On the balance of play, this was a deserved first league win of the season for Omiya Ardija against Nagoya Grampus 8 - although in characteristic style, the Squirrels certainly didn't make it easy for themselves by the end. With striker Kota Yoshihara evidently ruled out on account of the injury picked up last weekend against Kashima Antlers and star man Daigo Kobayashi still sidelined, Ardija started off with an unfamiliar 4-3-3 formation.
Masato Saito, Yosuke Kataoka and midweek goalscorer Yoshiyuki Kobayashi played as a trio in the middle of the field, while Salles was selected as the main front player in preference to Enilton, Hiroshi Morita or Manabu Wakabayashi. But skipper Chikara Fujimoto and in-form Hayato Hashimoto got forward to offer support in a three-pronged attack whenever possible.
Salles is a happy lad indeed
Ardija went in front for the first time in a 2007 J1 game in the 26th minute, when Salles headed home from close range after an excellent cross from Fujimoto. Despite the boost in confidence from taking the lead against a side with a hitherto decent record, keeper Hiroki Aratani and his back four had several narrow escapes after that and were relieved to go in 1-0 ahead at the interval.
In the second half, Robert Verbeek's men retreated into a 4-5-1 formation, with Fujimoto and Hashimoto patrolling the wings and Yoshiyuki Kobayashi occasionally getting forward alongside Salles. Although in basic terms playing like an away side and counter-attacking, Ardija nevertheless had a pair of gilt-edged opportunities to finish the game off.
Firstly Yosuke Kataoka should have scored after receiving an excellent pass from Hashimoto, but struck Whales keeper Ryo Kushino from just eight yards out. Shortly after that, defender Daisuke Tomita hit the bar with a header from Hashimoto's corner and no-one could turn in the rebound - meaning that, incidentally, Omiya have still never managed to score from a set piece all season, despite their extraordinary success from free kicks and corners in 2006.
Chikara Fujimoto on the attack
But Ardija did have another opportunity to score late on, when Leandro broke out of defence and was hauled down just outside the box and it was to the surprise of the home supporters that nothing was given by the referee. With time running out, Nagoya's star striker Frode Johnsen - who was generally well-marshalled by Leandro and colleagues - should really have scored but blazed over from inside the box.
This was an effective display overall from the Squirrels and there were good performances from defensive lynchpin Leandro - who was sent off for a second yellow card in injury time - Fujimoto, Salles, Yoshiyuki Kobayashi and in particular Hayato Hashimoto, who was once again outstanding. The inevitable negative came in the form of a third consecutive red card in the league, surely some sort of unwanted record. But this was a day for concentrating on the good: that even without the club's best player overall and arguably their finest performer this season, Omiya took all three points and are off the bottom of the table.