After a break of more than a month, Omiya Ardija's J1 schedule picks up again on Saturday with a match against Tokyo Verdy. Both teams are among the group of sides tightly bunched around the middle of the standings, where even a couple of points is enough to make significant difference. As such it is important that the Squirrels use games such as this to build upon results like the astonishing 3-2 win over Kawasaki Frontale that rounded off the first phase of their 2008 league campaign in such style.
That match seemed to encapsulate the idiosyncracies of Omiya's football, showing Yasuhiro Higuchi's team at their very best and at their very worst. In the opening period, adopting a defensive stance in the face of the threat posed by Fronta forwards Juninho and Chong Tese, Ardija could scarcely pass the ball over the halfway line and Kawasaki were two up at half time without ever having played particularly well themselves.
But immediately after the re-start Omiya took the game to their opponents, a brilliant interchange of passing between Kota Yoshihara and Denis Marques freeing up an admittedly offside Kohei Tokita for his first ever goal as a pro player. The Squirrels consistently pushed Frontale back and deservedly pulled level when Denis Marques' typically mazy run found some space in the penalty area and he then sneaked a low shot into the bottom left-hand corner.
Nothing, however, could have prepared Ardija supporters for the winner, snatched three minutes from time when Yoshiyuki Kobayashi wrote his name into the history books by arching a quickly-taken free kick over backpedalling Kawasaki keeper Eiji Kawashima from inside the Squirrels' half of the pitch. The journey along the ridiculous - sublime continuum was completed at the precisely the point that ball and Kawashima collided in the back of the net.
Since that time, Omiya have slipped unnoticed out of this season's Nabisco Cup competition, throwing away a win at home to Oita Trinita, sneaking a lucky draw with Albirex Niigata and losing the return at Oita in a match most notable for the fact that it marked the first team debut of rookie defender Taishi Tsukamoto. A trio of training matches have produced an unremarkable set of results, but the real action starts - somewhat unfortunately, at Kumagaya - on Saturday.
There are many things to hope for as there are many areas in which the team can improve, in spite of what has to be considered a remarkably successful start to his J1 coaching career by Higuchi. Leandro and Daisuke Tomita have looked less solid in the middle of defence than was the case last year; neither Yusuke Murayama nor Terukazu Tanaka have made a good case for themselves to have a long-term run in the team at right back. Yasuhiro Hato, a decent crosser of the ball, rarely seems to let himself get forward enough to offer a desperately-needed threat from the wing.
In midfield, Masato Saito is perhaps the best partner for Yoshiyuki Kobayashi but the major disappointments continue to be wide men Daigo Kobayashi and Chikara Fujimoto, who spend their time on the pitch in an apparent state of permanent frustration. An appalling lack of confidence for both players has not hindered their footballing imaginations, but their ability execute good ideas seems a things of the past.
Up front, Denis Marques has rightly regained a place in the starting line-up. The Brazilian may not be the fastest in the world and many of his tricks fail to come off, but once or twice in a match he can be more or less guaranteed to create something out of nothing, either for himself or for a team-mate. His regular partner is Yoshihara, no striker although with a reasonable track record of success when played out on the wing, whilst almost unbelievably Hiroshi Morita has netted a couple of key goals after coming on as a late substitute.
So there are many questions for Higuchi to resolve. Saturday's game with Verdy will be the first opportunity to see if Ardija can come up with the answers. Can they go on to consolidate and climb yet higher up the table? Or will Omiya's fourth year as a J1 club become yet another battle to avoid relegation?