After the crushing disappointment of conceding two late goals to Shimizu S-Pulse in the Nabisco Cup in midweek, Robert Verbeek's struggling Omiya Ardija side make the trip to Hyogo prefecture and Vissel Kobe on Sunday afternoon. And this is exactly the kind of fixture that makes Squirrels fans most nervous: playing against a bottom-half-of-the-table side, with whom the team ought to be able to compete on a roughly equal basis.
So far in 2007, however, the likes of Oita Trinita, JEF United, Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Ventforet Kofu have all managed to pick up three points at Omiya's expense. Surely there cannot be too many more defeats in games of this type before the Squirrels' status as a J1 outfit becomes unsustainable.
And if Vissel Kobe away is one match in which Ardija now need at least to avoid defeat, thanks to injury and suspension it is a significantly weakened squad that has been working towards tomorrow's kick-off. Naoya Saeki and Yosuke Kataoka will both be missing in central midfield, while left midfielder Hayato Hashimoto and right back Takuro Nishimura will also be unavailable.
Robert Verbeek pronounced himself satisfied with the experiment of playing Seiichiro Okuno - a central defender - in a defensive midfield role in the defeat to S-Pulse. And the assumption must be that the former captain is likely to feature in that area of the line-up alongside Masato Saito and Yoshiyuki Kobayashi at Kobe.
The simplest solution to the problem brought about by Nishimura's suspension is to replace him with youngster Terukazu Tanaka. But this is not to rule out the possibility of Verbeek juggling his defence and switching the roles of other players, such as Yasuhiro Hato and Daisuke Tomita. Indeed, given the poor displays in recent weeks by Hato at left back, it may be a positive move to see Tomita shifted across there from the centre of the back four.
Kobe have of course in 2007 come back to J1 after a year's absence. It was a strong mid-season run of just one defeat in 23 matches that pushed then coach Stuart Baxter's team up into contention with Kashiwa Reysol and Yokohama FC, although consecutive defeats to those two teams at the back end of the campaign forced Vissel into third place a play-off with Avispa Fukuoka.
Despite the step up and the arrival of current coach Hiroshi Matsuda, the club made only three major additions to their squad during the close season. Yoshito Okubo netted more than fifty goals in four years at Cerezo Osaka before departing for a spell at Real Mallorca in Spain. Returning to Cerezo midway through 2006, he was unable to save them from relegation but so far this year has an impressive tally of six strikes. However, a red card against Nagoya Grampus 8 would suggest that pint-sized Okubo's fiery temper has not entirely dissipated.
The other two signings are both from J2 side Montedio Yamagata. Defender Toshihiko Uchiyama played 200 games for the northerners and has slotted into the middle of Kobe's back four, but it is Brazilian striker Leandro who will be most familiar to Ardija supporters. The 22-year-old played seven games on loan with Omiya at the end of 2005 and despite appearing to be a player with some potential was not signed on a longer-term contract. He went on to be J2's top scorer in 2006, scoring 23 times for a mid-table Yamagata side.
While from a Saitama perspective Enilton's first goal in an Ardija shirt against S-Pulse and Daigo Kobayashi's slow rehabilitation may offer glimmers of hope, overall the dangers presented by the likes of Okubo and Kang Jo Park would suggest that, once again, the Squirrels will need to be on their best form to get anything at all out of Sunday's match.