Omiya Ardija’s second season in J1 got off to a tremendous start on Sunday with a 4-2 win over a tough-tackling, physical JEF United side – the first time that the Squirrels have scored four in a league game since a 5-3 away win at Avispa Fukuoka in August 2003 and an all the more remarkable scoreline considering that the matches against JEF last season ended in 1-0 and 2-0 defeats.
Coach Toshiya Miura made some surprising choices as far as the midfield were concerned, leaving Jun Marques Davidson and Naoya Saeki on the bench in favour of a central midfield partnership of Yoshiyuki Kobayashi and Daisuke Tomita, with Tatsunori Hisanaga and Chikara Fujimoto out wide. New signing Daigo Kobayashi’s role, meanwhile, was tucked in behind lead striker Saul Martinez at the head of a loose 4-1-4-1 formation.
Omiya's first scorer of 2006, Daisuke Tomita
But the new-look Squirrels got off to a shaky start, as just twelve minutes in, JEF’s Austrian striker Mario Haas floated in a corner that was controlled on the edge of the area by defender Daisuke Saito, who finished neatly to put the visitors one up. Barely a minute later, however, a Daigo corner was met at the far post by Daisuke Tomita, whose header rocketed past Tomonori Tateishi for an immediate equaliser. The flurry of scoring was not yet finished, however, as Seiichiro Maki met yet another corner from Haas to glance a header of his own through a flapping Hiroki Aratani: 2-1 to JEF, with only a quarter of an hour played.
And this was scarcely more than Omiya deserved for a sluggish first half performance, communication breakdowns and errors preventing any coherent development of attacks, as JEF harried and tackled in the aggressive way that it was always known that they would. This highly unsatisfactory state of affairs made the events of the early part of the second half all the more improbable, although new defender Yukio Tsuchiya was replaced at the interval by Masato Saito, whose reassuring presence was slotted into central midfield with Tomita returning to his more familiar left-back position.
Yoshiyuki Kobayashi gets in an aerial challenge
Eleven minutes after the re-start, Martinez’debut was brought to an end as he was brought off in favour of Naoto Sakurai - and this was a change that reassured Omiya supporters that Miura had not lost the knack of making effective substitutions, the wily Sakurai immediately seeming to give Ardija more in the way of effective attacking options.
All of a sudden the Squirrels had a spring in their step and on 59 minutes, a clumsy Yuto Sato foul on Fujimoto earned Omiya a free-kick and the JEF midfielder a yellow card. Daigo once again took advantage of the set piece to launch the ball into the visitors’ area and what could charitably be called a mis-communication between keeper Tateishi and defender Masataka Sakamoto resulted in the latter giving away a distinctly soft own goal.
Seconds afterwards, Sato foolishly committed a needless foul on the overlapping Sakurai and was awarded a red card as things turned from bad to worse for Ivica Osim’s team. Again they were punished for giving away a free kick, as Toninho knocked on the initial ball and Daigo converted to make it 3-2. JEF's misery was complete in the 68th minute, as yet another Daigo corner was headed in by Toninho with Omiya now rampant.
Toninho in control
There can be no doubt that Sato’s red card was a turning point in the match, but even Osim accepted that the Squirrels were the better team across the whole of the ninety minutes, even if JEF had easily had the measure of them in the first forty five minutes. "I think we really lost our nerve today,” he said. “Ardija deserved to win and we can have no arguments about that - our defence was a problem and you can never continue attacking for ninety minutes to hide that fact. There’s no way, though, that Sato’s second foul was a yellow card and I’ve got to say that the referee got that one wrong.”
His opposite number Toshiya Miura can ultimately be pleased with the result, but there were nevertheless some important matters that will require his urgent attention, as the new players failed to gel with his existing squad members. “The first half was a shock to our system and JEF hustled us into mistakes at the set pieces. They really put us under a lot of pressure and Martinez ended up a bit isolated. It was obvious that the midfield needed a boost, which is why I put Saito on and shook things up at half time – I knew that with him, Daigo and Yoshiyuki all on the pitch, we’d have a better chance of retaining possession and trying to play our own football.
New star Daigo celebrates his first Omiya goal
“I also knew that JEF wouldn’t be able to keep up their pressure game for the whole ninety minutes and that we’d have our chances to get back into things. In the second half, it was more of our pace. It’s pleasing to get three points, of course, but we need to look again at the defending at set pieces and how best to incorporate the new players.” The last word on this opening day triumph, however, should go to Daigo Kobayashi for a magnificent debut of three assists and one goal. “JEF are really a very good side and they started so well – we allowed ourselves to be knocked off our stride by their running and aggression. But after half-time, they couldn’t get back into their rhythm and we were able to control the midfield better when Saito and Sakurai came on. It’s a brilliant feeling to score on my debut and to have been involved in all four goals.”