Two games in and Omiya Ardija's 2006 Nabisco Cup campaign is practically over already. For the second time within a matter of a few days, a poor second half display threw away a hard-earned lead and three points - and while it was an improved performance against Jubilo Iwata when compared with that against Oita Trinita at the weekend, it's becoming clear that the Squirrels are a fragile, directionless team indeed.
In league or cup competition, coach Toshiya Miura's tinkering with the line-up only seems to confirm that he has little idea of his strongest team; how to get the most out of what everyone agrees is man-for-man an improved group of players over 2005; is lacking in confidence in his own players and his own judgement; and has no idea of the tactical approach required to take a game by the scruff of the neck and then to remain in control. It could even be that he has taken the club as far as he is able to go and it is time for someone else to have the opportunity to oversee the development of Omiya Ardija as a top-half-of-the-table team.
The answer to Omiya Ardija's goalscoring problems?
But to go back to the match at hand. As with the previous Nabisco Cup fixture at the beginning of the month, Miura made a considerable number of changes from the Oita match, bringing in Naoya Saeki and Yoshiyuki Kobayashi in the middle of midfield, Tomoyasu Ando in goal, Takuro Nishimura, Yasunari Hiraoka and Daisuke Tomita in defence and starting with loan signing Gral up front alongside Hiroshi Morita. Indeed, Chikara Fujimoto and Toninho were the only cast-iron certain starters to take to the field in front of a small crowd of just over 5000 at Komaba.
They nevertheless almost made the perfect start to the match, when 45 seconds in Daigo Kobayashi and Naoya Saeki combining to feed Fujimoto on the left and his delicious cross was headed goalwards by debutant Gral, only for international keeper Yoshi Kawaguchi to make a top draw save and prevent a sensational opener.
Ardija continued brightly enough, but it was Jubilo who came closest to getting on the scoresheet via Fabricio's eighth minute free kick, which brought a smart stop from Tomoyasu Ando. Yoshiyuki Kobayashi was involved in most of Omiya's more promising moves, but they came to nothing until four minutes before the break when a Toninho header from a corner was only parried by Kawaguchi. Gral was first to the ball to tap home an opportunistic goal and give the Squirrels a 1-0 lead at the interval.
Hiroshi Morita puts the Squirrels back in front
Almost inevitably, that was the Brazilian's last contribution to the match as he was replaced at half-time by Naoto Sakurai and Jubilo began the brighter of the two teams following the re-start as Yoshiaki Ota came more into the play on the right-hand side. In the 54th minute, however, it was the visitors' 23-year-old former Corinthians midfielder Fabricio who lashed an unstoppable 30-yard shot past Ando to level the match up.
Just when it seemed that the men in orange would fade from the picture as had occurred against Trinita, though, a long ball from Tatsunori Hisanaga was controlled by Morita, who advanced somewhat hesitantly upon Kawaguchi and slotted it in to restore the Squirrels' lead.
With Jubilo's veteran Gon Nakayama on as a substitute, the direction of play altered once again and Ardija's inability to defend a lead was demonstrated all too starkly when the defence failed to pick up a second ball following a cross from Fabricio and sure enough, Nakayama pounced for the equaliser. Takuro Nishimura was instrumental in attempting to find a way back in front for Omiya via his overlapping runs, but Sakurai and Fujimoto were unable to take advantage and the match remained at 2-2 until four minutes from time when Shinji Murai took advantage of more sloppy defending down the Omiya left to claim the winner for Jubilo.
It's called a "shot", Toninho. You don't see many from your team-mates, I realise
"The coach asked me to play the first half and I think I did okay," commented Gral afterwards. "I haven't played properly for a good while and need to play my way back into things, but it felt good and I don't see why we shouldn't get some good results. There was a chance almost straight from the kick-off, but Kawaguchi made a brilliant save. The coach has given me a lot of freedom in terms of my role and I think that suits my game and enables me to take up good positions. I want to show my strengths to the Omiya fans now and am working towards playing for ninety minutes. I do feel a bit heavy now and don't want to over-stretch myself, especially knowing that there are a lot of games coming up and Urawa on Saturday."