Firstly an apology is due for the lack of Squirrels coverage over the last few days on the blog. This was due to unavoidable circumstances, although a good match to miss is obviously a somewhat unlucky defeat to Urawa Reds. Indeed, there were some comparisons to be drawn from the Urawa and Hiroshima games. Both saw Omiya take the lion's share of possession but fail to take advantage by scoring - and then fall victim to sucker punches from opposition strikers. Against Urawa, it was Washington who made the most of a slip-up from Toninho whereas Hisato Sato was the hero for the until-now winless Sanfrecce.
Chikara Fujimoto and Yosuke Kataoka returned to the starting line-up, with Gral beginning a J1 match for the first time in his career with the Squirrels. But with the Marinos loan man as the sole recognised striker pitched in against the division’s lowest-ranked team, it seemed unlikely that coach Toshiya Miura had undergone a change of heart from the recent defensive formations that have contributed to the club’s unconvincing start to 2006.
The opening stages of the match were even enough, Sanfrecce’s Ueslei and pint-sized World Cup hopeful Hisato Sato proving pacey and mobile opponents for the Omiya back line. A superb individual run from Daigo Kobayashi seven minutes in caused panic in the visiting defence as the Squirrels’ star cut in from the left-hand corner flag, but as he released the ball to Gral the Brazilian forward was smothered by Hiroshima defenders and the opportunity for what would have been a stunning opener disappeared.
As the first half proceeded, the visitors faded from the game as an attacking force, seemingly content to let Omiya have possession but maintaining a solid wall of defence twenty or so yards from their own goal. Ardija passed and moved, working hard but unwilling to take the risk with a final ball into the area or a slightly longer range shot – the upshot of which meant that things turned frustrating pretty quickly for the respectable holiday crowd of just over 9000.
When the Squirrels did get a sight of goal, they found keeper Takashi Shimoda on top form, saving from the likes of Gral, Kataoka and Yoshiyuki Kobayashi. Hiroshima, meanwhile, were offering almost nothing as an attacking force but, such was the ponderousness and indecision displayed by Toshiya Miura’s men whenever they reach the final third that there was nevertheless almost a strange inevitability to events five minutes before half time, when a neat counter-attack lead to a delicious pinpoint cross from Yuichi Komano to Sato, who rose unmarked between Daisuke Tomita and Toninho to head past the unprotected Hiroki Aratani.
And so the teams changed round at half time with the score at 1-0 to the visitors due entirely to the ability of Sato to take the single clear-cut opportunity carved out by his team-mates. Omiya were slow out of the blocks after the break, but as the second period wore on the extent of Hiroshima’s ambition became clear enough and the Squirrels again controlled possession while creating almost nothing in the way of real goalscoring chances. Miura, meanwhile, showed his desperation by throwing on Hiroshi Morita and Naoto Sakurai alongside Gral to field an almost unknown 4-3-3 formation.
An overhead kick from Morita came close to providing the equaliser in the 74th minute and a scrambled goal from Yukio Tsuchiya was somewhat mysteriously ruled out for offside as the match moved into its closing stages with the play almost entirely towards Shimoda and his ramshackle but effective defence. In the final minutes, with the Squirrels hurling everything forwards, it was Tsuchiya who again came close to netting as he volleyed over from close range – but Shimoda et al held on and, to the delight of the band of travelling fans, notched up their first win of the season at the expense of an Omiya team looking increasingly as if they may have to fight a relegation battle in 2006 rather than aiming for the dizzy heights of seventh spot.