Bogey Team Omiya Can Keep On Going - Marinos Preview
Omiya Ardija have already played Sunday's J1 opponents Yokohama F Marinos twice already this season in the Group Stage of the Squirrels' ultimately abortive Nabisco Cup campaign. Daigo Kobayashi's header from a Yasuhiro Hato cross won the away game 1-0 against what was a poor Sailors team, but a rain-soaked crowd at Komaba subsequently saw Ardija lucky to get away with a 1-1 draw in the return fixture - despite having been in the lead for nearly 75 minutes through Yoshiyuki Kobayashi.
Like all of Omiya's recent opponents - Kashiwa Reysol, Albirex Niigata and Jubilo Iwata - Marinos' season has nevertheless been wracked with an inconsistency that leaves the 2004 J1 champions way off the pace set by frontrunners Urawa Reds and Gamba Osaka, but still a cut above the teams scrapping it out in the relegation zone. And the potency that saw Hiroshi Hayano's team net eleven in just two games at the end of April has given way to a (low-)scoring record that in recent weeks almost rivals that of the toothless Squirrels.
Naoki Matsuda in action for Marinos against Gamba
A closer glance at the schedule, however, reveals that lately Marinos have found themselves matched up with some of the J-League's tougher customers - and have emerged unbeaten from encounters with Gamba, Urawa and Shimizu S-Pulse. But doubts remain about the Sailors' right to regard themselves as a big club, given the extent to which they have underachieved after having taking the title in 2004.
This failure is well represented by their record against the Squirrels in J1 games, for in fact Omiya have won three and drawn one of the four league matches staged between the sides since arriving in the top flight. And despite their lowly position in the standings, Ardija coach Robert Verbeek can have some confidence that his team will be in with a shout of extending their unbeaten run on Sunday.
Yoshiyuki Kobayashi flies down the wing, maybe
For while their fans feel uncertain as to which manifestation of Hayano's unpredictable Marinos will appear in each successive game, Verbeek appears increasingly bullish at Omiya's chances of continuing the slow climb away from the foot of the table. Two well-taken goals took his team to a win over Niigata that was sandwiched by goalless draws in which the Dutchman's improving side outplayed both Kashiwa and Jubilo: all ostensibly stronger teams than the Squirrels.
Of course, regular readers of these pages will be only too aware of the continuing problems faced by the goalshy Ardija and orange fans will be nervously scanning the teamsheet to make sure that star performer Daigo Kobayashi returns to the starting line-up after appearing only as a late substitute against Jubilo in midweek. But the stability offered by Leandro and Daisuke Tomita in the middle of the defence and the three-man central midfield is proving difficult to break down for teams better than Marinos. And so the target of seven points for June remains a viable one.