Mission accomplished. Omiya Ardija won their final J1 fixture of 2008, after being on the back foot for virtually all of the ninety minutes at relegation-threatened Jubilo Iwata. But a win is a win is a win and the Squirrels thereby guaranteed their own survival in the top flight for next season. Fielding the current full-strength line-up with the exception of the suspended Leandro, Ardija were committed enough - but often found themselves deep in their own half defending regular Jubilo attacks.
As in the July fixture between the two teams that Omiya were unlucky to lose, Gilsinho was the danger man and tormented the Squirrels' defence with his mazy dribbling and forward running. Ardija didn't have many chances to speak of in the first half, as the little and large pairing of Chikara Fujimoto and Klemen Lavric were well marshalled by the Iwata rearguard.
The second half then followed the same pattern as the first, although with one notable difference - Omiya scored with fifteen minutes remaining, although before that clincher Gilsinho really should have put Jubilo ahead. But fortune was with Yasuhiro Higuchi's team when the Brazilian ballooned over the bar after picking up a rebound just outside the six-yard area. A few minutes later, Lavric picked up the ball from substitute Kohei Tokita and found his cross across the box blocked by a defender.
The giant Slovenian nodded the subsequent rebound across Jubilo's goal area directly on to the head of the onrushing Daigo Kobayashi who finished powerfully past Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi. Against the run of play the score may have been, but the fans wearing orange behind the goal certainly weren't complaining. Omiya then held firm until the final whistle and apart from a few long-range efforts in the closing stages, the again impressive Koji Ezumi was relatively untroubled.
Omiya Ardija put in another battling performance today against a resolute Kyoto Sanga team in almost the same amount of trouble as the Squirrels. Lacking Leandro in the centre of defence but with skipper Yoshiyuki Kobayashi returning to the starting line-up, nevertheless Ardija started positively and closed down the opposition aggressively. As has been the case in recent weeks, this was an Omiya team that looked to attack at every possible opportunity.
And the Squirrels took the lead in the twelfth minute when Chikara Fujimoto's blocked shot fell to Tomoya Uchida, who crossed the ball across the six-yard area for Klemen Lavric to strike home powerfully with his right foot. Kyoto were dangerous on the break - especially through Takenori Hayashi - but Omiya had several other opportunities in the first half, with Yoshiyuki having some excellent long range efforts just go over or wide of the post.
Daigo Kobayashi also came close to netting the second goal of the game when his long-range shot beat Yuichi Mizutani - and the Sanga crossbar. At the other end, Squirrels keeper Koji Ezumi did well to parry a shot to safety that ricocheted wickedly off his team-mates. But it was the visitors who equalised in the 58th minute when Atsushi Yanagisawa crossed across the Ardija six-yard box for Hayashi to beat Ezumi at his near post.
There were other chances for Omiya, as Kyoto seemed determined to play for the draw that would serve to guarantee their place in J1 for 2009. Yasuhiro Hato, of all people, forced Mizutani to turn a shot around the post after an uncharacteristic mazy run - and that man Lavric had the ball in the net in the 75th minute with an excellent looped finish only for it to be chalked off for offside. Overall Ardija were probably the better team and this point moves them a bit nearer to safety. One more point next week against Jubilo Iwata will do it.
All in all it was another good performance from Omiya Ardija on a cold and drizzly Sunday afternoon in Niigata. Although the Squirrels made some defensive errors, they played with a lot of grit and determination and deserved the point after a hard-fought ninety minutes. The only change from expected line-up was Yosuke Kataoka in for Naoya Saeki in the centre of midfield and as in recent games Ardija started off on the front foot and took the game to the opposition.
Taishi Tsukamotohad a great chance early on but put wide after being set up by a ball from the outside of Daigo Kobayashi's right foot. A quick free-kick from Tomoya Uchida nearly resulted in Omiya taking the lead, but Klemen Lavric blazed his left-foot effort wide with only the keeper to beat. Chikara Fujimoto was replaced by skipper Yoshiyuki Kobayashi as a result of having picked up what looked like groin trouble, but despite having had the majority of play the Squirrels fell behind after conceding a soft penalty in the 35th minute.
