"What a difference a win makes!!" is exactly the sort of annoying remark you might expect to read from an Omiya Ardija blog writer during the days after the Squirrels' first three-pointer of the 2007 league season. A single goal midway through the first half from new forward Salles against Nagoya Grampus 8 on Saturday enabled Ardija to move above Yokohama FC at the foot of J1, level on points with FC Tokyo, Ventforet Kofu and JEF United.
Good news, of course, for coach Robert Verbeek and his players - but is it really the the victory itself that is of most importance? After all, in recent weeks the team's record is a more than respectable three wins and three draws in seven league and cup outings. While no-one could accuse Ardija of being an exciting, exhilarating side, the defence has been tightened up in comparison with the opening J1 games of the year and they are more difficult to beat as a consequence.
A significant reduction in the number of sloppy individual errors would seem to be the first major change that has taken place. Verbeek's clear annoyance in the press conference following the 3-1 defeat at Oita Trinita in mid-March - the Dutchman commenting that he found the scoreline "difficult to accept" - came as a result of what he felt was realistic pre-match preparation and advice for his players being let down by poor execution on the day.
Indeed, the best goal of the match from a creative point of view was undoubtedly Kota Yoshihara's terrific, but meaningless, late headed consolation for Omiya. But by then it was much too late, as the likes of Daiki Takamatsu and Shota Matsuhashi had taken advantage of slip-ups and poor organisation in the Ardija back line to put the game out of sight - just as Verbeek and his coaching staff had warned that they would.
But the other major development to have occurred is the tactical change in Saturday's match with Nagoya. Previously, Robert Verbeek had seemed unwilling to tamper with the basic 4-4-2 formation favoured by his predecessor Toshiya Miura, and there followed with the new coach an apparently similar level of uncertainty with regards to who should play as the main strikers and exactly how this combination ought best to function.
For the Squirrels appeared singularly unthreatening as an attacking force with new Brazilian Enilton and star man Daigo Kobayashi as the front pair. Yoshihara has blossomed since the departure of his nemesis Miura - but it was a series of injuries to all three of those players that forced the hand of the Ardija coach for the Nagoya game. Selecting Salles as a big, physical and determined lone striker, Verbeek opted instead for a 4-5-1 style that could rapidly change into a 4-3-3 when his team were in possession of the ball.
This meant two things. Firstly, that Nagoya's own dangerous forward movement was restricted by lack of space, with defensive midfielders Yosuke Kataoka, Masato Saito and Yoshiyuki Kobayashi acting as a protective trio through which the Whales had to break even before they encountered Leandro and company at the back. Secondly, that wide men Hayato Hashimoto and Chikara Fujimoto needed to work very hard in switching their roles from providing additional cover to playing alongside Salles.
But it worked. Keeper Hiroki Aratani was able to keep a clean sheet against a previously prolific side, while at the other end it was enough that Salles took one single opportunity which came out of his link-up play with captain Fujimoto. The Nagoya game saw effectively a new formation achieve the combination of flexibility and stability that a standard 4-4-2 has delivered so infrequently for the Squirrels. Which, going into a vital stage of the season, begs an important couple of questions for Robert Verbeek.
There can be no doubt that the Dutchman - like his brother before him - is fundamentally in favour of a 4-4-2 approach, a style that he has consistently used throughout his career. But if this different system can achieve such an effective result against a dangerous opponent with a good scoring record like Grampus, how can the advantages of 4-5-1 be translated into 4-4-2? And how can the likes of Daigo and Kota Yoshihara find their way back into the starting line-up, when the midfield trio of Kataoka, Saito and Yoshiyuki was so successful in providing the defensive springboard from which the game was won?