With just one point to show for their previous four J1 outings, Omiya Ardija again slumped to defeat at Big Arch against Sanfrecce Hiroshima on Saturday, making an unwanted double of losses against one of the division's weaker teams. It is fortunate indeed that Kyoto Purple Sanga, Avispa Fukuoka and Cerezo Osaka are so far adrift from the other clubs at the foot of the table - there's an eight-point gap between Kyoto in sixteenth and Hiroshima a place above them.
Otherwise the less-than-mighty Squirrels would be glancing even more nervously over their shoulders than they are at present. Another vital clash is scheduled for this coming Saturday, with Nagoya Grampus 8 scheduled to visit Komaba - and if Omiya are defeated again, they will fall below a Nagoya side that have risen four places in the table since the end of July, when Norwegian forward Frode Johnsen joined the club.
Johnsen has chipped in with six goals in that period and it goes without saying that most Squirrels fans would give their proverbial right arm - or perhaps that of Hiroshi Morita - for such a return from any one of the Ardija front players. Yet again at Hiroshima, the team appeared toothless up front, even with the now-settled strike duo of Naoto Sakurai and Kota Yoshihara beginning the game again, a combination that most would agree is probably the strongest upon which coach Toshiya Miura can call.
In the absence through suspension of Toninho, skipper Seiichiro Okuno made a rate first-team appearance, while Masato Saito slotted in to the midfield in place of the similarly waylaid Yoshiyuki Kobayashi. The best news, however, was undoubtedly the reappearance of Daigo Kobayashi in the starting XI, not to mention Chikara Fujimoto returning to the subs' bench after four months out.
The Squirrels started by trying to draw Sakurai and Yoshihara into the game as much as possible, with Daigo Kobayashi going close with the game's first real attempt on goal in the seventh minute. Hiroshima meanwhile set their stall out to try and spring the offside trap via the pace and mobility of Hisato Sato on the counter attack, but Okuno and Yukio Tsuchiya offered some degree of stability at the heart of the Omiya defence and as a result the home side were kept at arm's length.
Fifteen minutes in, Ardija nearly stole a lead when Sanfrecce keeper Takashi Shimoda fumbled a Daigo free kick, with Tsuchiya just failing to make the most of the rebound. A cautious game between two nervous teams edged to a goalless draw at half time.
Despite the deadlock, Miura made no changes at the interval and instead called upon his team to tighten things up in the midfield and to concentrate on picking up the second ball. Six minutes after the re-start, though, it was an unchanged Hiroshima who almost broke the deadlock as Ueslei drew a fine save from keeper Koji Ezumi, while Ardija were finding it hard to develop their play and involve Sakurai and Yoshihara.
Tatsunori Hisanaga paid the price for this just after the hour mark when he was withdrawn in favour of Fujimoto, but despite the swing in favour of Ardija that the determined and energetic Chikara brought to the team, it was Hiroshima who achieved the breakthrough with twenty minutes to go, when Koji Morisaki finished after a cross from the left-hand side. Miura made further rapid changes in response, moving to a trio of attackers including Hiroshi Morita and Alison alongside Sakurai, but in fact the closest to a goal was at the other end, where Ueslei wasted a one-on-one chance against Ezumi as Daisuke Tomita made a desperate goal-line clearance.
With his team unable to claw back an equaliser, Miura mulled over a fourth defeat in five for the Squirrels. "Hiroshima's strengths are obviously up front and so we were working hard to cut off their supply line. In the first half it went pretty well, but the later they used their pace well and made good substitutions. It was one of those games where the first goal was always going to be vital - we made the mistake and Sanfrecce were able to keep things tight to the end."