All Tokyo supporters left Aji Sta on the final day of the 2012 season in a buoyant mood after our 6-2 destruction of 2nd-placed Sendai, but once the dust settled and the buzz wore off we were left with the simple fact that our second half of the year wasn't good enough, and a season that offered so much promise through the start of July ultimately ended with us going nowhere.
We had reached the halfway point in 5th, but won just five games in the second half of the season and ended up 10th, an accurate reflection of where we stood in what was a fiercely competitive and unpredictable league. The back-to-back wins over Champions-to-be Hiroshima and Yokohama (who ended up 4th) in Matchdays 23 & 24 showed what we were capable of, but our inconsistency reared its ugly head in dire home losses to Niigata and Omiya, and at the end of the day we could have no complaints with a mid-table finish.
StatsAt the end of the first half of the season I posted a Mid-Term Report, so lets follow the same pattern and look at our results from Matchdays 18-34 in four areas:
- Home: W: 4 D: 0 L: 4 GF: 17 GA: 10 (2012: W: 8 D: 1 L: 8 GF: 30 GA: 22)
- Away: W: 1 D: 5 L: 3 GF: 9 GA: 14 (2012: W: 6 D: 5 L: 6 GF: 17 GA: 22)
- Against top-half teams: W: 3 D: 3 L: 3 GF: 15 GA: 11
- Against other bottom-half teams: W: 2 D: 2 L: 4 GF: 11 GA: 13
SquadThe past two years I've posted a player-by-player review with grades, but I'm not going to bother with that this season, just a summary of major names in each area of the park.
GoalkeepersShuichi Gonda unveiled The Scorpion in Matchday 1 at Omiya, kept us in the game at home against the Red Cubic Zirconias in Matchday 13, and cemented himself as one of the league's top three or four 'keepers throughout another excellent season. On top of that he represented the club with distinction at the Olympics, also establishing himself in Alberto Zaccheroni's Japan squads. A move to Europe is probably inevitable, but leave it for another year eh Gon-chan? Hitoshi Shiota saw action in just four league games (three starts), but his season will undoubtedly be remembered for the enduring image of him watching a 45-yard free kick sail over his head and into the net in stoppage time as we lost to Yokogawa Musashino in the Emperor's Cup.
DefendersMasato Morishige missed only one game (through suspension) and was generally excellent, coping well with a revolving group of players alongside him in the centre of defence. No goals from free kicks this year, but his two goals were both massive: the winner in the away Classico and the equalizer at home against Urawa. Kenichi Kaga was inconsistent and his season was derailed by injuries, not what we were hoping for from Yasuyuki Konno's replacement. Jang Hyun Soo really came on towards the end of the season, and if he gets a run in the team next year he should really blossom.
On the flanks Yuhei Tokunaga was again very reliable, and did quite well for Japan at the Olympics. Kosuke Ota started the season well but was prone to lapses in concentration and then missed almost five months due to injury: a bit of a lost season, really. Kenta Mukuhara and Hokuto Nakamura were both in and out of the team, mainly in Ota's absence, but neither took a stranglehold on the position, while Yuichi Maruyama is one for the future after three league appearances.
MidfieldersHideto Takahashi broke into the national team set-up and made everything tick in our engine room in a superb season, also filling in in the centre of defence for a spell alongside Morishige. Takuji Yonemoto made a successful recovery from his second serious knee injury, and though he was ocassionally the odd man out in central midfield he made 27 appearances in a strong bounce-back season. Aria Jasuru Hasegawa started all 28 games he appeared in - he was suspended for the other six - and though he's not everyone's cup of tea, and though he can't tackle, he was without question the most successful of the new players brought in in the last offseason. Yohei Kajiyama missed eight games due to injury and scored only twice from his regular role 'in the hole', but Greek side Panathinaikos saw enough to take Casual on loan for the rest of the European season.
Naohiro Ishikawa got off to a flier with two brilliant goals in the first home game against Nagoya and then the opener away at Kobe in the next matchday, but then took seven months to get the last of his five goals with a brace against Sapporo. He'll never be a 15 goal guy again, but five to ten from him next year along with occasionally dynamic wing play will do for us. Sotan Tanabe's season never really got going, and he may benefit from the Casual-shaped hole we now have behind the striker (though new signing Keigo Higashi will likely have a say in that), while Naotake Hanyu, though still extremely popular amongst the supporters, might have run his race with us after an injury-hit season (and reported interest from promoted Kofu). Hiroki Kawano promised much in the brief glimpses we had of him but all of his nine league appearances were off the bench and his season was ruined by injury, and Yohei Otake was in the same boat, he was superb in the Champions League against Beijing but a knee injury ended his season soon after. Tatsuya Yazawa made 20 appearances before being sold back to Chiba in August.
Saving the best of this bunch 'til last: Nemanja Vucicevic was the story of the season for us after his arrival in early August: he finished joint-second on our goalscoring list with six from just 13 appearances (all off the bench). His direct style through the middle endeared Nema to the supporters straight away, and we all hope the club can get him re-signed for 2013.
ForwardsLucas bagged a brace in the Sendai slaughter to take him up to 10 goals for the season, and he'll be back for 2013, though hopefully the big fella won't have to shoulder as much of the responsibility up front next season. Kazuma Watanabe was brought in to get us goals but never seemed to win over the manager: just eight of his 27 appearances were starts. He managed just six goals (one fewer than his final season with Yokohama), including a 36-minute hat trick in the memorable comeback win over Tosu, when his nose was the star of the show, though he did finish quite strongly, starting and scoring in the final two games. Sota Hirayama couldn't get in the team, got injured at the end of April, and then made a nine minute cameo at the end of the final game which we all thought would be his Tokyo swan song, but despite some J2 offers apparently he's staying on for next season.
Yohei Hayashi got the briefest of tastes of first team action, one minute in the league and a few more in the ACL, but he'll benefit from the year of training with the first team and will hopefully kick on in 2013, while Edmilson came in, scored twice, and took off.
2013 Ins & OutsAs briefly mentioned above: Kajiyama has gone to Greece and Higashi has been signed as a direct replacement; Hanyu might be heading to Kofu; and there have been whispers of a loan offer from Cerezo Osaka for Mukuhara. I'd prefer to be shot of Nakamura, as I believe Mukuhara is a better bet as our third full back, but the latter may feel he'll get more playing time at another club.
If we can re-sign Vucicevic, and Kawano is fit, then we are fairly set in midfield I think, so that leaves us needing a top-drawer striker - not easy to find I know. Our success rate with bringing in (new) Brazilians has been pretty poor of late, but I'd suggest picking up the phone and calling the front office of Al Sadd in Qatar: they have a fella called Leandro who's pretty handy.
So there you have it. Thanks for making it down this far, and thanks for reading On the Gas throughout the 2012 season. I can't say for sure if the blog will be back in its entirety for the 2013 campaign, as The J-Talk Podcast will continue to occupy a lot of my time, but its been a great ride (most of the time!) following The Gasmen for another year, and lets hope we're challenging for honours next season.