Kyoto Preview - Will The Real Omiya Please Stand Up?
Omiya Ardija return to the dreaded Kumagaya stadium on Saturday for the last of a batch of four J1 fixtures in two weeks, nevertheless determined to put the horrors of the midweek defeat at Nagoya behind them and to put in a good performance against a Kyoto Purple Sanga side currently sitting in the relegation play-off place, third from bottom of the table. Like Nagoya, Kyoto's recent form is not good, with only one win in nine - the J2 champions from last year have also failed to keep a clean sheet in any league game so far in 2006.
But coach Koichi Hashiratani has made changes to his squad of late, most notably shipping out the foreign duo of defender Ricardo and forward Alemao. They have been replaced with Pinheiro - a well-travelled 29-year-old midfielder - and big forward Andre, most recently with Nacional in Portugal. Indeed, Andre has hit the target twice in the three games since the re-start and would seem to be settling in well alongside the more familiar Paulinho.
A key to the game, then, is likely to be the extent to which Omiya's midfield can stamp their authority on the game and cut off the supply lines to the front two - something which Yosuke Kataoka and Masato Saito failed to do against a busy Grampus attack, resulting in their hurried replacement by Yoshiyuki Kobayashi and Jun Marques Davidson.
Particularly in terms of the way that Ardija play, this has a knock-on effect as far as the involvement of the Squirrels' own attacking players is concerned, for Tatsunori Hisanaga was rendered invisible and even Daigo Kobayashi had a rare off-day. Omiya fans will therefore be hoping that the team can return to the type of performance that gained six points against Jubilo Iwata and Ventforet Kofu, although as substitute forward Hiroshi Morita pointed out - admittedly, perhaps somewhat hopefully - "We've now played three games in quick succession with almost an unchanged team and I think there is tiredness amongst the players."
Whether the notoriously cautious Toshiya Miura opts to make alterations to the starting line-up in the light of the busy schedule or of the display at Nagoya remains to be seen, and it is baffling for supporters to try and predict which Omiya side is likely to run up for the Kyoto match. "This is the first time we've played at Kumagaya since the S-Pulse game last year, which we won 3-2, so it's good to be going back," commented the Ardija coach.
"Kyoto have had a hard season, but have some new players and I think are now looking up the table; they'll give us a tough game. What's important for us now is to assure the fans that the performance against Nagoya was a one-off and is in the past, and that we want to give the fans something to cheer about tomorrow."