Another weekend, another must-win game for Omiya Ardija, as tomorrow sees them return to Komaba and a fixture against Nagoya Grampus 8. The narrow defeat in Hiroshima last Saturday means that the Squirrels now have just one win in seven games, the memorable occasion of Kota Yoshihara's first goal for the club in the dying seconds of the Yokohama F Marinos away match. One of the genuine highlights of the season has nevertheless been followed by a major downturn in form, with only a scrambled draw against Avispa Fukuoka to show for the subsequent five matches.
Nagoya's form of late has been more unpredictable. The last time the two sides met - at the end of July - Grampus hadn't won for ten matches and had slipped to fifteenth in the division. But Squirrels fans will recall only too well that Omiya were hopeless in that game and deservedly fell to a 2-0 defeat, which sparked a brief winning run for the Whales. Since the end of August, however, Sef Vergoosen's team have played six and claimed only a home win over the notoriously poor travellers of Albirex Niigata.
But the dark days of the start of the year when Nagoya could barely buy a goal have long since vanished and although new Norwegian star Frode Johnsen is really the only member of the squad who fits the bill of goal machine, conversely the scorers are spread throughout the side.
"I think we have to have some flexibility in terms of the way we play tomorrow in order to counter the increased scoring threat of Nagoya since Johnsen arrived at the club," commented coach Toshiya Miura after training on Friday. "So having some height in our team and concentrating on winning the ball at crosses is particularly important."
Skipper Seiichiro Okuno agreed with the priorities, saying, "Against Hiroshima, in the first half we set out our defensive stall very well and kept everything tight in exactly the way that we'd planned. After half-time, there was a little more fatigue, but it's not as if there are no positives at all to take from that game. Nagoya have changed a lot since we played them in July and Johnsen has come in and done well for them. We know we have to make sure we keep him quiet and limit the supply of the ball that he receives."
The performance at Hiroshima was an improvement over the excruciating defeat by Ventforet Kofu, but was still of course a defeat - and one in which the team never looked like being able to score a goal, despite playing with three strikers for the final twenty minutes or so and despite, too, the return of Chikara Fujimoto. It is impossible to expect a sea change in the approach of Miura and therefore the apparently diminishing number of Ardija followers can but hope that Saturday's game is one of those rare days when for no apparent reason everything clicks into place.