Following on from a battling display in midweek against Kashiwa Reysol in the Nabisco Cup, it was another good performance from Omiya Ardija at troubled Kashima Antlers on Saturday afternoon. Robert Verbeek later paid tribute to his players and - despite a late winner for Ventforet Kofu meaning that the Squirrels drop to the foot of J1 for the first time ever - there is now at least some cause for optimism, even in spite of the continued absence of Daigo Kobayashi.
This positive attitude was reflected in the magnificent backing from the away end and an Ardija team that was full of energy from start to finish. Verbeek's men deserved the point from a second consecutive goalless draw, after having played with only ten men for the majority of the second half. Indeed, until midfielder Naoya Saeki's second yellow card ten minutes into the second half, Omiya had more than held their own - and even then could have won it.
Hiroki Aratani quakes on his line... I mean, organises his defence
Both Kota Yoshihara and Salles later had gilt-edged opportunities to put the visitors into the lead, but the two strikers were thwarted by Kashima keeper Hitoshi Sogahata. Starting his first game in an Omiya shirt, Salles put in a solid performance. The big Brazilian is at first glance not especially quick, but has good movement and some nice touches.
Kashima nevertheless had some decent chances themselves - a couple of headers that cleared Hiroki Aratani's bar and defender Fabao and Atsushi Yanagisawa shot wide when in good positions. The vociferous Squirrels' supporters hearts were also in their mouths when Masashi Motoyama had a free kick in injury time that was blocked by the wall.
While Aratani and his back line held firm and consistently looked well-organised and focused on the job in hand, the inevitable bad news for Omiya was clearly the uncharacteristic red card for Saeki. But more seriously, it would seem probable that forward Yoshihara is going to be unavailable for a while, judging by the way that he hobbled off the pitch at the end of the game.
Kota Yoshihara gets his head kicked off going for goal
However, previous injury victim Leandro returned to action for the first time in three weeks, as Robert Verbeek shuffled his pack to deal with the expulsion of Saeki. The Brazilian slotted alongside Daisuke Tomita in the centre of defence, Yosuke Kataoka moving into midfield where it ought to be acknowledged that he appeared more than a little unreliable.
Eagle-eyed supporters also noticed a bust-up between Squirrels substitute Enilton and trainer Elcio. The diminutive striker refused to warm up prior to his late introduction for Salles and instead simply sat on the sidelines, despite the remonstrations of his fellow countryman. But Omiya Ardija have picked up their first point of the season and have reason to look forward with confidence, if only coach Verbeek can resolve the goalscoring situation. After all, defeat Nagoya Grampus 8 on Saturday and the Squirrels could go 13th...