Omiya Ardija's recent J1 losing streak at last came to an end at Kyoto Purple Sanga on Friday evening, but despite that piece of good news the over-riding feeling amongst players and supporters after the match was that the 1-1 draw constituted two points lost against an inferior team. Kyoto were playing their first match following the sacking of Koichi Hashiratani and it was clear enough why his team have struggled to come to terms with the demands of top-flight football, given that even a side as lacking in confidence as Ardija could appear to have more in the locker.
Under-fire coach Toshiya Miura started with Daigo Kobayashi and Kota Yoshihara as the twin strikers, recent signing Alison failing even to find a place on the subs' bench - another instance, surely, of utterly bizarre use of incoming players by the floundering Omiya boss (in a nutshell, if Alison really isn't better than what the squad already has, why was he bought? If he is better and is fit, why isn't he in the team?). Chikara Fujimoto made a welcome return to the starting line-up after injury, with Toninho also coming back into the defence following his two-match suspension and Hiroki Aratani replacing Koji Ezumi in goal.
And it was the Squirrels who started the brighter, Daigo alert to the possibility of creating chances and teaming up well with Fujimoto, emphasising perhaps how much this axis of creativity has been missing from the team's play in Chikara's absence. The first sniff of a goal for Kyoto came on twelve minutes, but Aratani dealt comfortably enough with Paulinho's long-range free-kick and Ardija continued to look the stronger outfit. In 25th minute, Fujimoto picked up the ball coming out of defence and fed Daigo, Tatsunori Hisanaga's dummy run distracted the home defence and a fine right-foot shot from Kobayashi beat Koji Nishimura to give Omiya a deserved lead.
Sanga fought back into the match up to the interval, but the Toninho and Yukio Tsuchiya combination in the centre of the Squirrels defence kept things tight and kept down the number of clear-cut opportunities for Paulinho and his strike partner Andre. Indeed, five minutes before the break Omiya came close to extending their lead as Kota Yoshihara raced clear on the break and slipped the ball to Tsuchiya, whose shot hit rebounded off the woodwork as the chance went begging. Toshiya Miura, presumably pleased enough with how things had gone in the first period, made no changes at half-time but just six minutes after the re-start, sadly characteristic sloppy defending allowed Kyoto substitute Makoto Kakuda to steal in and head in an equaliser.
Miura then threw on Naoto Sakurai for Yoshihara, as the play became compressed in midfield as both teams sought to keep things tight and retain a grip on at least a point. Yoshiyuki Kobayashi was replaced by Masato Saito in an attempt to find space and assert further control over the middle of the field and it was Ardija who made more progress without genuinely threatening Nishimura's goal. The final substitution came fifteen minutes from time, when Hayato Hashimoto came on for Fujimoto, but aside from a corner kick in the dying moments of the game the newcomer was unable to make much of an impact.
"Apart from the goal, where we did go to sleep at the back, I think that was a more disciplined performance, but overall I'm disappointed that we couldn't get the decisive goal to take all three points," said Toshiya Miura afterwards. A late booking for Yosuke Kataoka means that he is ruled out of next Saturday's match at Jubilo Iwata, but the return of Chikara Fujimoto and Toninho, together with something of an improvement in the contribution of Daigo Kobayashi, means that there are at least some positives to have come out of the encounter. But as for whether Toshiya Miura has via this performance successfully answered his growing number of critics in the stands - the answer to that one has to be a resounding No.