Today's match saw the Orange heroes trot out a slightly different side in their third J1 match of the week against the Terrible Trinitans of Oita. Gone were players who have proved ineffective in recent games such as young Kohei Tokita and the much-maligned central midfielder Yosuke Kataoka, as well as erratic young Brazilian, Pedro Junior. In their stead were wily veterans such as the front pair of Kota Yoshihara and Denis Marques - together with The Last of the Famous International Playboys, Masato Saito.
Unbeknownst to the home support at kick-off time, it was this latter change that would turn out to be the most important with regard to the outcome of Saturday afternoon's torrid imbroglio. But the game started at a crawl, as Ardija's warriors decided to show the amphibious grey thugs what muscling up was all about. For Oita men were left strewn across the pitch as the Squirrels introduced their unwelcome visitors to a new word: guts.
Shots, though, were few and far between, as the rarely-used Denis Marques chose to attempt to salsa his way through the cynical Trinita defence rather than lay off a simple ball to a team-mate. When opportunities did arise, both teams could not.....nay....would not take advantage in the box. 25 minutes in, the littlest Squirrel Tomoya Uchida took a severe blow to the head and was stretchered off for treatment. Where were the match officials when the heinous act occurred? Not paying attention, of course.
Saito in celebration mode
Finally, two minutes before the interval, Denis Marques passed off the ball to a Masa Saito in space 25 yards from goal. MANNA FROM HEAVEN, HE SCORED! PRAISE BE! For his troubles, Saito would subsequently receive an elbow to the face from a despotic forward by the name of Daiki Takamatsu; the linesman, who miraculously was able to see the slightest brush of an orange boot on the tender skin of a football from 35 yards away and award Oita a corner, could not remark Takamatsu's flagrantly flailing elbow mere inches away from his pointed nose.
The second half would see the trailing Trinita play with renewed effort and fortitude... for all of twenty minutes. After realising that they could not score with the ancient Ueslei flopping around and a rock-solid Omiya back four impeding their every move, Oita chose instead to get dirty and take cheap shots. Off as a consequence came the shell-shocked Uchida and on came the returning Prince of the Squirrel Nation, Shin Kanazawa.
The former Tokyo Verdy man made his presence felt via a rocket shot assisted by Denis Marques, but unfortunately the ball bounced off the post - a common occurrence this campaign. More fortunately, however, the industrious Saito picked up the rebound and hit a rocket of his own past U23 keeper Shusaku Nishikawa.
Ardija kept the pressure up with another pounding in the box and another shot off the crossbar, this time from Denis Marques. Near the end of the game, tragedy struck as captain Yoshiyuki Kobayashi was felled by an Oita midfielder. Out came the stretcher and in came Tokita. Nervousness abounded in the last few minutes, but the heroic Squirrels stayed strong and prevailed. HUZZAH!!!