Wednesday evening and a date with Jubilo Iwata at the Yamaha Stadium sees Omiya Ardija take the latest stop along the road through their vital June series of five J1 matches - and right now, there is room for some cautious optimism amongst Squirrels fans. GGOA set a target of seven points as an acceptable outcome for the month bearing in mind the opposition and a goalless draw at Kashiwa Reysol followed by Saturday's defeat of Albirex Niigata means that this remains a realistic goal.
Ardija have in fact amassed ten points in their current run of six unbeaten games and for the first time this year have moved clear of Yokohama FC, JEF United and Ventforet Kofu in the lower reaches of the standings. Couple that with the positive atmosphere engendered by a crowd of nearly 17,000 at the Niigata game and the Squirrels' list of reasons to be cheerful starts to looks a little longer.
Injury victim Naoya Saeki back in training
There can be no doubt, however, as to the most significant cause for celebration at present amongst Omiya supporters. The return to fitness of 2006 star man Daigo Kobayashi has provided a shot in the arm to the team and a significant raising in the quality at the disposal of coach Robert Verbeek. A Daigo-inspired side had much the better of most of the Kashiwa match without ultimately being able to break down J1's toughest defence, while two assists against Albirex offered an instant reminder of what it is that Ardija have been missing during his absence.
Some fans have argued that there was an element of fortune about the 2-1 win over the Swans and certainly the fact that Niigata were missing three key players through injury and suspension made the task of winning the game easier for Verbeek's men. But the scoring of two goals in a J-League fixture for the first time this year has to be a step forward no matter who the opposition might have been. And the fact remains that Daigo was the only player on the pitch at Komaba capable of the quick thinking and opportunism to release Kota Yoshihara for the opening goal and later the sheer class to set up Manabu Wakabayashi for the winner.
Now that’s hardly fair, is it? A Niigata free kick on Saturday
At the beginning of this preview, though, GGOA used the word "cautious" to describe the current feelings of optimism surrounding Squirrels' supporters. There can be little doubt that this is also the maxim of Robert Verbeek - clearly a man for whom "flair", on the other hand, is not in the dictionary.
The 4-5-1 formation adopted by the former Dordrecht coach sets out a defensive stall that opponents frequently find hard to break down, but has done little to convince Omiya followers that a more attacking brand of football is likely to be on the menu after predecessor Toshiya Miura's negative fare. Again, the prospect of seeing some sense of invention and genuine imagination would seem to come down to that man Daigo Kobayashi, rather than being something that is built in to the way that Ardija play the game and approach each fixture.
As for Jubilo, in common with many sides this season, Adilson's team have oscillated around mid-table as a consequence of some deeply unpredictable results. A 4-2 home defeat by Albirex was followed next game by a 6-1 thrashing win at Kofu, in which star striker Ryoichi Maeda and midfield playmaker Yoshiaki Ota were both on target twice. On Saturday, the Sky Blues did Omiya a favour with a 2-1 win over Yokohama FC.
Jubilo’s Sho Naruoka goes for goal against Yokohama FC
Iwata's strength is that with their fast-paced style, they are able to attack and score goals from all parts of the team, meaning that Omiya's key defensive players Leandro and Daisuke Tomita will need to be on top form to protect Hiroki Aratani in the Ardija goal. Nevertheless, like Niigata, Jubilo's defensive record is a poor one and they have shown themselves to be vulnerable to counter-attacking teams. This being the case, fans making the away trip to Shizuoka might hope to see Yoshiyuki Kobayashi and one of the disappointments of the season so far, Yosuke Kataoka, get forward quickly to support the front players.
The Squirrels' record against Jubilo is not a particularly good one, although goals from Tatsunori Hisanaga and Naoto Sakurai gave the team a 2-1 win in the home game last year. Overall, however, any result that sees the team continuing their unbeaten record on Wednesday evening will have to be considered a success.