As far as curtain-raisers go, Omiya Ardija's fantastic new stadium really should have had a better spectacle than the gut-wrenching 2-1 defeat to Oita Trinita, although the atrocious weather was certainly a factor in what was a disappointing ninety minutes of football. Well, eighty-seven minutes; because just three minutes into the opening fixture at the new Omiya Koen stadium, Squirrels midfielder Yoshiyuki Kobayashi got things off to a dream start when he rifled in an unstoppable left-foot effort.
For a time, it appeared as if all was going to be well for Ardija. Coach Satoru Sakuma, in undoubtedly the most important match of his short career, had elected for an untested back four combination, with Yusuke Murayama moving into the centre from right back, where he was replaced by inexperienced Terukazu Tanaka. Oita had their fair share of the play, but were held at arm's length only until the 26th minute, when skin-headed defender Yuki Fukaya was on hand to tap home after a shot hit Koji Ezumi's post and fell to his feet.
The Squirrels probed and Denis Marques could have restored the lead, but the Brazilian forwards failed to get on the end of a cross from the right. And as the game moved into the second half, Sakuma appeared content to concede the initiative with the match still at one goal apiece; Omiya had a few chances in the second half, notably when Chikara Fujimoto's header went over the bar, but the home side were usually second best.
A fisheye view of the new Omiya Park
It was the substitutions that altered the direction of the game and for this the Ardija boss must take responsibility. Big striker Hiroshi Morita was replaced just six minutes after the re-start by defensive midfield man Masato Saito and incredibly - in a match that would have provided the whole club with a massive boost to win - Omiya went from 4-4-2 to 4-5-1.
While two other Squirrels substitutions quickly followed, on the away bench Trinita coach Chamusca held his nerve. Unsurprisingly, the goalscoring opportunities subsequently dried up for the men in orange, who were on the back foot for the remainder of the game. The visitors clearly felt that the three points were there to be won and in the closing stages made three changes to pep up their attack. And Oita had a goal disallowed for a foul on keeper Ezumi, but made no mistake just two minutes before the end when Shunsuke Maeda lashed home a left-foot shot from close range.
A point was therefore thrown away when a more positive attitude could have led to Omiya getting a massively valuable win - one that would have enabled them to overtake the Kyushu side and increase the gap between themselves and relegation rivals Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Ventforet Kofu. The feeling remains that the Squirrels are not a side that cope well with a tough physical challenge and this is exactly what they need to overcome in another vital fixture at Kofu on Sunday.