It may have been Koji Ezumi who was at fault for Oita Trinita's late winner on Sunday, but nevertheless it was also the Squirrels' keeper who had kept his team on level terms throughout a predictably difficult encounter. That Omiya subsequently travelled back from Kyushu to Saitama without any points in the bag was not in itself a surprise - but the reliance on their goalkeeper, coupled with an inability to create chances, emphasised quite how fragile the notion of progress under Yasuhiro Higuchi is.
The Squirrels have picked up some undeniably good results this season - but without Denis Marques in the side, there is little to distinguish Omiya of 2008 from last year's desperate team, which as Squirrels fans will recall avoided relegation only by the narrowest of margins. Against Oita, Klemen Lavric offered some attacking threat, but he needs service to be at his most dangerous; Kota Yoshihara, Daigo Kobayashi and Chikara Fujimoto have shown only the briefest glimpses of creative play this season, and none at all were in evidence in Sunday's match.
And so for the visit to Omiya Park of Yokohama F Marinos on Thursday, Higuchi urgently needs to identify an alternative route to goal. If Lavric can't do it all on his own, the former Bundesliga player is at least a valuable addition to the squad and a focus to the Ardija attack that was lacking throughout 2007. Yoshihara was replaced after an hour against Trinita after having contributed not a single attempt on goal, leaving Omiya supporters to wonder what would be lost if youngsters such as Kohei Tokita or even Masahiko Ichikawa were to be given a run-out in the starting line-up.
As a look at the bottom of the standings seems to suggest that it will now be difficult for JEF United and Consadole Sapporo to fight their way out of the automatic relegation places, Ardija still need to ensure between now and the beginning of December that there is at least one more club that is weaker than them in J1. Until recently, the under-performing and wildly inconsistent Marinos might have been that club, but seven points from the three matches since the re-start would indicate that the Sailors are moving in the right direction, despite leading scorer Roni having jumped ship for Gamba Osaka. The pressure in turn increases on Higuchi and his charges to climb back up towards mid-table security.