A patchy Omiya performance that in the end resulted in a great win a week ago against JEF United was followed on Saturday by another mixed bag at J1 newcomers Avispa Fukuoka, with most observers agreeing that Ardija were lucky to come back to Saitama with the one point that they managed. With Chikara Fujimoto frustrated to have missed a chance to take on one of his old clubs due to injury and Kota Yoshihara still not fit enough to make his debut, Toshiya Miura opted to start with Saul Martinez up front on his own, with the unusual pairing of Toninho and Masato Saito in central midfield and Daisuke Tomita and Seiichiro Okuno in the middle of the back four.
As had occurred against JEF, the Squirrels were distinctly sluggish out the blocks as a lively Fukuoka side started on the attack and only nine minutes in, Alex took advantage of a loss of concentration from Tomita to run and shoot past Hiroki Aratani. Saito and Toninho were clearly not having the influence on proceedings that Miura had hoped, the duo seemingly unable to get a grip on possession and calm things down, as mistake followed mistake and Avispa controlled the play. Seiji Koga and Kohei Miyazaki threatened down the flanks, while Mitsunori Yabuta's header hit the bar on 20 minutes and a Miyazaki shot went just past the post, as Omiya found themselves well and truly on the rocks.
Scorer of Fukuoka's goal and tormentor of Omiya's back four, Alex
Neither was Martinez able to make any headway at the other end to relieve the pressure, as a compact home defence denied the Honduran space, frustrating him in his attempts to give Ardija a foothold in the game. Yukio Tsuchiya as an overlapping left-sided wingback was Omiya's only attacking option before the interval, but even that never looked likely to bring about a goal given the toothlessness - nay, invisibility - of the Squirrels' midfield. All in all, they were lucky indeed to be just a single goal behind at the break.
Another half-time, another opportunity for Miura to make much-needed changes to his team - and he wasted no opportunity to do so, bringing on Jun Marques Davidson and Naoto Sakurai for Tomita and Martinez, who would in all probability have ended up getting himself sent off if he'd continued with his fouling of Fukuoka defenders who had the sheer gall to rob him of possession.
Daigo Kobayashi swings in another corner as the Squirrels attack
Gradually, Omiya came more into the match, as Sakurai went for a long Tatsunori Hisanaga cross on 57 minutes, and Hisanaga himself put Avispa under pressure following a long ball from Marques. The replacement just after the hour of Saito with Hiroshi Morita was Miura's final throw of the dice and eight minutes later the Squirrels were back on level terms. Yet again, a Daigo Kobayashi set piece provided the opportunity and his right-sided corner was headed in by Tsuchiya for his first goal as an Omiya player.
This seemed to have given the initiative to Ardija, but in fact it was the hosts who came back on the offensive, going close through Alex on 79 and substitute striker Shinya Kawashima shortly afterwards. Luckily for his colleagues, Aratani was on fine form and kept the score level going into injury time - when Sakurai, outrageously, had the chance to win it for Omiya. Put through by Morita for a one-on-one with keeper Yuichi Mizutani, however, he failed to make it pay and his weak effort was blocked.
Yukio Tsuchiya ties things up for Ardija
And so the match finished even, Toshiya Miura's men having got out of jail thanks to their current purple patch with set plays. "We had Fukuoka watched in pre-season and against Jubilo last weekend and it was clear that they were a settled side - a good, aggressive team," he later commented, perhaps aware that neither term could safely be used about his own team.
"At their goal, we were slow to react and really we were off the pace all through the first half. After half-time, we tried to shake things up and there was the feeling that Fukuoka were running out of concentration a bit, even though they kept up their fight. Right at the end we had a couple of good chances even to win the game, but on the balance of play across the whole ninety minutes, a draw's probably a fair result."
Tatsunori Hisanaga, a Fukuoka player on long-term loan in Saitama, was less positive than his coach. "It's like a victory to get a point after a first half like that," he said. "We weren't co-operating or communicating together well enough and it was like a vicious circle: they put us under pressure so our passing was bad, so they were able to put us under pressure more. There were really a lot of mistakes today and given that our main aim for improvement from last season has been to increase the number of attempts on goal we make, well, we 're not doing any better." Daigo Kobayashi added, "That was a really bad performance and we never matched Fukuoka's spirit. Somehow we got a draw out of it through a set piece, but we were lucky."
Tatsunori Hisanaga in... action?
So four points from two games at the start of the season is of course a perfectly respectable way to begin an important campaign and Miura will be frustrated that, having bought extensively during the close season, he has not yet been able to field a full-strength new side due to injury. But nevertheless he has made some tactical and selection decisions that will be puzzling Squirrels fans, such as the non-appearance so far of a well-regarded player like Naoya Saeki and the apparent confusion of the team as regards roles and tactics ("We're obviously starting games poorly, so the first step is to get to the stage where we have the first fifteen or twenty minutes without any mistakes, and having a clear idea of our shape and how to get into attacking positions ourselves," was Tsuchiya's worrying view of things).
The latter is of course not helped long-term by the fact that it has been necessary in both matches so far to make short-term changes in order simply to get points on the board. With thoughts turning to next week's match at home to Albirex Niigata, it's to be hoped first and foremost that Kota Yoshihara will be available for selection, not only to kickstart his career as an Omiya player but also to shoulder some of the responsibility that Martinez is currently finding such a burden. Maybe then we can start to see a smoother-functioning version of this new team, rather than the indecisive muddling through that has been on offer so far.
You can read the GGOA preview and the pre- and post-match comments to the Avispa game by clicking here