After the hammer blow of conceding two minutes from time in last Sunday's critical J1 clash with Oita Trinita - meaning that the club stay ahead of relegation rivals Sanfrecce Hiroshima only on goal difference - comes perhaps the single most important game since Omiya Ardija gained promotion to J1 at the end of 2004. For this Sunday sees the Squirrels travel to Ventforet Kofu, knowing that a defeat will undo a very large proportion of the good work done by the victories over Yokohama FC and Hiroshima.
The gap between themselves and Kofu will be narrowed to just a single point, while Sanfrecce host a mid-table Vissel Kobe side with little to play for, knowing that the game represents their best opportunity in the final three matches to gain a crucial win. Oita, as a result of their late triumph in Saitama, have given themselves a huge advantage and while they cannot yet be considered completely safe from relegation, the participants in the battle to avoid the drop is now realistically reduced to a field of three: one will be safe, one will face a play-off to remain in the division and one will automatically accompany Yokohama FC back down to J2.
Earlier in the season, a dreadful display at home to Ventforet provoked protests from a section of the Ardija faithful, with many calling for the resignation of then-chief scout Satoru Sakuma. Now, of course, Sakuma is the man in charge - and he and the players have faced this week some stinging criticism for their poor performance on Sunday. For after midfielder Yoshiyuki Kobayashi had fired Omiya into a third-minute lead, the Squirrels dithered and dallied before handing the initiative to the visitors.
While Sakuma blew his tactical use of substitutions with a series of ill-advised changes, his opposite number Chamusca was experienced enough to bide his time and gradually increase the pressure on an Omiya back line missing key man Leandro through suspension. Leandro will once again be absent against Kofu, meaning that the Squirrels will be forced to stand up to an aggressive, hustling opponent without their strongest player.
So many members of Omiya's team failed to perform when it really mattered against Trinita that it is difficult to have any real reason to be optimistic about the Ventforet match. But Ardija must cope with the physical threat and must find the gaps in their leaky defence - otherwise the relegation trapdoor will beckon even more.