Kota Yoshihara finally made his J1 debut for Omiya Ardija at Kashima Antlers on Sunday, but a promising appearance from the diminutive striker wasn't enough to prevent the Squirrels from falling to their second defeat in five days at the hands of Paulo Autuori's improving Kashima Antlers side. Tatsunori Hisanaga also returned to the side as Omiya adopted a more cautious 4-5-1 approach than had been the case against Gamba Osaka, while Daisuke Tomita slotted alongside Toninho in the centre of the back four, skipper Seiichiro Okuno being relegated to the subs' bench.
Kota Yoshihara, actually playing football for Omiya
As early as the sixth minute, the match burst into life and, sadly for the watching Ardija fans, it was a disastrous opening for their side. A Mitsuo Ogasawara free kick was floated in from the left and big defender Daiki Iwamasa rose above a napping Squirrels back line to head powerfully past Hiroki Aratani. Yet again, Toshiya Miura's team found themselves a goal behind after a sluggish start.
After that, things could only improve and they almost got a lot better a lot sooner than expected, when Chikara Fujimoto fed Yoshihara for a good opportunity just a couple of minutes after the goal. On 14 minutes, Fujimoto himself sent in a powerful shot from just outside the area that was saved by Antlers keeper Hideaki Ozawa and an alert Yoshihara was almost on hand to capitalise on the rebounding ball.
Daiki Iwamasa's goal celebration. D'oh
The men in white continued to have a lot of play as the first half progressed, but four minutes before the interval were made to pay for their inability to translate possession into clear-cut goalscoring opportunities, when a further free-kick from Ogasawara was curled past Aratani for a 2-0 lead.
Miura was happy at half-time to leave the team unchanged for the beginning of the second period, but within a few minutes of the re-start, both Hisanaga and Fujimoto had been withdrawn after picking up knocks, Naoto Sakurai and Yoshiyuki Kobayashi coming on as replacements. Yukio Tsuchiya and Yasuhiro Hato were both providing an outlet as overlapping wingbacks, while much now rested on the individual skill of Sakurai - but Paulo Autuori is creating a strict defensive regime at Kashima and the chances created by the Omiya attack were again few and far between.
The only genuine opportunity came midway through the half, when Daigo Kobayashi received the ball on the edge of the area, used Hato's dummy run on the right hand side to create a half-second of uncertainty in the Antlers back-line and sent in a distinctly venom-free effort that nevertheless managed to elude Ozawa and pull Ardija back into the game.
Kashima hit back and almost immediately restored their two goal lead, but this was poor fare indeed. Miura's last throw of the dice saw debut man Yoshihara replaced by Hiroshi Morita for the aerial option with ten minutes remaining, but Hato and Tsuchiya were unable to hit the dead ball line and get in the required crosses, and 2-1 was the final score.
Daigo biffs in the Squirrels' consolation goal
"I think the difference between the two teams today came from the set pieces, where they were very decisive and aggressive," said Yosuke Kataoka, defensive midfielder, after the final whistle. "Then their defence was very good, a lot of strength kept us out. Above all we need to improve our concentration at set plays." Concentration was the key word as far as Miura was concerned as well. "It was all down to those set pieces in the first half. A lack of concentration," he said, frustrated at his team's apparent inability to improve in an area that has been causing significant difficulties all season.
"Other than that, I think we matched Kashima today, but when you're chasing the game - two down against a team with a strong defence like them - you're going to have problems. We ended up being a bit torn between not wanting to concede a third, because they've got the players to punish you if you give them an opportunity. But I think the second half in particular wasn't something to feel bad about for us, although to lose as a result of two simple set pieces really hurts. Iwamasa is big and has strength, yes, but our concentration was poor and we got punished for it."
I don't know about you, but I'm absolutely knackered