And so all of a sudden Omiya Ardija find themselves eleven points clear of Cerezo Osaka and the relegation zone - and just four off a respectable mid-table finish in this year's J1 table. As has been remarked before here on GGOA a number of times throughout the season, the feeling is that there are a large number of teams of a similar quality in the division.
In one sense, this makes the Squirrels' current position of fifteenth all the more frustrating: if the side's lack of goalscoring prowess can be identified as the main drawback to performances this year, then surely just a few more goals would have made a big difference as regards their league standing. The flipside of this view, however, has to be that a finishing position of, say, tenth - mathematically possible, of course, although in practice very unlikely - would to an extent have masked the problems surrounding Toshiya Miura's team that have manifested themselves throughout the year.
For the target of any of the clubs ranked between Ardija and Thursday's opponents Oita Trinita ought to be not a seventh-place finish, but to bridge the gap between the ranks of the run-of-the-mill, much-of-muchness outfits and the top six - which means, painfully for Squirrels supporters, Kashima Antlers. Taking this as a yardstick, and in the light of the match between the two teams just a few days ago, it suddenly becomes clear how much Omiya have to progress in order to become a genuinely competitive J1 club.
But this is reflection best left until the whole season is done and dusted, or for when setting aims for 2007. On Thursday, however, the under fire Miura and his players travelled all the way down to Kyushu to take on Oita Trinita for a tricky-looking fixture on the back of Saturday's defeat by Kashima. An unchanged side started out the game, with Oita having the better of the earlier exchanges. Toninho and Yukio Tsuchiya in the middle of the Ardija defence neverthless gradually imposed themselves on the dangerous duo of Shota Matsuhashi and Daiki Takamatsu, with Yosuke Kataoka and Yoshiyuki Kobayashi also making valuable contributions as Omiya worked hard to put into practice the principle of beginning games more effectively.
A good counter attack involving Chikara Fujimoto and Tatsunori Hisanaga on 18 minutes came to nothing, but the signs were looking promising for a decent enough Squirrels performance. But then, disaster struck eight minutes later when a high Trinita free kick into the box was deflected past Hiroki Aratani by the luckless Daigo Kobayashi.
With the scoreline unchanged at the interval, Miura replaced the somewhat ineffective Alison with Masato Saito, strengthening the midfield and playing Daigo on his own up front. This seemed to have a positive effect on the team's ability to develop attacking moves, but misfortune struck again just eleven minutes after the re-start when Chikara Fujimoto picked up an injury and was replaced, even more appallingly, by Hiroshi Morita.
The alteration forced another tactical switch, as Morita adopted the lone striker role and Daigo moved back into midfield. With 64 minutes on the clock, though, the pendulum at last swung in Omiya's direction, when Yoshiyuki Kobayashi advanced into the Oita box and fired past Seigo Shimokawa for a cracking equaliser.
At this point in the game, Ardija moved into the driving seat as their strength in numbers in midfield started to take effect. Saito controlled possession, leaving Hisanaga and the two Kobayashis to concentrate on their attacking moves. And in the 77th minute, a cross-field move started by Daigo unlocked the home defence was finished in unlikely fashion by Morita converting a loose ball to make it 2-1.
2006 has been a baffling, frustrating year for orange fans, but recent weeks have added a further twist to the nature of their angst. The hope is that the team will be able to rectify this in the final home game of the season against Cerezo Osaka - by putting on the sort of display in Saitama that they have only been able to put on whilst on their travels.