Following the disappointment of Daigo Kobayashi's non-appearance for Japan in the mid-week Asian Cup qualifier against Yemen, Omiya Ardija returned to J1 action on Saturday with a fixture that could scarcely have been much tougher - 2005 champions and top goalscorers Gamba Osaka paid a visit to Komaba, where a crowd of over 11,500 turned up to see if the Squirrels could continue their recent run of good results.
Coach Toshiya Miura will have surprised absolutely no-one with his team selection, as Hiroshi Morita and Naoto Sakurai continued up front, and in central midfield Yoshiyuki Kobayashi partnered the now regular member of the starting XI, Yosuke Kataoka. Yasuhiro Hato meanwhile returned from his match out through injury in place of Takuro Nishimura.
The opening exchanges were even enough, with centre backs Toninho and Yukio Tsuchiya quickly emerging as key players for Ardija in the face of pressure from Gamba. But just twelve minutes in and the Omiya rearguard was unable to defend a set play, as Yasuhito Endo's corner was flicked on by Tomokazu Myojin for Ryuji Bando to convert at the far post.
The Squirrels nevertheless made a reasonable enough job of taking this setback in their stride and tried to take the game to the visitors, Hisanaga getting his head on the end of a Daigo cross and then Daigo himself going close just before the break. But Magno Alves, the division's top scorer but clearly somewhat out of sorts at present, was particularly wasteful in front of the Omiya goal and it was this profligacy that was in the main responsible for the scoreline staying at 1-0 when the half-time whistle went.
And if the Squirrels seemed once again to be lacking a cutting edge during the first forty-five minutes, the fans would have been delighted to see Morita withdrawn for Kota Yoshihara with the whole of the second period to make an impact against his old team-mates. Yoshihara seemed alert enough and at times combined neatly with partner Sakurai, who in the 58th minute hit the post only to be flagged offside.
Shortly afterwards, Sakurai picked up a knock and was replaced by Masato Saito, but it was the appearance a quarter of an hour from time of Hayato Hashimoto in favour of Yoshiyuki Kobayashi that seemed to inject more life into the flagging Ardija attack. Three minutes later, Hashimoto delivered a pinpoint cross on to the head of Yoshihara that was saved by Yosuke Fujigaya and the substitute deserves credit for providing a persistent threat down the left-hand side in the time that he was on the field.
The only other real opportunity to draw level came in the dying moments of the match, in the shape of Toninho's off-target header from a Daigo free-kick - but on a frustrating evening for Omiya, Yoshihara's former team-mate at Consadole Sapporo Ryuji Bando made it 2-0 with a soft goal on the counter-attack. "I think we lost some confidence after a poor first half performance," commented Yoshihara afterwards.
"When I came on, I tried to play facing the goal and that worked better after Hashimoto came on as well. Gamba play a three-man defensive system and Hashimoto's someone who can exploit the space that that leaves. He got in a great cross for me, but I couldn't quite the header in. Obviously I'm very disappointed to have lost against my old team, but the important thing we can take from the game is that we gave a reasonable enough account of ourselves and never gave up looking for the goal. We need to keep that kind of focus over the coming matches against some of the top teams."