Omiya Ardija fought Urawa Reds tooth and nail for their fifth J1 point of the season in atrocious conditions at Saitama Stadium on Sunday afternoon. And when one considers the overwhelming advantages in terms of resources and squad strength enjoyed by the Squirrels' cross-prefecture rivals, it must go down as a point won by Ardija and two lost by Holger Osieck's pampered players.
Under pressure Omiya coach Robert Verbeek played an expected 4-5-1 formation, but elected to give Salles another chance as the main striker - one the big Brazilian unequivocally failed to take - with Chikara Fujimoto and Kota Yoshihara as the wide midfield men. Returning to the substitutes' bench were recently absent forward Enilton and injured star midfield man Daigo Kobayashi.
And in the pouring Saitama rain, the Squirrels played like tigers in an invigorating first half display. While the touch and vision of the Urawa players were clearly superior, what was also obvious was that the level of commitment demonstrated by the 2006 J-League champions was far below that required to get past an aggressive and determined Omiya team. The central quartet of Leandro, Daisuke Tomita, Masato Saito and Yoshiyuki Kobayashi deserve particular credit for working consistently to snub out any Reds threat, as keeper Hiroki Aratani barely touched the ball for the opening twenty minutes of the match.
Going forward, the outstanding Yoshiyuki often seemed to pop up on the edge of the Urawa box as the extra man in Omiya's attack. But the lack of final ball from the uncertain-looking Takuro Nishimura and Yasuhiro Hato on the overlap was a handicap, while Yoshihara and Fujimoto seemed somewhow unable to click with their team-mates amidst the frantic workrate of the first period.
On 38 minutes, however, everything fell into place and Ardija took a sensational lead to silence the massed ranks of Reds supporters. And it was Yoshihara who suddenly emerged as the decisive factor, spotting the opportunity to receive a long through pass and stretch the Urawa defence. Taking the ball almost to the byline, he resisted the temptation to chip it into the centre for Salles, but waited and passed back to Yoshiyuki Kobayashi, who knocked it into the bottom left-hand corner.
After the interval, it was always going to be difficult for Omiya to keep up the punishing pace of the first 45 minutes and Urawa inevitably took more control of possession. To the frustration of the Squirrels fans, whenever an Ardija break was on the cards, Salles was frequently unable to hold up possession, meaning that the ball all too often went back to the Reds.
It was noticeable how infrequently Aratani was called into action, Leandro and Tomita performing wonders to keep out the Reds attack. But the inevitable happened with seventeen minutes remaining as Washington - who otherwise had a truly dreadful match and was later booked for diving in the Omiya area - pounced two yards out to head in a scrappy rebound.
Verbeek immediately threw on Enilton for the ineffective Salles, in an attempt to offer a more effective way out of defence for his wilting team. There were calls too from Ardija fans for Hashimoto to make an appearance, Yoshihara in particular looking exhausted over the final ten minutes. But although the Reds upped their effort and commitment after half-time and in all honesty were worth an equaliser, it would have been scandalous if the Squirrels had lost the game. From arguably Omiya's finest performance of the season came a point. But a point towards J1 safety.