An inspired and inspiring performance from Omiya Ardija at JEF United on Saturday brought a 3-1 victory - the team's first in nine matches - and almost guaranteed that the orange half of Saitama will be watching J1 football again next season. While the last two or three games had seen flickers of improvement after the dark days of Kofu and Nagoya, there had been no indication that the Squirrels would be able to turn things around so dramatically against an unpredictable but dangerous JEF side.
Another powerful header from Toninho
With Yasuhiro Hato and Alison coming into the side in place of Takuro Nishimura and Kota Yoshihara, and Yosuke Kataoka returning to the middle of midfield after suspension, Ardija took to the field at Fukuari bursting with urgency and directness. Only just over a minute had passed when Daigo Kobayashi advanced to the edge of the penalty area and fed Hato in space on the right. The one-time Japan international's cross was clipped into the centre for Yoshiyuki Kobayashi to head the visitors into a stunning lead.
Cheeky back in action
This early success provided a huge shot in the arm for Toshiya Miura's men, Brazilian striker Alison's pace and mobility in particular offering an outlet for Daigo and Chikara Fujimoto's eye for an attacking opportunity, while Tatsunori Hisanaga's fifteenth-minute effort also brought a save from Masahiro Okamoto. But it was Alison who was the star of the show as the first half continued, as he latched on to a through ball from Fujimoto before shooting just off target and Omiya's summer signing caused constant difficulties for the home defence.
JEF were offering little in the way of attacking threat and matters improved for the small band of visiting supporters two minutes before the break, when Daigo led a Squirrels counter attack before chipping a delicious effort towards the top corner. Okamoto got a hand to the ball, but Hisanaga was on hand to nod home and ensure that Omiya went in at the break two goals to the good. Toshiya Miura was evidently confident that his team could continue to take the play to Chiba and made no changes at half time. Ten minutes after the re-start, for once the Squirrels coach was proved correct, as Alison got the goal his performance had deserved by using his sheer speed to fleece the defence, before crashing a long-range shot past the helpless Okamoto.
Aratani dominates his goal area, perhaps
3-0 behind at home, JEF attempted something of a fightback against an Ardija side bolstered in the centre of the field by the appearance of Masato Saito as a substitute for Alison. Koji Nakajima and Satoru Yamagishi offered the most coherent threat, but it was nevertheless a disappointment for the Omiya fans that their side were unable to keep a clean sheet, Serbian midfielder Nebojsa Krupnikovic notching an 87th-minute consolation from close range.
Alison gets a shot on target
A 3-1 win after the last two months of terrible results, however, ranks as a huge success for Miura, who expressed delight that his team had been able to play their own football for the whole match. With Fujimoto back in the team, Daigo potentially on the way back to top form and Alison on this evidence a potent force, JEF were on occasions overwhelmed. Next stop, FC Tokyo.
All the great photos in this entry are courtesy of Jay.