Just when it seemed as if Omiya Ardija's season was right back on track, along comes the disappointment of a performance and a result such as Sunday's at J1 high-flyers Kawasaki Frontale. Coach Toshiya Miura seemed to have it all going in his favour beforehand, picking what seemed a strong side with a mixture of creativity, flair and muscle.
Kota Yoshihara and Naoto Sakurai started together up front supported by Daigo Kobayashi and Chikara Fujimoto, while the now-familiar partnership of Jun Marques Davidson and Yosuke Kataoka was intended to shore things up in the central midfield - conscious of the fact that Kawasaki have started the league season lethally up front, having scored more goals than any other club in Japan so far in 2006.
Things started reasonably well for the Squirrels, as they got into a good rhythm and seemed able to bring Fujimoto and Daigo into the game; Chikara's understanding with Sakurai in particular looked as if it might bear fruit as play went on, while Daigo sent a free-kick past the post on ten minutes. But Omiya were unable to score when on top of the game and little by little, Frontale began to impose themselves on the match via the triangle of Kazuki Ganaha, Marcus and Juninho, who were constantly seeking to get behind the Ardija defence.
Tsuchiya battles it out with Ganaha
Yusuke Mori went close with a header from a Marcao cross in the 27th minute, but the alarm bells were already ringing by that time, as Mori and fellow midfielder Kengo Nakamura took charge of the middle of the park. The Squirrels were forced to rely on an offside trap on a number of occasions as Frontale pushed forward again and again, and it was something of a miracle that Juninho and co were unable to get on the scoresheet by the time the interval came round.
Perhaps surprisingly, Miura didn't take the opportunity to make any changes, but seventeen minutes into the second half - with the pattern of play more or less unchanged - just as Yoshiyuki Kobayashi was replacing Kota Yoshihara, Yoshinobu Minowa headed home a free kick and Omiya were once again behind to a goal conceded from a set piece.
Grrrrr. Juninho's scored, obviously
With Ardija attempting to get back on level terms as quickly as possible, Kataoka hit the cross bar with a powerful shot just three minutes later - but sixty seconds after that, it was 2-0 Kawasaki as Juninho despatched Marcao's cross with a diving header for his seventh of the season. By this time, Omiya were more or less out of the game, but Miura nevertheless attempted a positive substitution, bringing on Hiroshi Morita for Jun Marques Davidson to aid the hunt for a goal and a way back into the match. With 74 minutes on the clock, Morita shrugged off a challenge and fired in a decent effort that Takashi Aizawa struggled to keep out.
But on 78th minute, Juninho hammered the final nail in the Omiya coffin as he broke down the Kawasaki right and played in a cross that caused chaos amongst the Squirrels defence. Miscommunication between Hiroki Aratani and Toninho resulted in the ball bouncing away from the big Brazilian and Taku Harada was on hand to tap home a third goal. A delightful Fujimoto header from Toninho's long ball was never going to be more than a consolation and it was a disappointing and disappointed Omiya side that trudged from the field.
Chikara goals for glory in a rare moment of Squirrels pressure
"A bad performance from ourselves and I thought that Kawasaki were a really good side," was Chikara Fujimoto's summary of events. "We started well, creating lots of space and Sakurai was really getting involved in our build-up play, but then Juninho and Marques started to influence the play more and we had to concentrate on defence as a result.
"At half-time, the coach said that it was important to get the ball to myself and Daigo to release pressure on the defence and just to help us try and retain possession for longer spells - the comparison was with Juninho, because when he gets the ball, it sticks to him and Kawasaki's play revolves around him. We really had to stop the ball getting through to him and to prevent the development of Kawasaki counter attacks. But it didn't go well and we still found it very hard to keep the ball in midfield."
"Made a note in my diary. Simply reads, 'Bugger'"
"First twenty minutes we did okay, but after that Kawasaki took control and the game was played at their pace," said Toshiya Miura. "Really it was just luck that we were still 0-0 at half-time and I made the point during the break that we were spending too much time on the back foot and not enough time with the ball. Obviously we weren't able to change things around enough in the second half and they scored just after I made the first tactical substitution.
"We sort of woke up after the second goal, but the Frontale defence was very strong and by then it was too late for us. We've had a few games lately where we put on a decent performance but didn't get the result. Then, against Marinos, we played well and got the right result - but today, we played poorly and got a bad result."