After last weekend's narrow win over YKK AP in the Emperor's Cup, the some-might-say-less-than-Mighty Squirrels return to J1 action on Saturday with a tough-looking fixture at fourth-place Shimizu S-Pulse. The dark days of the teams' autumn losing streak may be in the past following the excellent performance at JEF United, but the feeling remains that this season, which promised so much, is nevertheless one that is limping to a close. Cerezo Osaka and Avispa Fukuoka need to make up fully nine points in the five remaining fixtures in order to put Omiya in relegation trouble, and a combination of dull tactics from coach Toshiya Miura and frustratingly error-strewn performances have doubtless encouraged the crowds to stay away.
One bright spot in the last few weeks has been the arrival on the first team scene of wide man Hayato Hashimoto, who notched up his debut senior goal against YKK to cap a good performance with a cracking free-kick. It's to be hoped that the player is given a run in the side until the end of the season so as to develop his experience and confidence that he can be a key member of the team, and that it is possible for the Squirrels to play creative football even without Daigo Kobayashi or Chikara Fujimoto, who seems still not to have been able to shake off properly the injury that has dogged him for much of the season.
Ardija prepared for Saturday's game with a midweek friendly draw against Thespa Kusatsu, in which Kota Yoshihara scored the team's single goal a matter of seconds after kick-off. That match and subsequent training sessions would seem to suggest that the Daigo Kobayashi / Alison partnership is likely to be retained in Shizuoka, despite Manabu Wakabayashi's first goal of the season against YKK.
But while Omiya supporters ponder endlessly the conundrum that is the team's attacking formation, Yukio Tsuchiya has been looking elsewhere: "One of the problems we've had recently is simply being unable to keep a clean sheet and that obviously doesn't make it easy to go on and win games," he commented. "We want to play a good tough defensive game tomorrow, because that will give us something to build on."
Opponents S-Pulse may currently be in fourth, but their form is less than sparkling, perhaps underlining the extent to which the teams out of the top and the bottom three are really not too dissimilar in quality. Korean striker Cho Jae Jin has been finding the net less frequently, although Marquinhos has somewhat taken over as the main striker for the other men in orange; but this slight modification in approach does nothing to disguise the fact that the team haven't won a game since the beginning of October and two weeks ago were well beaten at Gamba Osaka. To see Hashimoto unlock the Shimizu defence and a result to match the JEF United game would surely give Omiya's long-suffering followers something to cheer about.