Omiya Ardija’s season-saving winning run came to an end at the Big Eye Stadium, Oita, on Saturday, with form team Trinita returning to winning ways after successive draws against title challengers Cerezo Osaka and Kashima Antlers. As a result, the Squirrels dropped back to thirteenth spot in the J1 table, Albirex Niigata leapfrogging over them thanks to a 1-0 win at wildly inconsistent Nagoya Grampus 8.
The Mighty Squirrels line up before kick-off
In the absence of Leandro through injury, Tuto made a return to the team alongside Hiroshi Morita, whose recent fine displays as substitute put him back in the starting line-up and relegated Manabu Wakabayashi to the bench. Shin Kanazawa also came in to replace Masato Saito in the centre of midfield, with the suspended Daisuke Tomita making way for former Oita man Kazuyoshi Mikami on the left of the defence.
Both teams looked lively enough at the start but on sixteen minutes, disaster struck for the Squirrels as Takayuki Yoshida knocked in a simple ball from the right and Masato Yamazaki took advantage of a slip-up in the defence to give Hiroki Aratani no chance. It was a potential major blow for Omiya, but Miura’s men are made of sterner stuff than earlier in the campaign and just eight minutes later were back on level terms.
A quick exchange of passes in the midfield fed Morita on the edge of the Oita box and a delightful touch from the big man fed Tatsunori Hisanaga, advancing on the left to clip the ball past Shusaku Nishikawa for a lovely equaliser. Following the Ardija goal, the first half was evenly balanced with both sides aiming for a second score of the afternoon, but it was nevertheless still 1-1 at the interval.
Yasunari Hiraoka on the defensive
Toshiya Miura then replaced the injured Kanazawa with Yasunari Hiraoka and slotted Toninho next to Jun Marques Davidson in midfield and as the second period got underway, Omiya seemed to be coping well with the enforced re-shuffle and the twin dangers of the Trinita front line, Magno Alves and Yamazaki.
Fifteen minutes in, Morita and Tuto in quick succession missed opportunities to put Ardija in front when right through on the keeper, but the chances went begging and Oita turned up the heat. With 77 minutes on the clock, a quick through pass released Teppei Nishiyama in yards of space and again Aratani in the Omiya goal was left totally exposed as Nishiyama made it 2-1.
Teppei Nishiyama rounds Hiroki Aratani to score the winner
The substitution of Mikami for Wakabayashi appeared to provide a new attacking focus for the Squirrels, but the mysterious dismissal on 81 minutes of Jun Marques Davidson for a second bookable offence effectively condemned Omiya to defeat. But it was a gutsy performance under difficult circumstances against one the current top sides in J1.
"It has to be said that the pitch was in a really bad state today and it was tough to get a clean connection on the ball,” Toshiya Miura said afterwards. “That meant it was a question of keeping things simple and I think the overall standard of the match was less good than the recent games we’ve played in. We seemed to be a bit lacking in energy and that was something I tried to convey to the players at half-time – to get them to go out and play with more pace. It worked for the first few minutes but we couldn’t make any breakthrough.”
Kazuyoshi Mikami clears against his old club
Hiroshi Morita added, “It was a disappointing result, very frustrating. Too often Oita were beating us to any knockdowns - and that helped them to get the better of us, especially in the first half. I had a couple of chances – a header from a free kick in the first half and one point where I was one-on-one with the keeper in the second half – but just couldn’t make anything come of them. It was good to get the assist, though: a quick little flick to Hisanaga, his first touch was great and it was a nice goal.”