The Squirrels played much better than in the debacle against Vissel Kobe on Saturday, but were still a clear second best against current league champions Kashima Antlers in their rearranged fixture on Wednesday evening. Ardija played as if it has actually sunk in that they are once again in a relegation fight once and - although the quality was hardly great - the players did at least have more fire in their collective belly and came close to scoring on a few occasions.
With Terukazu Tanaka, Shin Kanazawa and Hiroshi Morita all returning to the starting line-up, Omiya almost took a shock lead in the first half when Kanazawa's fine cross from the left found the head of the onrushing Chikara Fujimoto. The diminutive midfielder-cum-forward headed it towards goal but unfortunately Kashima keeper Hitoshi Sogahata got a hand to the ball and it went for a corner after grazing the post.
The ever-impressive Marquinhos got both goals for Antlers in the first half. For the first, he volleyed home from close range after Koji Ezumi managed to claw a free kick on to his left-hand post, but unluckily straight to the right boot of the long-haired Brazilian. The Squirrels' defending was at fault for the second when J1's top scorer climbed unmarked to nod the clincher past a stranded Ezumi after a long free kick was floated into the box.
The second half was something of a non-event, with Kashima seemingly content to soak up Ardija's infrequent attacks. Debutant U19 international Takuya Aoki could have scored near the end but the youngster fell to pieces when faced head-on with Sogahata and miskicked a tame shot wide of the target. In the final seconds of injury time Naoto Sakurai nearly grabbed a consolation after good work from Kohei Tokita, but the injury-prone veteran's shot also went wide. A predictable result but an encouraging performance - and the Squirrels now have three six-pointers in October.