Speaking after Omiya Ardija's fourth league defeat of the season on Saturday, coach Robert Verbeek expressed surprise at the paucity of the team's first-half performance against Shimizu S-Pulse. The preceeding Nabisco Cup victories over Yokohama F Marinos and Kashiwa Reysol had appeared to provide a major confidence boost to the Squirrels team and obviously, it had been hoped that the players would be able to carry over their Cup form into J1 matches.
45 minutes in to the S-Pulse game, however, Verbeek and the assembled Ardija supporters had witnessed a feeble display from the the men in orange. The defence were unable to cope with the opposition's passing and movement, while at the other end the number of chances created was minimal. Manabu Wakabayashi in particular had a chance to make a major impact, coming into the team in place of the injured Daigo Kobayashi for his first start of the year - but the former Tochigi SC man was simply unable to fit into the withdrawn striker role behind Kota Yoshihara and his contribution was unimpressive to say the least.
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In the press conference, Verbeek's supposition was that the players for the first hour of the game froze due to nerves and pressure, with the appearance as substitutes of Enilton, Salles and Hiroshi Morita going some way towards shaking the team out of their slumbers. The sending off of the unfortunate Salles effectively stamped out Omiya's chances of getting back to the game, and the Brazilian will miss the midweek game against Kashiwa as a consequence.
And ahead of that return match with the Sun Kings, as if there wasn't enough already to concern them about a disastrous start to 2007, the Squirrel Nation now have two more things to worry about. Firstly, that the team played so badly in the absence of Daigo Kobayashi - news of whose injury has been conspicuous by its absence, raising concerns that the talismanic Japanese international will also miss the midweek game. And against S-Pulse, Omiya had neither the individual talent or the overall tactical understanding to modify their approach and cope without the team's star man.
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The second area of anxiety is potentially even more significant. For their new coach, in talking so candidly to the media, was effectively admitting that he did not yet know his players well enough to be able to motivate them appropriately - to overcome the mental hurdle of playing well in one competition while failing to pick up points in another. To be fair to the Dutchman, the changeover he instigated on the hour mark did make a difference against a Shimizu team that had taken its foot off the accelerator. But if he was left baffled by his own players, this confusion will be music to the ears of an aggressive Reysol side looking for revenge on Wednesday night.
For Kashiwa bounced back from their defeat to the Squirrels ten days ago with a 2-0 win over FC Tokyo, the impressive Minoru Suganuma and Masahiro Koga finding the target either side of half time. The physicality and pace of Reysol's approach means that any opponent lacking in self-belief or an awareness of their own systems has the potential simply to be over-run. And at the moment, Verbeek's Ardija team fall right into that category.