Omiya Ardija had the unlikeliest heroes to thank as they scraped through to the Fifth Round of the 2006 Emperor's Cup competition and a meeting with Jubilo Iwata. A crowd of just over 2000 were in Akita to see the Squirrels take on JFLers YKK AP, and those few fans dressed in orange had hoped that coach Toshiya Miura would cut just that little bit loose with his team selection for the cup match. Despite pre-match rumours circulating that Terukazu Tanaka might finally get a game, the only real variation from the norm was Hayato Hashimoto coming in for Tatsunori Hisanaga, with Chikara Fujimoto on the opposite flank in a formation of characteristically modest attacking ambition.
Nevertheless, it was Hashimoto who started particularly brightly on the left-hand side, evidently keen to make the most of his opportunity and impress, although it ought to be acknowledged that the underdogs gave Ardija an almighty scare just two minutes in, when a header from star striker Mitsuru Hasegawa came dangerously close to giving YKK a shock lead. Alison too nearly broke the deadlock at the other end, but failed to make good contact with the ball after good work down the right from Takuro Nishimura. But Hashimoto was the dominant attacking player, involved in almost all of Omiya's positive movements, whether they be from open play or from a set piece, such as when Yoshiyuki Kobayashi headed a 17th-minute free kick onto the crossbar.
A minute later, Hashimoto had a shot of his own that was just too high and despite all the possession that the Squirrels were enjoying, the first score was taking its time in coming. Just when it appeared that YKK were going to survive with their goal intact until the interval, Alison was wrestled to the ground some 25 metres from goal after being fed by Fujimoto - and from the free kick it was that man Hashimoto who stepped up to whip the ball past keeper Yuji Nakagawa for a tremendous opener.
With no substitutions being made by either side at the break, ominously it was the Toyama side who started the second period looking threatening, as Ardija conceded possession and territory too easily in the face of a determined opposition. On 53 minutes, another Hasegawa header had the alarm bells ringing in the sluggish-looking Omiya defence and as such it was barely a surprise when Hasegawa's partner, former Vissel Kobe man Hiroki Kishida, pulled the non-league side level from a set piece of their own just after the hour mark.
Things were looking bleak indeed for the Squirrels, a pair of positive substitutions shortly after the re-start seeming to have worked wonders for their well-organised opponents. But it was Daigo Kobayashi whose influence turned the tide in favour of Omiya, exchanging passes with Fujimoto to send in a shot that brought a fine save out of Nakagawa. Shortly afterwards, Fujimoto made way for ex-JFL striker Manabu Wakabayashi in a change of approach from Miura that saw Daigo Kobayashi move over to the right of midfield, intent on providing the substitute with service to take advantage of his height. Nine minutes from time, this modification paid off with a somewhat lucky goal, a right-hand cross from Alison being nodded in by Wakabayashi via post and keeper.
And so Ardija squeezed past an impressive YKK side, offering to supporters the bare minimum in terms of accpetability of performance and, the hunger and focus of Hashimoto aside, no real sense that the team has turned the corner or will be able to return to league action with any conviction. S-Pulse on Saturday will doubtless display little of the caution that the semi-professionals of necessity adopted. The pressure is still on.