Two days after the disaster of the 2-1 defeat at home to Kashima Antlers, the Squirrel Nation is still trying to come to terms with the nature of the team's capitulation. Scanning the supporters' websites and blogs, it is plain to see the shock and disappointment felt by many Ardija fans - not at the result itself, so much as the apparent listlessness and lack of commitment displayed by the Omiya players.
This is perhaps best exemplified by the utterly bizarre behaviour of stand-in goalkeeper Koji Ezumi, booked for time-wasting just moments after Antlers' playmaker Mitsuo Ogasawara had been sent off with the score standing at 1-1. The fans' argument goes that if Ezumi possesses so little understanding of the simple dynamic of a football match - let alone of his team's broader predicament in needing to scrap for every available point - the former Oita Trinita man really has no business playing at J1 level.
Another player to feel the wrath of the Squirrels supporters is captain and midfielder Chikara Fujimoto, although to some extent this is because he has at least been brave enough to post on his own blog since Sunday's game; something that none of the other squad members have apparently thought necessary or worthy of their time (yes, Daigo Kobayashi and Daisuke Tomita, GGOA is talking about you).
Daigo, doing something
Some fans posted comments to the effect that they wish they hadn't bothered making the lengthy trek up to Kumagaya, while one woman was seemingly in tears at the poor quality of Omiya's performance - generally held to be the worst since the club moved up to J1 for the 2005 season - and was insistent that her young son not be exposed again to such dreadful, passionless fare. And perhaps most tellingly, one emotion that has been frequently expressed since Sunday evening is envy: envy of the Kashima support, who were able to cheer on a team utterly intent upon winning the match, despite the dismissal of a key player in Ogasawara.
Why didn't the Omiya players show such determination? Why has the defence fallen apart since the departure of Robert Verbeek and the installation of Satoru Sakuma? Why have so many important members of the squad - the ineffective Fujimoto, left back Yasuhiro Hato, central defender / defensive midfielder Yosuke Kataoka - failed to perform not only against the Antlers, but throughout the year?
Why do none of them seem to care that much?
Chikara Fujimoto defends another Kashima attack
The supporters do not have answers to any of these questions, while the club itself seems intent on offering up only a blandly cheerful face: the Kashima game was Kota Yoshihara's 200th appearance in the top flight! The new signing from Shonan Bellmare's reserves who is supposed to be sorting out the team's defensive worries, Yosuke Murayama, played in Monday's friendly against a team of university students! Who will score the team's 100th goal in J1? Who cares?
Not the Squirrel Nation, for whom the nightmare of Sakuma's appointment as coach seems to be coming true with alarming rapidity. The players by all accounts wanted rid of Robert Verbeek after half a season, but the evidence of Sunday would suggest that his successor has managed to lose their trust in approximately a week. And Omiya Ardija has turned into a club in crisis as a result.
The most important question of all, however, has to be: can the squad turn things around? After all, no team was ever relegated in August and indeed a glance at the fixture list would indicate that the last five fixtures of the season include potentially winnable matches against other struggling teams like Yokohama FC, FC Tokyo, Oita Trinita and Ventforet Kofu. The Kashima game must be used as a watershed, an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and to start to pick up points, beginning at Nagoya on Saturday. Otherwise, the decline to the end of the year and J2 will be slow and painful for players and supporters alike.