There's a curious atmosphere surrounding Saturday's match at Albirex Niigata, Omiya Ardija's last fixture of the 2006 league season. The news that it will be the final appearance in a Squirrels shirt by Toninho - a genuine legend in the history of the club - makes it a far more significant encounter than might otherwise be the case, but elsewhere the mood is one of rather nervous anticipation.
Some announcements of squad departures have already been issued; defenders Kazuyoshi Mikami and Yasunari Hiraoka will leave having in all honesty made little impact upon the team in terms of regular first XI action, and goalkeepers Tomoyasu Ando and Nobuhisa Kobayashi have also been allowed to leave. Tatsunori Hisanaga will return to Avispa Fukuoka at the end of his extended loan spell, arguably more likely to be missed now than at any time during his time in Saitama, having turned in some improved displays in the latter part of the season.
One reason for the combination of uncertainty and intrigue is the fact that, despite the fact that six players will definitely be leaving, it has to be assumed that coach Toshiya Miura will also go - and that his successor will have his own views on the squad members who remain on the books. If, for example, Pierre Littbarski were to be appointed, what type of player would he bring with him, and which of the current batch would he also discard?
Alison has perhaps been rather unlucky since arriving at the club, curiously treated by Miura as all new arrivals tend to be and then showing bursts of tremendous play when eventually selected. But injury means that he is now not likely to appear again in an orange shirt before his loan deal expires - which scarcely augurs well for his chances of being offered a new contract.
So the club, the players and Toshiya Miura potentially find themselves in something of a quandary before the match at Big Swan, eminently winnable although with Hiroshi Morita odds on to continue up front with Daigo Kobayashi, goals may be in short supply. The team has come out of the horrific period of form that laid waste all of the autumn, but their erratic form still leaves far too many question marks. A win in Niigata will at least draw a line under the 2006 season - and allow Toninho to sign off in an appropriate manner.