Omiya Ardija hit the Nabisco Cup trail at Jubilo Iwata on Wednesday night, but could only come away with a 2-1 defeat, meaning that the Squirrels have somewhat ominously lost three-in-a-row. But Toshiya Miura had elected to make major changes to the side which played at Kashima Antlers at the weekend, and Naoya Saeki in particular impressed in a central midfield role during what was his first game in an orange shirt.
Keeper Koji Ezumi also made his debut in goal, with Hayato Hashimoto replacing Chikara Fujimoto on the left and the defensive pair of Kazuyoshi Mikami and Takuro Nishimura also returning to first team action as Yasuhiro Hato and Yukio Tsuchiya were rested.
Taku Nishimura back in the first team
Saeki and Masato Saito in the middle were dominant figures right from the start, enabling Omiya to take a control of proceedings that has been lacking in league games throughout the season so far, in which Ardija have been particularly slow off the mark in practically every match. They coped well with Jubilo's tactic of spreading the play and using the full width of the pitch, 22-year-old midfielder Yoshiaki Ota a key man for the home side.
A quarter of an hour in, the Squirrels had their first good chance when a superb through ball from Yoshiyuki Kobayashi set Kota Yoshihara through on goal, but a mixture of Yoshi Kawaguchi in the Jubilo goal and defender Kentaro Oi smothered the opportunity. Seconds later, though, Nishimura's cross from the right found the head of Hiroshi Morita, who muscled his way past the Jubilo defence and opened the scoring for Omiya.
Hiroshi Morita gets in another header
From then, the Squirrels were able to keep Jubilo at arm's length but were at the same time unable to carve out any decent openings at the other end. It seemed as if the match was heading for half time with Ardija one in front, but eleven minutes before the interval the troublesome Naoya Kikuchi's own right-wing cross was headed in by Ota for an equaliser. The game speeded up after the re-start as Kikuchi in particular become more involved for Jubilo, but on 55 minutes the Squirrels almost re-took the lead with another Morita header that narrowly missed the target after excellent work from Hashimoto.
Subsequently, the two midfields shaped up for a fight, with goalscorer Ota on the right causing problems for Omiya. It was Kikuchi, however, who eventually opened up the Ardija defence with a beautiful pass that enabled Ryoichi Maeda to bypass Ezumi and put Jubilo into the lead.
Toshiya Miura responded by throwing on Fujimoto for Hashimoto and then the returning Saul Martinez for Yoshihara, and Fujimoto with seven minutes remaining put Morita through for a one-on-one with Kawaguchi, but the striker's shot hit the woodwork and the chance to equalise went begging. Then in the last minute, as the Squirrels pressed forward desperately, a Martinez overhead kick was blocked by Kawaguchi after a flick on by Morita - and even then, that wasn't the final opportunity as in injury time the Honduran international was able to get in another shot on goal.
Jubilo's Ota on the run
Another defeat for Omiya, then, but not a match without positives - the first occasion this season that the men in orange have taken the lead in the first half and some fine individual performances, with Naoya Saeki now being talked of as in contention for a starting place in the first team. "We were thinking only of winning the game, so are very frustrated to come away with a defeat like this," commented the former Vissel Kobe man. "The spirit among the players was good going in to the match and we passed the ball well in the midfield during the first half.
"Morita was a good target man for us, always giving something to aim for up front. Then after half-time, Jubilo put us under a lot of pressure and we weren't able to pick up on the second ball so well. We lost our shape and I think a simpler approach would have helped us to deal with that better and to attack more. But the tactical approach is getting clearer all the time, meshing together more effectively with the skills of the players that we have available."
Stickminder Koji Ezumi on his Omiya debut
Yoshiyuki Kobayashi said, "Today we had two players in the middle of the field who could win the ball and at times, we really played well as a team: we can be a good side with these players. We had a couple of decent chances, but so did Jubilo and they took theirs."
Coach Miura explained his perspective on team selection and on the match like this: "Just because we've got a lot of games in a short period of time, we decided to replace some of the players for tonight's match. And the guys who came in did a good job, showing the calibre of our squad. Mikami and Nishimura played pretty regularly last season and we know what they can do - they slotted in without any difficulties. Saeki put in an excellent performance, he can hold the ball well and pass it. Yoshihara needs the match practice at the moment, but we just decided to give him a break and bring him off with a few minutes to go. We just need to persevere and the results will go our way - after this match, I think we can cope with the busy schedule of the next few weeks."