Saturday sees the resumption of the J1 schedule following on from the break for the Japanese national team's World Cup qualifier with Uzbekistan. Omiya Ardija travel to fellow relegation strugglers Tokyo Verdy and, for Omiya supporters, the pause has served only to heighten the tension surrounding their club. The recent collapse in form has meant that - once again - the Squirrels face an end-of-season battle to retain their top flight status.
The team's most recent match, a crushing 4-0 defeat by neighbours Kashiwa Reysol, was the latest and worst in a run of unacceptable performances. Five consecutive losses at this stage in the year has caused panic in the orange half of Saitama, with the team and - by all accounts - sections of the Squirrels support arguing amongst themselves and blaming each other for mistakes and poor results.
Of course, under circumstances such as these it falls to Ardija coach Yasuhiro Higuchi to present to his first team squad a clear, decisive message and to communicate a strategy that is focused simply on gathering enough points from the remaining six games to survive as a J1 team. Since the Reysol match, Higuchi has given his players some time off before reconvening for a friendly with Tokyo-based JFL side Yokogawa Musashino.
The line-up was completely changed over at half-time, but defender Yasuhiro Hato - an ever-present in J1 so far this season - was notable by his absence, rookie Taishi Tsukamoto stepping in in his place. Higuchi has a lot of thinking to do ahead of the Verdy game, given that so many of the experienced members of the squad have let him down so many times in recent weeks.
Tsukamoto and other youngsters like Masahiko Ichikawa and Tatsuya Kawahara have been given almost no opportunity to impress as first teamers. Whether the Squirrels' under-pressure Higuchi will choose to blood any of them against Verdy - at this most important stage of the year - could turn out to be the most important decision of his stewardship.