With consecutive J1 defeats now recorded against opposition low down in the league table leaving them marooned in the automatic relegation places, Omiya Ardija can effectively be described now as a club in crisis. Saturday's 2-1 loss to Ventforet Kofu at a sodden Komaba was followed by protests from a fair percentage of the Squirrels' hardcore support, with boos ringing round a corner of the ground.
Interestingly, the anger of the fans was directed not at coach Robert Verbeek, but rather at General Manager Sakuma, many Ardija followers calling for him to be fired. An employee of sponsoring company NTT, it is Sakuma who oversees the hiring and firing of playing staff and therefore to a great extent - within the context of the budget provided by NTT - controls the hand dealt to Verbeek or indeed any Ardija coach.
As regular readers of these pages will be all too aware, in recent years at least Sakuma's record in the transfer market has been consistently and undeniably poor, most notably in terms of bringing in foreign players. Gamba Osaka star Bare, together with Vissel Kobe's Leandro are obvious examples of two imports who have performed well - or certainly with promise - for Ardija, only to move on and fulfil their potential at rival J-League clubs.
Just as frustratingly, any Squirrels fans will be able to name a large number of the players chosen by Sakuma who in blunt terms have failed to add to the Omiya squad and have quickly been shipped out as a consequence. Enilton would certainly seem to be the latest in a long line of such players, for the former Palmeiras man was again absent from the starting line-up and the substitute's bench against Kofu. Surely it can only be a matter of time before he too leaves Saitama.
In his place, however, Verbeek was able to name more or less a full-strength side for what amounted to an early season relegation six-pointer. Leandro and Chikara Fujimoto returned from suspension in the centre of defence and left-hand side of midfield respectively, while Daigo Kobayashi played on the right with Salles and Kota Yoshihara up front in a return to Verbeek's favoured 4-4-2.
The Squirrels started reasonably brightly against a side that this year have struggled to pick up points outside of Yamanashi, Salles blazing over from close range with a matter of a few minutes on the clock. But Daigo, returning from injury and yet apparently not 100% fit, was closely shackled at all times and found it hard to exert much influence over proceedings, even via his trademark free-kicks.
The initial wind seemed to go out of Ardija's sails midway through the first half and the game became something of a midfield battle, Kofu's direct, harrying style bringing the best out of Yoshiyuki Kobayashi in the heart of the Squirrels formation. Nine minutes before the break, however, it was the visitors who went in front when striker Daisuke Sudo took advantage of a lack of concentration in the Omiya defence with a smart glancing header past Hiroki Aratani.
At the other end, it was the same old story for the long-suffering home fans. Clear-cut chances for Salles, Yoshihara and co were few and far between, coherent passing movement occurring in brief bursts and subsiding as rapidly as they arrived. It was during one such period that captain Fujimoto was able to put Ardija on level terms, smashing home a 56th minute penalty after Takuro Nishimura was rather questionably felt to have been upended whilst heading for the byline on a dangerous overlap.
But the glee of the Squirrels support and the memory of Fujimoto's celebratory wiggle were both short-lived, as Kentaro Hayashi nodded in a left-wing corner and restored the lead for Ventforet. Hayato Hashimoto impressed as a substitute for the ineffective Salles, firing a long-range effort against the bar, but unsurprisingly a few spurts of late pressure failed to crack the Kofu defence.
After Wednesday's holiday game at Hiroshima, next weekend sees Omiya host deadly rivals Urawa Reds in a match the result of which is hard to imagine anything other than an emphatic Reds win. These are bleak times indeed, on and off the field, in the orange half of Saitama.