After the ultimately rather pointless detour to Toyama last weekend and elimination from this season's Emperor's Cup at the hands of Yokohama FC, Omiya Ardija return on Sunday afternoon to the serious business of avoiding relegation from J1. So many Squirrels league encounters in recent times seem to have fallen under the heading Most Important Match Ever - but what with the team's perilous position, the fact that opponents Oita Trinita are just two points better off in the standings and that the game sees the historic formal re-opening of Omiya Koen stadium, fans could easily be forgiven for thinking that this really is It.
Omiya's last two J1 fixtures, deserved 1-0 wins over the doomed Yokohama and a Sanfrecce Hiroshima side in freefall, have served simply to give coach Satoru Sakuma's team what some would argue is an unlikely chance of survival. But unless the Squirrels now go on to take the opportunity that they have created for themselves, rivals at the foot of the table such as Oita and Ventforet Kofu will be only too delighted to stamp them back down again.
Most observers would seem to agree that another pair of victories will suffice for Ardija to stay up, but the goal for all struggling clubs at this stage of the season is nothing more complicated than to achieve results good enough to take them out of the bottom two places and preferably the bottom three. Hiroshima, despite their dangerous forward line of Ueslei and Hisato Sato, are looking increasingly incapable of doing that, but Trinita are a different matter.
The Kyushu outfit's away form this season is poor - only Yokohama and Kofu have picked up fewer points on their travels - but in recent weeks they have run close both of the main title contenders in Gamba Osaka and Urawa Reds. This cannot be considered as straightforward a game as the Squirrels' last two wins, particularly if one considers that Omiya slipped to a 3-1 defeat when the teams met in April and that key defender Leandro is missing through suspension.
Sakuma's plan for dealing with the potentially critical loss of the big Brazilian is unclear. Yosuke Kataoka came into the back four in Saturday's cup match, but this was as a replacement for Daisuke Tomita and not Leandro. A Tomita / Kataoka partnership is perhaps the most likely eventuality, but it is possible that Yusuke Murayama may move into the centre after playing well at right back since coming into the team for Takuro Nishimura.
Elsewhere, the starting front duo look set to be Hiroshi Morita and in-form Denis Marques, while the midfield now has a stable enough quartet of Naoya Saeki and Yoshiyuki Kobayashi in the middle and Daigo Kobayashi and Chikara Fujimoto on the flanks. Daigo has started to show his best football over the last few matches and netted a confidence-boosting winner two weeks ago, but Chikara continues to under-perform and frustrate the Squirrel Nation.
The captain owes the supporters a good display and it is urgently needed against Oita. A win on Sunday would see Ardija move to the unimagined heights of fourteenth place. A defeat would mean travelling to Kofu next weekend under the severest of pressure. Let the curtains open at Omiya Koen and may battle commence.