What a nine months it has been. Omiya Ardija's first season in J1 has seen the club stun the world of Japanese football with some amazing results, fall into a slump that threatened to see them drop back down to J2 again before levelling out to finish thirteenth. In the end, the Squirrels were better than a sufficiently large number of other clubs to survive, but more than that, they gave a bloody nose to far more illustrious rivals, with wins against Marinos, Urawa and a famous double against eventual champions Gamba springing to mind as truly remarkable achievements by Toshiya Miura and his players.
Omiya Fan's view
But the campaign that started in Osaka in March finished at the Saitama Stadium against Marinos on Saturday - both sides, in fact, lodged in mid-table security, Omiya having achieved their target for the year while Marinos fans will want to put 2005 firmly behind them. With Ardija suffering once again from something of an injury crisis - which saw Leandro, Manabu Wakabayashi and Masato Saito ruled out, along with the suspended Jun Marques Davidson - it was the returning Naoto Sakurai who led the line up front with Hiroshi Morita, Toninho partnering Tatsunori Hisanaga in midfield.
Chikara Fujimoto in particular started brightly, pushing and probing on both sides of the Marinos defence. Sixteen minutes in, however, it was Sakurai who broke into the Marinos area with a delightful first touch and got near to an attempt on goal, but he was hustled off the ball at the vital moment and the chance went begging.
Chikara Fujimoto, Player of the Year?
The visitors looked dangerous through Dutra and Gral's combination play down the left hand side, which caused problems for Hiroki Aratani in the 25th minute, but eight minutes later it was Omiya who went in front. Tuto fed Hisanaga, whose speedy run into the box was brought to an abrupt end by Eisuke Nakanishi and it was Tuto who then stepped up and slotted the penalty past Tetsuya Enomoto for the opener. After the interval, Omiya went close when a Sakurai shot just went over the bar after good work from Hisanaga and then on the hour, Morita had a shot that hit the woodwork as the Squirrels sought to press home their advantage.
Daisuke Tomita puts the Marinos defence under pressure
At this stage, the extent of Marinos' ambition must have been to get a point out of the game, but referee Akio Okutani's double intervention changed the atmosphere of the ancounter when he sent off Yokohama defender Ryuji Kawai and Tuto in quick succession. The increased space seemed to give Marinos extra energy and both Dutra and Hayuma Tanaka put Ardija under pressure with their overlapping runs down the flanks.
Seiichiro Okuno was dominant at the back for the men in orange, but with 72 minutes on the clock an unsighted Aratani let Yoshiharu Ueno's effort past him to give Marinos the equaliser. Yokohama then pushed forward in search of a winner but Omiya were not to be defeated in front of their home fans and the game finished up 1-1.
Yoshiharu Ueno celebrates his equaliser. What a bad, bad man
Coach Toshiya Miura said afterwards, "I have to thank the fans for coming to support us this year. There have been some painful times, but the supporters helped us to overcome those periods of the season and they've encouraged us all the time. Today we wanted to close this chapter of the club's history with a win and we started out with a 4-1-4-1 system to exploit Marinos' formation of paying with three at the back.
"But after half an hour, we reverted to 4-4-2 because we really weren't causing them enough problems in defence. Towards the end of the first half and then early in the second half, we did put them under pressure and were going for the second goal - if we'd scored that, we'd have won the game."