Truly Omiya Ardija coach Robert Verbeek would seem to be a man in possession of more than a cat's regular allocation of nine lives. Sunday's J1 game at high-flying Kawasaki Frontale was played in brilliant weather - in contrast with the recent appalling conditions - and although Verbeek's team gave a stuttering performance, the Squirrels nevertheless preserved their four-match unbeaten streak with a slice of luck at the death.
Ardija fielded a 4-5-1 formation with Enilton up front, Kota Yoshihara and Chikara Fujimoto in the wide midfield positions and Terukazu Tanaka keeping his place in defence, thanks to the continued absence through injury of Yasuhiro Hato. And despite Frontale's formidable scoring record, Omiya's tight defensive group meant that in the first half Kazuki Ganaha and co didn't really have any menacing goalscoring opportunities. At the other end, however, the formation left Enilton isolated and the diminutuve Brazilian predictably struggled against three tall and tough Kawasaki defenders.
Ohashi puts Kawasaki one up...
The home side were more purposeful in the second half - having no doubt received an ear bashing from coach Takashi Sekizuka - and they took the lead just after the hour mark, when former Yokohama F Marinos and Tokyo Verdy 1969 midfielder Masahiro Ohashi collected a long pass to rifle home from the edge of the six-yard box. There were subsequently audible groans from the despondent Squirrel Nation as passes went astray and at one stage it appeared as if Omiya were almost content to defend a 1-0 loss.
But with Hayato Hashimoto, Hiroshi Morita and Manabu Wakabayashi on as substitutes, the equaliser surprisingly came from Wakabayashi, who couldn't have found a better time to register his first league goal. His header seemed to hit the post and then go in off Kawasaki keeper Eiji Kawashima, who had received considerable abuse from the Ardija supporters throughout the afternoon due to his defection from Omiya to Nagoya Grampus 8 at the end of 2003. But however the goal was scored, it resulted in absolute bedlam amongst the ecstatic travelling supporters.
... and Wakabayashi equalises
And so with a two-week break until the next league game at Kashiwa Reysol, Omiya can look back on six points having been won from the last four J1 games and a fantastic draw against a top three side in Kawasaki. The usual failings remain - but Ardija fans will hope that the period leading up to the Reysol game will be enough time not only to get Daigo Kobayashi fit again, but also potentially to bring in one or two new players. For two weeks, though, Verbeek lives to fight on.