Despite last week's defeat to Nagoya Grampus in the Emperor's Cup, Omiya Ardija can approach Sunday's J1 trip to Albirex Niigata with a genuine degree of confidence. The Squirrels' results and performances have in recent weeks been far better than that of Albirex, as Tomoya Uchida, Chikara Fujimoto and Taishi Tsukamoto have brought to the team a much greater attacking threat than was the case earlier in the season. Uchida against Grampus contributed a superb long-range goal to add to his recent displays and the diminutive former Yokohama FC player has shone on the left of midfield.
Daigo Kobayashi looks set to return to the heart of the Ardija side after suspension and as such, the likely line-up against Niigata is now resembling arguably the best available to coach Yasuhiro Higuchi. With the team's recent result being as good as they have been, there must be a question mark over the places in the starting eleven of long-term injury victims Yoshiyuki Kobayashi and Denis Marques, even when they are both completely fit: certainly, other players have been broadly successful in filling the creative void brought about by Denis' absence.
While Ardija have shown clear signs that they have broken out of the slump that threatened to get the club relegated back to J2, Sunday's opponents have yet to bring about such a change. As such, Albirex appear at this moment to be in more significant danger of the drop than do Omiya, despite the two teams being separated only by goal difference. Jun Suzuki's team have failed to score in their last five league games and although they broke that duck in the Emperor's Cup against FC Tokyo, that Niigata let slip a two-goal lead to go out of the competition 3-2 is the sort of disappointment that can only undermine their fragile confidence.
But as any Omiya follower knows, these goal-less runs have to come to an end sometime and it would be a mistake for the Squirrels to assume that the game is theirs for the taking on Sunday. If either side are able to win, they will in all likelihood almost guarantee J1 football for themselves in 2009. The stakes could hardly be higher.