Toshiya Miura's struggling Omiya Ardija side make the long journey to Hiroshima Big Arch on Saturday, where they take on an inconsistent but potentially dangerous Sanfrecce side. After the debacle of last weekend's defeat by Ventforet Kofu - in which the directionless Squirrels almost entirely failed to compete in midfield and were error-strewn in defence - Toninho and Yoshiyuki Kobayashi are forced out due to suspension.
This potentially paves the way for club captain Seiichiro Okuno to make a return to the starting eleven. Okuno featured in Monday's three-goal defeat at the hands of JFL outfit Yokogawa Musashino, a fact that scarcely augurs well for his appearance in the first team, even if Orange fans will be pleased to see him in contention after what has been a wretched, injury-hit 2006.
But Omiya stand at something of a crossroads as far as their season is concerned. There exists a feeling that from this point, the year could turn into a genuine dogfight - in which the club's aspirations of a high finishing position are abandoned, to be replaced by a desperate scrap to avoid being dragged into the relegation zone.
Alternatively, it is possible that the problems which have been present throughout the season but have appeared overwhelming in recent weeks can be at least in part addressed. For this to occur, however, certain key members of the team need to take responsibility for the failures against the likes of Kawasaki Frontale and stamp their authority on the game.
Naturally this means Daigo Kobayashi and the strikers performing at the top of their game, but there are other players who fall into this category. Yosuke Kataoka, for example, is unusual in that he has as a young player under Miura worked his way into the team and can now count himself as by and large a first team regular. This being the case, though, it is vital that the former Kokushikan University student carries out his covering duties with a decisiveness that enables Omiya to take control of the midfield and prevents the opposition from developing attacks, while also getting forward and making the most of his powerful shot and eye for goal.
The fixture against Hiroshima earlier in the season was a good example of the Squirrels failing to get the extra man forward into the danger area, a frustration that manifested itself in Ardija having stacks of possession but very few clear-cut openings. Sanfrecce, of course, packed the defence and needed just one opportunity to hit Omiya on the break, which star striker Hisato Sato neatly despatched to give his side their first win of the year.
For Hiroshima, with Sato and Ueslei up front, are a side more than capable of finding the net, a fact that puts additional pressure on Kataoka, Yukio Tsuchiya and those players whose job is to keep things tight at the back, but who also on occasions offer that extra attacking option.
On a run such as that which Omiya are experiencing at the moment, every match is clearly vital. But if the players have learned anything at all in the last month, fans will hope it is that the team have to start as they mean to go on - with pace and aggression, an attitude that suggests they have some determination when it comes to earning the right to play. It was this sort of spirit that was so blatantly lacking for long periods against Kofu. And if Omiya are unable to find that fire soon, the direction for the rest of the season will become very obvious, very soon.