Any Squirrels supporters who had been hoping that Wednesday evening's J1 match would enable their team to gain revenge for last season's 5-0 humiliation at the hands of Nagoya Grampus will have been disappointed vy the 2-1 defeat suffered by Omiya Ardija. But the circumstances of the two matches could scarcely have been more different, with Dragan Stojkovic - by the evidence of the 2008 campaign so far - on the verge of transforming Grampus from bottom-half-of-the-table also-rans into potential title candidates.
Meanwhile the orange half of Saitama has undergone a change of its own, with Yasuhiro Higuchi having come from J2 and Montedio Yamagata to oversee a new Ardija in its fourth year among the elite of Japanese club football - yet still, in all honesty, trying to establish themselves as a top-flight outfit. Four league matches and two Nabisco Cup ties over the last month have demonstrated that Higuchi's team may have more attacking ideas - despite the surprise omission from the starting line-up of Denis Marques - but the rock-solid defence of 2007 has looked jittery by comparison.
Arguably the highlight, however, has been the astonishing rebirth of Koji Ezumi as a keeper of real quality. The 29-year-old hit the ground running against Albirex Niigata on the opening day and kept a clean sheet, but was almost single-handedly responsible for Ardija picking up a draw at Shimizu S-Pulse by stopping a last-minute penalty. He followed that up by pulling off top-drawer save after save to prevent a drubbing by the rampant Whales.
And it's this uncertainty that Omiya carry in to Saturday's match at home to tough-tackling Kyushu-ites Oita Trinita. To the surprise of many who expected them to struggle, Pericles Chamusca's team began the year impressively on both J1 and Nabisco Cup fronts, but have subsequently lost both to the resurgent Nagoya and a Bare-inspired Gamba Osaka. From an Ardija perspective, the fixture list rapidly becomes much more difficult after the games with Trinita and JEF. Higuchi needs to ensure that his topsy-turvy team get points on the board.