took a pass from Casual and fired home across the 'keeper through the legs of defender Ryota Moriwaki, proved to be the only goal of the game as we hung on for dear life in the last ten minutes.

Edmilson replaced Casual in the 68th minute, but then had to go off himself 15 minutes later after pulling his hamstring. Despite that setback it was a much-needed win, and a vindication of the manager's willingness to try and change when things just weren't working.

FC Tokyo 3-1 Yokohama

J1 Matchday 24

We backed-up the next weekend at Aji Sta against Yokohama, and went home happy after one of our best home performances of the season. After his winner against Hiroshima, Lucas' tail was clearly up, and he was the dominant player on the pitch, playing a huge role in Sotan Tanabe's opener and then scoring our other two goals.

There were two surprises when the teams were announced: Ishikawa was out through injury, with Tanabe taking his place; and we were all pleased to see Naotake Hanyu, returning to the bench for his first appearance in almost four months. After a ropey-looking first ten minutes, when Manabu Saito, Yuji Ono and Marquinhos looked dangerous, we assumed control of the midfield with Takuji Yonemoto at his disruptive best.

We scored the first goal of the game in the 35th minute, and it came about thanks to a defensive howler from Yuji Nakazawa and the persistence of Lucas. When the 'keeper played the ball out to Nakazawa there didn't seem to be any danger, but with Lucas closing him down the Yokohama no.22 mis-hit his square pass and Lucas pounced, and though his shot was saved, he was able to deflect the rebound to Tanabe, who fired home from just inside the box.

Seven minutes later it was 2-0 after Lucas' first-time shot from Tokunaga's rolled cross, and for the remainder of the first half and most of the 20 minutes of the second we looked extremely comfortable. In the 66th minute it was game on though after Shingo Hyodo's composed finish, but Lucas killed Yokohama off just five minutes later with a free kick that sailed into the net to the left of the wrongfooted Marinos 'keeper, who had started to go to his right and had no chance of getting across.

Two in a row against top half teams (well, Yokohama were in the top half at kickoff) helped to right the ship and get us back into the top half in ninth, just two points (and a lot of goal difference) behind fourth-placed Iwata.

FC Tokyo 2-1 Shimizu

Nabisco Cup Semi-Final 1st Leg

We have recent history with Shimizu in the Cracker Cup: we beat them in the semis on our way to glory in '09; they knocked us out in the quarters the following year. For the latest instalment of our cup rivalry we were able to welcome Nao back to the XI, in place of Tanabe, while with Shuichi Gonda and Hideto Takahashi away on national team duty, Hitoshi Shiota and Yuichi Maruyama (making his first Tokyo start) came into the XI.

Shimizu took the lead in the 23rd minute with a well-worked free kick routine that ended with Yuhei Tokunaga heading into his own net, and nine minutes later the manager hauled off Kenta Mukuhara for Tanabe, as we switched back to 4-2-3-1. It wasn't directly as a result of the change, but 12 minutes later we were level after a superb team goal was belted home by Captain Casual. Early in the build-up Kenichi Kaga dawdled on the ball as we played across the back and got a bollocking from the manager, then the next time the ball came to him he played it first-time to Tokunaga, who himself sent Ishikawa free down the right with another first-time ball. Nao tore down the wing, spotted Casual in the centre, and the captain brought the move to an appropriate end with a clinical finish that went in off the underside of the bar.

We enjoyed a dominant spell in the first 20 minutes of the second half, and after great chances for Lucas, Kajiyama and Aria Hasegawa we were left scratching our heads as to how we weren't ahead. And then, with ten minutes to go, not so long after Genki Omae had fired over when he looked set to give Shimizu the lead back, we were ahead, from the spot. Maruyama, who had otherwise enjoyed a fine debut, was played in on the left of the box but kicked his own heels and fell to the floor, with the ref buying it, pointing to the spot and booking the Shimizu captain Kota Sugiyama.

A mistake from the ref, a poor show from Maruyama, but after the dust cleared Lucas fired home from the spot and we played out the last ten minutes in the ascendancy, going close to adding to our lead on a couple of occasions - substitute Nemanja Vucicevic looked certain to score his first Tokyo goal in the 89th minute before a last-ditch sliding tackle saw his shot deflected out for a corner.

It finished 2-1 though, and the stage is set for a fiery 2nd leg in mid-October.

FC Tokyo 0-1 Yokogawa Musashino

Emperor's Cup 2nd Round

Well, it was fun while it lasted, but our reign as Emperor's Cup Champions is over after a shocking upset at the hands of JFL side Yokogawa Musashino on Sunday. In a game we dominated but couldn't score in, the two decisive moments came in the last five minutes, when a Kazuma Watanabe shot was blocked out for a corner by a defender's arm (no penalty), and then in the second minute of second half stoppage time a 45-yard free kick from the visitor's left sailed over the wall, a ruck of bodies in the box AND Shiota, who flailed at thin air but couldn't get a hand on the ball, giving the massive underdogs an astonishing win.

And thats all I'm going to say about that game! Hopefully just a blip on the road, and we enter the final ten league games of the season this Saturday at Shimizu. A few long-term injury victims are returning, with Hanyu coming on as a sub in the last three games I've mentioned here, and Kosuke Ota and Sota Hirayama finally back in training after lengthy lay-offs, so we should have the right personnel available for whatever formation the manager wants to utilize in the final ten games.

Up the Gas!

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