Following on from dismal performances against Jubilo Iwata and JEF United, Omiya Ardija had their fans further convinced that they were relegation-bound - but after Saturday's impressive 2-0 win at Yokohama F Marinos, the Mighty Squirrels have narrowed the gap on their rivals at the foot of the table. All three were in action on Sunday and Ventforet Kofu came within a matter of seconds of claiming a shock triumph at Kawasaki Frontale only to concede a late equaliser, although the point was nevertheless still enough to take them past Omiya and into the relegation play-off spot.
Oita Trinita were unlucky to fall to their expected loss at Gamba Osaka, but it is Sanfrecce Hiroshima - beaten at home by Kashima Antlers - whose form seems to have deserted them the most and they have been dragged into the relegation battle as a consequence. Ardija, meanwhile, deserved to continue their remarkable unbeaten run against the Sailors and in scoring two goals for only the third time in the league this year notched up what is their biggest victory in 2007.
And the difference between Saturday's display from those at home to Jubilo and JEF was so big as to be unreal. The Squirrels played with aggression and dynamism right from the kick off and were worthy winners, the controversial counter-attacking style ironically executed about as well as it has been done all season. Forward Kota Yoshihara, back in the starting line-up because of the suspension of Denis Marques, in particular gave arguably his best-ever performance in an orange shirt.
Kota celebration pic #2
The one-time Japanese international was a total livewire and a constant threat to the Marinos defence. He had many chances and almost converted in the first minute, home keeper Tetsuya Enomoto palming his effort to safety after a cross from Daigo Kobayashi. Shortly after that, Yoshihara hit the post from 25 yards out and an uncharacteristically energetic Omiya side also had other good chances through long range efforts from Daigo and full back Takuro Nishimura that Enomoto did well to save.
On the half-hour, a tragi-comic incident occured between Ardija team-mates Chikara Fujimoto and Yasuhiro Hato who both went for the same ball, collided and injured themselves. Captain Fujimoto came off worst and needed to be substituted, with former Marinos defender Takashi Hirano coming on in his place. The Sailors' attack resulting from this farce almost resulted in a goal, as danger man Koji Yamase beat Ardija keeper Koji Ezumi but not the post.
The second half was a carbon copy of the first, but with better finishing from the visitors. Seventeen minutes after the re-start, Daigo turned one defender inside out and laid it off for Yoshihara who produced a fantastic cross for Hirano to score against his old club with a diving header. And better was yet to come for the travelling members of the Squirrel Nation, as eleven minutes later Yoshihara latched on to Daigo's fine through pass. Despite looking a little offside, Ardija's man of the match nevertheless smashed the ball past Enomoto with aplomb to grab the club's 100th goal in the top division. Hiroshi Morita later had a good chance to score a third on the night after being set up by Yoshihara, but cleared the bar.
And so Omiya's topsy-turvy 2007 season takes another dramatic turn with three valuable points and a hugely improved showing against a lacklustre Marinos. With seven matches still to play, the Squirrels' fate remains in their own hands - in particular as there are crucial return fixtures against Oita, Kofu and bogey team Hiroshima still to come. But for the moment, next Saturday's encounter with Albirex Niigata cannot come soon enough.