Leandro hauled down the Swans' Kisho Yano, even though the burly number 11 had very little chance of connecting with the ball as it came into the Omiya box. Alessandro placed his right-foot penalty only just past Koji Ezumi'soutstretched right hand and it was 1-0 to Albirex; Leandro's yellow card from the incident will now rule him out of the Kyoto game next week.
But eight minutes into the second half, the Squirrels were level with a fortuitous penalty. Daigo rounded Takashi Kitano but was at a very narrow angle - and with minimum contact from the Niigata keeper, the Ardija man stumbled slightly and the referee pointed to the spot for the second time. With no nerves at all Yoshiyuki impudently chipped Kitano from the spot for the equaliser.
Barely three minutes later, however, the home side took the lead again through some slack marking from Daisuke Tomita at a long free kick. That man Alessandro was on hand again to head home from six yards, but in the subsequent celebrations he managed to get himself a second yellow card for taking his shirt off. With the main opposition threat somewhat luckily removed, Omiya spent the rest of the game camped in the Albirex half, although without much success.
Lavric went close, but the Squirrels at last got a deserved second when Yasuhiro Hato played in a cross and Leandro atoned for his earlier error with a bullet header in off the bar. Yoshiyuki nearly grabbed the winner with a diving header that just went wide in injury time, but Yasuhiro Higuchi's team came away from their trip north with a merited and perhaps crucial point.
Yet another crucial game took place this weekend in the fight to avoid relegation for Omiya Ardija - and the Squirrels certainly rose to the challenge, with a gritty display in a very entertaining match against title contenders Kawasaki Frontale. Despite the suspension of midfield star Daigo Kobayashi and the continued absence through injury of key forward Denis Marques, coach Yasuhiro Higuchi's pre-match orders were clearly the same as those he gave prior to the win over JEF United two weeks ago: "Attack!".
And attack Ardija did. Chikara Fujimoto in particular had a breathtaking game to commemorate his 300th league appearance and nearly grabbed the lead after a mazy run past three defenders, although his rather tame left-foot effort was easy enough for Frontale's heckled ex-Squirrels keeper Eiji Kawashima. Alongside Fujimoto up front, Klemen Lavric put himself about all match and was a constant threat to the Kawasaki defence. He nearly scored in the first half, but failed to control the ball when less than six yards out and it rebounded safely to Kawashima.
Omiya took the lead in the 26th minute through a nice bit of skill from Tomoya Uchida. He backheeled a pass for Lavric to strike the foot of the post from eighteen yards out - but the rebound fell straight into the path of Fujimoto, who tapped in from close range and celebrated his goal in characteristic style. The home side pressed for a second, but nine minutes later were stopped in their tracks by a quite brilliant goal from Yusuke Mori. Lavric headed a clearance seemingly to safety about 35 yards out but straight on to the right boot of the Frontale midfielder, who absolutely nailed a perfect volley that went like an exocet into Koji Ezumi's top left-hand corner.
The second half started off in the same vein as the first, although with more possession for the visitors. The ever-dangerous Juninho had a powerful shot turned around the post by Ezumi and they continued to put the Squirrels' goal under pressure. Nevertheless, at the other end Kawashima had to make a brilliant fingertip save from Fujimoto's overhead kick and then produced a spectacular leap to deny Yosuke Kataoka, whose right foot piledriver seemed destined for the top corner.
But the winner came from Lavric and what a goal it was. Taishi Tsukamoto crossed from the right and the ball fell to the Slovenian forward in space just inside the Frontale box. In one motion he flicked the ball up with his right foot and then crashed a volley round the defender, over the helpless Kawashima into the top left-hand corner of the net. Cue delirium on the terraces and the realisation that if Omiya keep on playing like this they will still be in J1 next season. Great game.
A little over 3500 hardy souls attended the Emperor's Cup Fourth Round game with J2 dwellers Cerezo Osaka in splendid Sunday afternoon weather - although the football on display was hardly as pleasing. Coach Yasuhiro Higuchi put out a strong line-up, with only Daigo Kobayashi missing from the available first-teamers and, given that Daigo is not able to play against Kawasaki Frontale next weekend, it seemed as if Higuchi wanted to try out a few ideas in preparation for yet another game that is critical to the future of the club.
