Ninety minutes. Ninety minutes of wet terror. Ninety godawful minutes of pain and suffering and waiting for something to happen. Ninety minutes.
In a battle of teams struggling to stay afloat, Shimizu S-Pulse and Omiya squared off in a rather chippy affair. Shimizu came in off a 3-0 pasting of Albirex Niigata, the third orange brother in J1. Three of their younger players, including newly appointed starter Kaito Yamamoto, were off on U23 duty so the less-than-full-strength squad was ripe for the taking.
Thins nearly went badly off the rails early on, however, when the human stomach muscle - stand-in central defender Yosuke Kataoka - mishit a clearance off the back of a team-mate and put it in a perilous position. This would happen a few times during the game. But tragedy did strike for the visitors in the fourth minute when Yoshiyuki Kobayashi badly mistimed his tackle on a slick pitch and fractured the ankle of sometime national team midfielder Jungo Fujimoto. Early reports are that Fujito has a fractured fibula and is probably done for the rest of the season.
Outside of a Yoshiyuki Kobayashi blast from long range and a couple of S-Pulse shots, there was a ton of back passing and handbags from both squads. Most guilty of killing offensive momentum were the tandem of Squirrels right back Yusuke Murayama and goalshy front man Kota Yoshihara who hesitated and quit on plays......again. On two open chances, Yoshihara managed to play himself offside on a breakaway with Chikara Fujimoto and then absolutely muff a wide open shot.
The second half was more of the same as Omiya came out to a deluge of Shimizu pressure. Naoya Saeki, Leandro and keeper Koji Ezumi were excellent in cleaning up messes, although at one point Leandro cleared a ball precariously close to edging in for an S-Pulse goal.
The most surprising performance was put in by substitute Hiroshi Morita, who immediately changed the game with his hustle and fight (words I thought I never would utter ). His finest moment was a tussle with Shimizu defender Kazumichi Takagi, in which Morita got his leg up high and flicked the ball to wide open Denis Marques. Unfortunately Denis misplayed the ball and ended up softly rolling it to Shimizu keeper Yohei Nishibe.
Slovenian striker Klemen Lavric was the next to come in and his presence was felt when he earned a free kick deep in opposition territiory. Shimizu treated the giant forward like a jungle gym, climbing over and grabbing onto him at will. His one moment of freedom produced a well-timed pass to the waiting Morita (now perched on the wing) who deposited it home for a goal.
But wait! Offside for the second time in two home matches against Shizuoka teams. S-Pulse capitalized on the quick call and pushed the ball up against the still-celebrating Omiya side. Only a nice save by Ezumi stopped what could have been disaster. Shimizu were then able to earn a couple of dangerous corners, which resulted in a fantastic clearance by Morita and a lucky bounce off the post. 0-0 at the end and one single point for the month of July. The break couldn't come soon enough.