It was the same old story for Omiya Ardija at the Saitama Stadium on Saturday. Albirex Niigata striker Edmilson, having scored twice last year against the Squirrels, grabbed a couple more; Ardija conceded early on for the third game running and from a set play for the third time in the new season; Saul Martinez failed to shine up front and was once more withdrawn in favour of Naoto Sakurai at half time. All familiar enough by now to the increasingly frustrated Omiya supporters - but a crucial difference from the JEF United and Avispa Fukuoka games was that the team's luck finally ran out and they ended up on the losing side for the first time in 2006.
Coach Toshiya Miura did indeed make changes to the side that picked up a fortunate draw in Kyushu last week, most obviously electing to go for a more straightforward 4-4-2 formation with Manabu Wakabayashi partnering Martinez up front, while Jun Marques Davidson returned to his central midfield role.
Keen to avoid a repeat of the lifeless first half performances against JEF and Avispa, Omiya did start brightly enough, Tatsunori Hisanaga forcing a save from Yosuke Nozawa from a long-range shot in the ninth minute. The Squirrels were keeping possession more effectively and taking the play to Albirex, the level of teamwork and communication appearing to have been improved following a week's close attention in training.
Blimey - it's a Martinez attempt on goal
But eighteen minutes in, disaster struck when a loose pass from Wakabayashi was picked up by Niigata forward Kisho Yano, who sensed the opportunity for a quick break and raced forward. As the Squirrels defenders gathered around him, he freed Edmilson on the right-hand side and the Brazilian cut into the penalty area to fire past Hiroki Aratani: a harsh punishment for a single slip-up, but nevertheless Miura's men found themselves a goal behind. Fighting hard to get back in the game, Omiya - and more specifically the increasingly pivotal Daigo Kobayashi - created a number of half chances, but neither Wakabayashi nor Martinez were able to capitalise and the visitors went in one goal up at the interval.
And so the unfortunate "Speedy" Martinez again made way for Sakurai, as the Ardija coach again looked for an alternative route to goal via the use of substitutions. A matter of seconds after the re-start this was looking an absolute masterstroke, as Daigo took advantage of some sluggish Albirex defending to move down the right to the by-line, from where he crossed for Sakurai to head home an equaliser - the first goal from open play that Ardija have managed all season, and something that presumably caused the Honduran international to shriek out loud in frustration from his place in the dug-out. From then on, although Niigata had some opportunities of their own, Omiya had the better of things and in the 58th minute a delightful move ended with Wakabayashi heading down a left-hand cross for Sakurai, whose shot was blocked by a defender.
Naoto Sakurai gets in a shot as Omiya chase the game
The Swans' main weapon was Edmilson, whose individual skill and pace on the counter attack especially made him a handful throughout the afternoon for Toninho and co at the back. With a quarter of an hour remaining, Yano won the aerial battle for Shingo Suzuki's corner and yet again that man Edmilson was on hand to notch up another goal and condemn the Squirrels to defeat.
"It was better than the first two games as a performance," suggested Marques afterwards, "but personally, the fact that things haven't been going so well with the new players is very disappointing. We've made a lot of mistakes as a team and I've done the same thing individually, but what we need to do is start keeping clean sheets and to make changes for the next game."
Marques attemps to get a hold on E******n
"That was a tough match for us," commented Swans boss Jun Suzuki. "Omiya had the momentum in the first half, but we managed to take the wind out of their sails with a goal on the break. After the equaliser, we were under pressure and weren't really able to pick up the second ball, but what we did well was man-to-man marking at crosses - that's what stopped them from scoring again."
"Very, very frustrating in terms of the content and the result," was his opposite number Toshiya Miura's verdict. "There were some improvements over the last couple of games and in the first half we were more aggressive and kept the ball better, but the balance of the team didn't give the feeling that we were going to be able to make lots of chances. As for the goals, Niigata will be very pleased to have got a good one on the break, but the second goal was the same old story - a set piece that we defended poorly. But we'll get it right."