The Squirrels' boss must surely have come away disappointed despite the win, as the old failings of poor passing and an inability to create decent scoring opportunities came to the fore once again. The aggressive and dynamic football displayed in the first half against JEF United was forgotten, as Omiya looked directionless and lacking in cohesion. In the first half, Ardija were restricted to long-range Taishi Tsukamoto free kicks that were easily saved by Cerezo goalkeeper Hiromasa Yamamoto. There was one scare at the other end but the Squirrels' blushes were spared by some quick thinking from Naoya Saeki, who cleared upfield from inside the goal area.
Omiya were much better in the second half and probably edged the victory through their more aggressive play. The goal came just after the hour, when Tomoya Uchida crossed from the left on to the head of Klemen Lavric, who headed past Yamamoto from about eight yards out. The Slovenian, scoring for the first time since the mid-September loss to FC Tokyo, didn't even bother to celebrate properly summing up the general ambivalence of players and fans alike to the afternoon. There were a few other chances for the likes of Saeki and Yosuke Kataoka through the usual long strikes ploy and Ardija held on to claim a place against Nagoya Grampus in the next round.
Cerezo had a number of players who appeared capable enough of doing a good job for a J1 team and there would be room enough at Omiya Park for Rui Komatsu, Kaio and Gilton. But the Squirrels club captain Yoshiyuki Kobayashi looks done for the season, as he got carried off near the end of the game after coming on as a half-time substitute himself.
Y Daigo Kobayashi 28' Y Lavric 71' R Hato 87' Y Morita 89' Y Leandro 89'
Omiya Ardija are officially back in the mix after Sunday's crucial win over JEF United and the team thoroughly deserved all three points, after an extremely encouraging display that totally belied their position in the league. Every player wearing the orange shirt give it their all and the Squirrels were at Chiba's throats from the very off. Coach Yasuhiro Higuchi kept faith with youngster Taishi Tsukamoto in defence and moved Daigo Kobayashi into the middle following the suspension of Naoya Saeki.
In a quite startling beginning to the game Omiya dominated possession, winning virtually every tackle and peppering the visitors' goal with shots from Daigo Kobayashi, Tomoya Uchida and Chikara Fujimoto. Daigo had an excellent game and looked the answer to Ardija's dearth of creativity in central midfield. He was all over the place and was one of the main reasons why the Squirrels were able to bring to an end their losing streak.
Despite bossing the opening twenty minutes, Omiya fell behind when Yasuhiro Hato got caught in possession by the fast and tricky Masaki Fukai, who waltzed his way to the byline before squaring for Tatsuya Yazawa to beat Koji Ezumi from inside the eighteen-yard box. Thankfully, unlike as in some other games Ardija didn't give in at this point and, willed on by a vociferous crowd and a very animated home bench, a quarter of an hour later the Squirrels scored a brilliant equaliser.
Taishi Tsukamoto's corner evaded everyone before falling to Uchida in the left wing position and the ex-Yokohama FC man sent in a cross for Daigo to skillfully volley left-footed past JEF keeper Masahiro Okamoto. The Squirrels continued to force the play until half time and went in unlucky not to be in front. Two minutes after the restart, Omiya scored their second and ultimately the winner. Klemen Lavric was fouled in the area and Fujimoto fired in the penalty, only for the referee to ask for it to be re-taken due to encroachment. Chikara chose almost the same place as with the first kick to give Ardija the lead.
And the home side continued to press for another goal, almost getting caught out a few times - especially when Kohei Kudo totally miskicked when looking a certainty to score. Hato got sent off near the end for denying a scoring opportunity and he then almost came to blows with Leandro - the two team-mates had to be forcibly seperated after the Brazilian central defender remonstrated with him for getting caught in possession. Ultimately, though, only Daigo getting booked and thereby suspended for the Kawasaki Frontale fixture in two weeks' time soured a terrific performance, match and result. Game on!