If there's one team that Omiya Ardija have had difficulty playing against since gaining promotion to J1, it's Sunday's opponents Kashima Antlers. One single point in the six league meetings between the two tells its own story and that came in the early stages of 2007, when a sluggish Robert Verbeek-coached Ardija escaped with a 0-0 draw against a Kashima side at that time still coming to terms with the arrival as boss of Oswaldo de Oliveira.
Later on in the season, the teams' true colours were revealed as, despite winning the match only 2-1, the Antlers ran riot at Komaba. Oliveira was by then on his way to winning the championship and although Verbeek had bitten the dust, the Squirrels were just about hitting rock bottom under the stewardship of his temporary replacement Satoru Sakuma.
This time around, Kashima have flown out of the blocks, notching up five straight wins with leading scorer Marquinhos in good form. But an Asian Champions League campaign can take its toll on almost any squad and as star defender Atsuto Uchida picked up a cracked rib in the home clash with Beijing Guoan, so his team then tumbled to a 2-0 defeat at Urawa Reds. This was followed last weekend by a goalless draw at home to Gamba Osaka, which allowed Nagoya Grampus to take over in the J1 top spot.
Since then, the 2007 title winners have gone on to lose the return ACL tie in Beijing and as such come into Sunday's match at Omiya Park having failed to find the net in more than 270 minutes of football. It would be dangerous to mark Ardija down as favourites against such a strong side, but Yasuhiro Higuchi has his team playing well and riding high in seventh place in the standings off the back of wins over Oita Trinita, JEF United and a draw with the Reds in which Ardija were generally observed to have been the better side.
Chikara Fujimoto would seem to be in contention for a return to the starting XI after recovering from an injury picked up at Kyoto Sanga, although Shin Kanazawa will have supporters who would like to see him retain his place on the left-hand side of midfield. Otherwise Higuchi can pick from a more or less full-strength squad, knowing that a win would break a duck against one of Japan's strongest club sides - and see the Mighty Squirrels move even further up the table.