It's perhaps be hard for an outsider to understand how a home draw against Kashiwa Reysol might go some way towards rescuing a club's whole season, but right now Omiya Ardija supporters would be forgiven for believing that this may be the case. Crushing defeats in the team's previous two matches at the hands of Kashima Antlers and Nagoya Grampus 8 had left Squirrels fans almost completely without any optimism that Satoru Sakuma had the coaching ability to turn things around in the remainder of the season.
The players, too, seemed so completely lacking in self-belief or fundamental commitment that it was very difficult to believe that they would, over the course of the next three months, be able to fight their way out of the J1 relegation zone. Wednesday evening's match with the Sun Kings from Chiba nevertheless contained a glimmer of hope for struggling Omiya. Sakuma's team would still seem to be sorely lacking in confidence, but despite conceding a tenth-minute opening goal they fought back to claim a vital point from a side who are currently on a decent run of results.
Hayato Hashimoto went close to an equaliser before Denis Marques' spectacular long-range strike succeeded in pulling the Squirrels level. Kota Yoshihara and Leandro both had opportunities to win the match and although the dismissal of Yosuke Kataoka half way through the second period made a victory less likely, there was in the overall performance at least some reason to believe that Ardija may not be playing Sagan Tosu and Montedio Yamagata next year. And it is new Brazilian signing Denis Marques who can take much of the credit for this cautiously positive view.
Congratulations for man-of-the-moment Denis Marques
Coming into the line-up only at the beginning of the month, two assists and two goals in five matches for a poor side such as Ardija is a respectable enough record in itself for the 26-year-old. But the former Atletico Paranaense man offers 2007-era Squirrels what Daigo Kobayashi brought to the table last season - a sense that an individual piece of skill might be able to get a goal from somewhere, even if the team as a whole are struggling to perform.
Daigo's injury and poor form this year - not to mention an extremely disappointing and unproductive campaign from skipper Chikara Fujimoto - have meant that the Squirrels have for the most part lacked any kind of creative spark. One wonders what position Omiya would be in now if Sakuma had brought in Denis Marques earlier in the season, instead of wasting time by going for the hopelessly misguided false economy of Salles.
A 1-1 draw against Saturday's opponents Urawa Reds in the driving rain in early May provided additional evidence that Salles was simply out of his depth playing J1 football. Although the big Brazilian was unable to offer any cutting edge, Ardija fought well that day in one of the more impressive battling performances of Robert Verbeek's reign as coach. Yoshiyuki Kobayashi scored a well-improvised opening goal after good work by Yoshihara and for a time it even appeared possible that Omiya might sneak a win against their underperforming near neighbours.
Washington later bundled home an equaliser from close range and since that time Holger Osieck's Reds have hit form, rising to the top of the table and looking as if they may be able to retain their title from 2006 at the expense of free-scoring Gamba Osaka. As the match in May indicated, Omiya will need to work very hard for the whole ninety minutes on Saturday in order to stand a chance of getting anything at all from a side who have drawn three and won ten of their thirteen league games since then.
The Reysol result gives Verbeek's replacement Sakuma something to build on and with Fujimoto and Yoshihara both suspended, it seems likely that Ardija fans will have the opportunity to see their team field a more dangerous attacking formation against Urawa, with Daigo and Hayato Hashimoto taking up the two wide positions. New Omiya hero Denis Marques, meanwhile, gets his opportunity to match himself up against Ardija's deadly rivals - and a goal or two in that match would surely see him achieve instant legendary status.