The curtain finally came down on Omiya Ardija's 2006 campaign at the Yamaha Stadium, Iwata, on Saturday afternoon, when despite dominating a very large proportion of the game, the Squirrels were eliminated from the Emperor's Cup thanks to a single goal from Jubilo substitute Norihiro Nishi. In what turned out to be his last game in charge of the club, coach Toshiya Miura made some necessary changes to the line-up that won at Albirex Niigata last weekend, but characteristically remained loyal to the small number of players whom he has elected to use in the first team this season.
And so it was Seiichiro Okuno who came in for the now-departed Toninho in central defence alongside Yukio Tsuchiya, although in midfield up-and-coming star Hayato Hashimoto was selected ahead of Fukuoka-bound Tatsunori Hisanaga. Daigo Kobayashi also slotted back into midfield, leaving Chikara Fujimoto most unusually to play in a more advanced position alongside fans' favourite Hiroshi Morita.
Two minutes in, though, and it seemed for all the world as if this was just about the most natural Ardija formation one could imagine, as Fujimoto was brought down just outside the area and a delicious curving Daigo free-kick came within inches of giving the men in white an early lead. Shortly afterwards, Morita fed Hashimoto on the left and the wide man's quick cross was met by Fujimoto, whose first-time effort was well saved by an alert Yuhei Sato in the Jubilo goal.
And the opening 45 minutes continued in much the same vein, as Omiya's defence easily coped with the timid home attack, leaving Daigo and Hashimoto ample time and space to set up counter after counter at the other end. Despite the promptings of the Squirrels' creative midfield pairing, however, neither Fujimoto nor Morita were able to open the scoring - and despite the amount of possession that they had enjoyed, Ardija were still only on level terms with their hosts when the half-time whistle blew.
Not surprisingly after such an essentially positive display from his team, coach Miura could only ask for more of the same and made no changes at the break. His opposite number Adilson tried to coax a more positive effort from Jubilo, but again it was Omiya who looked the brighter of the two teams after the re-start, as Hashimoto worked his left-wing magic only for Morita to head weakly into the arms of Sato.
As has so often been the case for the 2006 vintage Ardija team, though, chances missed by Morita et al at one end became all the more significant on 56 minutes, when Nishi exploited a gap in the defence to grab a goal for Jubilo that was utterly against the run of play. Toshiya Miura reacted quickly by withdrawing the hapless Morita in favour of Hisanaga, before bolstering the midfield with Masato Saito for Yoshiyuki Kobayashi.
Hisanaga it was who came close to netting an equaliser when put through by Fujimoto in 74th minute, only for the excellent Sato to deny him a shooting opportunity. Soon afterwards, with the game and Toshiya Miura's time as coach of Omiya Ardija winding down to a disappointing conclusion, the forgotten Kota Yoshihara received an unexpected call-up as a replacement for Yosuke Kataoka - but the Squirrels were unable to get the goal that their performance undoubtedly deserved and slipped out of the competition.
Miura had ample reason to be satisfied and later commented that the team had done exactly as he'd asked, keeping quiet the Jubilo front pairing of Yoshiaki Ota and Ryoichi Maeda whilst conversely looking dangerous on the break. But a lack of end product renders all the positive football in the world meaningless, and it's to be hoped that this is a lesson that can be learned by Omiya Ardija 2007.