There can be few worse fixtures for Omiya Ardija to be playing than Nagoya Grampus this holiday Monday evening. Since the re-start of the J1 season at the end of June, the Squirrels have - after a Denis Marques-inspired defeat of Tokyo Verdy - lost three consecutive matches to drop six places down the standings, being to a great extent outplayed by Vissel Kobe and Jubilo Iwata. Thursday saw a gutsier display at high-flying Kashiwa, but the Squirrels' lily-livered attack could not make up for one defensive slip-up that allowed Franca in to notch the only score of the game for Reysol.
With just one goal in 270 minutes of football, then, this is hardly the time for question marks to be hanging over the future at the club of Omiya's star performer this year. Denis Marques has made by far the most significant individual contribution to the team in 2008 - certainly of the out-field players, at any rate - but mysteriously did not figure at all against the Sun Kings.
Whatever the reality of the circumstances surrounding his absence, it is definitely true to say that the 27-year-old brings to the Squirrels' play a much-needed sense of imagination, flair and unpredictability. Given the extent to which Daigo Kobayashi and, arguably to a lesser extent, Chikara Fujimoto have underperformed, these are characteristics that Omiya can ill do without.
Last year, then-coach Satoru Sakuma's Ardija were fighting for their J1 survival when they travelled to Nagoya to take on the Red Whales - and were crushed 5-0, in one of the most disastrous performances by an Omiya side since the club gained promotion in 2004. Now, new Grampus boss Dragan Stojkovic has been successful in leading his team to the fringes of the title race and it must be that Yasuhiro Higuchi is up against it, if the Squirrels are to break their losing streak.