Saturday's J1 match at Omiya Park against Vissel Kobe has taken on a new significance in the aftermatch of Ardija's defeats to FC Tokyo and Urawa Reds. With the Squirrels teetering on the brink of a relegation scrap and teams such as JEF United and Yokohama F Marinos now apparently capable of picking up some points, it has become more important than ever that Yasuhiro Higuchi's men are able to make the most of the remaining fixtures that can be described as truly winnable.
Securing nine points from nine games should not be beyond Higuchi, but three consecutive away matches in October is an unwelcome additional hurdle in the way of achieving that target. The pressure was further increased by the news that star man Denis Marques will most likely be missing for a month, having picked up a ligament injury during the defeat by Urawa.
To be fair to the Ardija coach, this problem was dealt with with some success during the Brazilian's recent two-match suspension - not, perhaps, in the defeat against high-flying Oita Trinita, but certainly in the 1-0 win over Marinos that followed. This vital victory was achieved via a front duo of main striker Klemen Lavric and wide midfielder Chikara Fujimoto, who combined for Lavric to score the only goal with a close-range header.
This would seem the most likely option on Saturday for Higuchi, who will be looking to build on an improved home record that after a difficult early part of the year has seen Ardija lose just once in their last seven games at Omiya Park. Visitors Kobe, meanwhile, are on a run of two points from six matches and have midfielder Ryosuke Matsuoka suspended for the trip to Saitama.
As every Omiya supporter will be aware, Vissel include in their ranks ex-Squirrels striker Leandro, who has had an injury-hit year and netted only two since returning to the team in May. One of them, inevitably, was enough to beat Ardija when the two teams met in Hyogo and it's to be hoped that his namesake, returning to the Omiya defence after being suspended for the Reds game, can keep him under close control. The Squirrels need the points.