After a brief break the J1 season kicks back into action with a full progamme of fixtures over the weekend seeing the commencement of a batch of four games through to the beginning of October. Omiya Ardija, hovering precariously above the automatic relegation places, host mid-table Jubilo Iwata on Saturday evening, while their main rivals in the battle to avoid the drop - Oita Trinita and Ventforet Kofu - travel to Kawasaki Frontale and Shimizu S-Pulse respectively.
It is a notoriously difficult task to try and predict the results of individual games in the J-League. But what is clear is that, when the Squirrels come back from their match at Albirex Niigata on 6th October, they will need to be have reduced the four-point gap that currently exists between themselves and Pericles Chamusca's Oita side if they want to keep their J1 status next season. Ardija's fixtures during the next few weeks are on balance a little more straightforward than that of the Kyushu outfit, who must travel to Gamba Osaka and Urawa Reds in consecutive games.
As for Saturday's encounter, Jubilo have never been particularly easy opponents for the Mighty Squirrels. But Robert Verbeek led Omiya to a goalless draw in Shizuoka back in June and since then Adilson's rather unhappy term of office as Sky Blues coach has come to an end. They have since reverted to a policy of engaging a Japanese coach, in the form of Atsushi Uchiyama.
The former international will have to guide Jubilo into a match against opponents who have experienced an astonishing range of emotions during the course of their most recent games. Ardija's defeats at the hands of Kashima Antlers and Nagoya Grampus 8 appeared to have left everyone associated with the club drained of any sort of confidence. Denis Marques' sensational run and shot to claim a draw against Kashiwa Reysol and the stunning win over Urawa Reds nevertheless provided loud confirmation that Satoru Sakuma's team are not done yet.
Tall forward Hiroshi Morita would certainly appear to have played his way into the starting eleven alongside Denis Marques, but there is a question mark over whether or not Chikara Fujimoto will return in place of Hayato Hashimoto on the left-hand side of midfield now that the Omiya skipper has served his suspension. Injured keeper Hiroki Aratani played no part in the friendly win over Kashiwa last weekend and must still be considered unavailable as a result of the broken arm suffered more than two-and-a-half months ago.
Deputy Koji Ezumi had never previously given Ardija fans any sense that he might be capable of J1-level goalkeeping and as such his assured display against Reds two weeks ago came as a total shock. The key question for the Squirrel Nation ahead of the Jubilo game is, can Sakuma and his coaching staff keep going the momentum that Ezumi and his colleagues picked up during their last two matches. If not, the Oita and Kofu results will be awaited with even more nervousness.