Omiya Ardija's season came crashing to a halt at Kumagaya on Saturday evening, not as a result of the team's notoriously tentative attack but rather by the defence's inability to cope with the pace and incision of Kawasaki Frontale's own front line. The 5-1 final scoreline constituted the team's heaviest league defeat since the 4-1 loss to Albirex Niigata in September last year and if nothing else will surely see the medical staff scurrying back to the treatment room in order to establish whether something - anything - can be done to get Yukio Tsuchiya back and playing more quickly than the predicted six weeks.
For the Omiya back line, reshuffled in the absence of Tsuchiya to incorporate Yosuke Kataoka alongside Toninho, with Masato Saito and Jun Marques Davidson in the defensive midfield roles, was repeatedly torn apart by Juninho, Kazuki Ganaha and key midfielder Kengo Nakamura. The match started badly enough, but quickly got a lot worse. The normally reliable Saito was caught in possession just ten minutes in, the ball coming to newly-capped international Ganaha, who fed the inrushing Nakamura to fire past Hiroki Aratani for an early advantage.
Yoshiyuki fights it out in midfield
Omiya tried to find their way back on to level terms and the quality of Kota Yoshihara's running always caught the eye, but in general he was an isolated figure up front, too far removed from the likes of Tatsunori Hisanaga and Daigo Kobayashi to join up and make concerted attacks on the Kawasaki goal.
The closest occasions that Ardija came to an equaliser were in quick succession around the half-hour mark, as first Daigo and then Yoshihara got in good shots, but within a matter of three or four minutes the game was effectively over as a contest. Firstly Ganaha's right-wing cross was met by Marcao's firm header and shortly afterwards Nakamura's through ball released Juninho to make it 3-0 at half-time.
Not surprisingly, Toshiya Miura saw fit to make a change at half-time, bringing on Takuro Nishimura for Saito and thence swapping things around so that Daisuke Tomita was partnering Toninho in the middle of the back four, Kataoka returned to his more familiar midfield role and Nishimura replaced Tomita on the left. The Squirrels offered some modest threat in the early stages of the second period, again Yoshihara and Daigo the players most likely to - but no goals were forthcoming.
On 58 minutes, coach Miura took off Yasuhiro Hato for Hiroshi Morita for more of an attacking formation. Seconds later, however, Ganaha again cut open the Omiya back line for Juninho to round the already-committed Aratani and Ardija found themselves four behind. Four became the humiliation of five just ten minutes afterwards, when Nakamura's cross-shot was fumbled over the line by the hapless Aratani.
Some people liken professional football to a kind of ballet for the masses
The single consolation on a truly appalling evening for Squirrels supporters came seven minutes from time, when Yoshihara's shot was saved by Frontale keeper Takashi Aizawa, only for the ball to find its way to the edge of the area and Yosuke Kataoka, who curled a shot into the top corner. But all the good work of the gutsy, confidence-giving win at Yokohama had long been shattered by this point, Toshiya Miura later acknowledging that his team had been unable to recover from conceding the early goal.
"Look, ref, we’ve got Morita as a sub... can’t you just help us out a second here?"
However hard it might be, though, the players will need to put this disaster behind them as rapidly as possible, given that ahead of the Urawa Reds match on 10th September there are two games from which on paper they will be looking to extract two wins. If Squirrels players and supporters have learned anything from the rollercoaster 2006 season, it is that the team are nowhere near the quality of the top sides, but they can and should beat the sides lower down the division. Kyoto Purple Sanga away next weekend and Avispa Fukuoka at home on Wednesday are fixtures where this point needs to be underlined in no uncertain terms.