Omiya Ardija supporters came away from a freezing Hitachi Kashiwa Stadium on Wednesday night with a simple question ringing in their ears: Why does it seem to be so difficult for the Squirrels to transfer their Nabisco Cup displays to the league? For Robert Verbeek's team were arguably the better side overall and could have completed an impressive Nabisco Cup double over a strong Reysol team - if only they had been more incisive in front of goal.
Pleasingly, Verbeek gave debuts to 18-year-old rookie midfielder Takaya Kawanabe and U21 international defender Terukazu Tanaka and there were also first appearances of the season for reserve goalkeeper Koji Ezumi and for Yusuke Shimada as a second half substitute. With regular skipper Chikara Fujimoto dropping to the bench, Yoshiyuki Kobayashi was made captain for the evening and gave a very positive display, distributing the ball more effectively than normal and chipping in with some vital interceptions.
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It was left-sided midfielder Hayato Hashimoto who made way for Kawanabe and the youngster proved a very hard worker in his 45 minutes of action, making a good contribution. And with the unfamiliar partnership of Enilton and last Saturday's goalscorer Hiroshi Morita starting up front, Kota Yoshihara was instead deployed in an unfamiliar right wing position and was his usual energetic self, as coach Verbeek explored various alternative roles and formations.
In terms of actual chances, however, clear-cut opportunities were few and far between for both sides. Yoshihara made space for himself in the first half though shot tamely at keeper Shinya Kato. Yoshiyuki had a long range effort that went narrowly wide and, especially in the first half, Enilton did a lot of good things without troubling the scoresheet. Indeed, the only negative from an individual persective was Morita, who played poorly - absolutely nothing he tried came off.
Tomita, Morita, Kataoka and Yoshiyuki battle it out at a set piece
A good away point, then, for the Squirrels, who in marked contrast to their league position find themselves atop their Nabisco Cup group. Seven points from three games puts Ardija fully three points ahead of Yokohama F Marinos, 2-0 winners this evening over Shimizu S-Pulse. But it could and perhaps even should have been more.
The other key matter for Omiya fans to consider after the match was that if the team had had a goalscorer, they would have beaten the Sun Kings and virtually been through to the next stage of the competition already. Given that Daigo Kobayashi and new front player Salles are both likely to be back in contention for Saturday's early season bottom-of-the-table crunch match at Kashima Antlers, once again the hope is that the Squirrels can return to J1, play positive, score goals - and win the game.