After last weekend's successful performance against Yokohama F Marinos, Omiya Ardija continue their fight to stay in J1 at Albirex Niigata on Saturday. And the challenge facing Squirrels coach Satoru Sakuma, not only at the Big Swan but also in the remainder of the season's fixtures, is to establish a degree of consistency in his team's performance. Building upon the win over Marinos means developing the positives from that match, in the light of the fact that Omiya's failings throughout 2007 have revolved around the inability of the squad's attacking players to make their required contribution.
At the Nissan Stadium on Saturday, however, striker Kota Yoshihara and midfield playmaker Daigo Kobayashi both shone as they have not done in any previous match this season. Kobayashi, easily the team's outstanding player of 2006, was involved in both goals, while Yoshihara provided an assist for Takashi Hirano to head in the opener and then scored the second himself. If the likes of those key players are able to take hope from such a positive display, Ardija have a fighting chance of gaining points against the Swans and therefore of moving away from the foot of the division. If, on the other hand, Omiya's creative players slump back into inconsistency then survival as a top flight team will be extremely difficult to achieve.
Coming into the Niigata game, the immediate issue for Sakuma is to make a decision as to whether or not he should change a winning team. Yoshihara started in the defeat of Marinos only because Denis Marques was suspended, and goalscorer Hirano was on the pitch as the result of an early injury to underperforming captain Chikara Fujimoto. Naoya Saeki will also be hoping that he keeps his place in the centre of midfield ahead of another player who has had a truly disappointing campaign, Yosuke Kataoka.
As for the Swans, their season has come off the rails in the last few weeks and Jun Suzuki's team currently find themselves on a run of four straight defeats. Nevertheless, since promotion to J1 at the end of 2004, Ardija have consistently had a hard time dealing with Albirex's danger men such as Shingo Suzuki and Edmilson - a player who has scored four times in the league against the Squirrels - while newer additions to the squad like Marcio Richardes and Kisho Yano also present a threat.
But if Omiya's defence can keep a tight rein on those players, the Squirrels have the opportunity to close the gap on their main relegation rivals. Ventforet Kofu, Oita Trinita and Sanfrecce Hiroshima all have relatively tough matches on Saturday - and the possibility of Ardija being only two or three points behind Oita and Hiroshima ahead of the next four crucial fixtures would give hope indeed to Omiya supporters everywhere.