Albirex Niigata make the journey down to Saitama for the third J1 match of the season tomorrow, and they travel to meet an Omiya Ardija side in a state of some confusion. A 4-2 home win and a 1-1 away draw are ostensibly more than respectable results for the new-look Squirrels, but dissatisfaction is rife with the level of performance that has been achieved so far - and consequently, the confidence among the players is not high. Daigo Kobayashi commented during the week that despite spending time in training to address the key issue of his understanding withstriker Saul Martinez, there had been little sign of improvement and the two were still failing to gel.
Chikara Fujimoto was taking a characteristically positive view of the early stages of this year's league season, dwelling on the fact that two less-than-sparkling performances had nevertheless yielded five goals and four points. But Fujimoto will once again be missing from the Ardija line-up against Niigata, the absence of any news about the fitness of Kota Yoshihara thus concentrating the minds of fans yet more on the crucial Daigo / Martinez axis, not to mention the apparent hangover from last season that causes Ardija to be such slow starters.
Tatsunori Hisanaga has been able to hold on to a first-team spot as a consequence of the injuries in the offensive areas of Toshiya Miura's squad, but even so he admitted that, "In all honesty, the performances in the two games so far haven't been good... it seems that we haven't yet learned that a game is ninety minutes long, because on both occasions we've been very poor in the first half and then got better after half time. I think to have a whole match where we can play our own game and be in charge is really going to boost our self-confidence and help us to get better results. We still have to take note of Niigata and especially their good foreign players, and we're very keen to pay them back for last year."
Keeper Hiroki Aratani concentrated instead on the dangers presented by Jun Suzuki's young Albirex side. "We played against Niigata in the training camp on Guam [which finished 1-1 and 1-0 to the Squirrels] and they work hard, they run for ninety minutes and they don't stop. Their shooting and their counter-attacking play are good across the board, so we'll have to be on our guard to get the win. In the two games so far, we've played very differently in the first and second half, so to improve we have to be able to keep things up for ninety minutes against Niigata. If we begin more quickly, it'll help us to avoid the situation where we're conceding first and so chasing the game."