"Cruel" is the only word to describe Saturday's 1-0 defeat at Albirex Niigata - and who knows the extent to which it could turn out to haunt Omiya Ardija come the end of the season. For overall, the Squirrels were the better side on the day and indeed, although the result was very different, they gave the same kind of performance as in the victory over Yokohama F Marinos. That Jun Suzuki's team didn't really have any serious opportunities until the actual last kick of the game emphasises how much Omiya were in control.
The star of an unchanged Ardija team was central defender Leandro, who was magnificent for ninety minutes and easily won his running battle with Niigata's rising star Kisho Yano. But while this was a strong defensive display that slipped out of Omiya's grasp right at the death, at the other end there is no doubt that Daigo Kobayashi should have got his name on the scoresheet midway through the second half. Takuro Nishimura delivered a fabulous cross that the Squirrels' star man headed into the ground from no more than five yards out, only to see it bounce up to hit the bar and go over.
Satoru Sakuma, coaching genius, cheers on his boys
Forward Hiroshi Morita had a few chances too, but wasn't agile enough to get on the end of anything - a case in point being Naoya Saeki's overhead kick which went over the goal area and out of the reach of Morita, when quicker player would have converted the chance. In something of a one-sided second period, Chikara Fujimoto was a further Ardija played who should have scored but he snatched his shot wide.
And Omiya supporters will be wondering what might have been if coach Satoru Sakuma had resisted the temptation to tinker with his front players, as Kota Yoshihara again looked lively after his man-of-the match contribution against Marinos. In contrast, his replacement Denis Marques was disappointing, while Pedro Junior looked out of his depth when he came on for Morita.
The coup de grace came after Nishimura was deservedly sent off for two rash challenges. The Squirrels coped poorly with being a man down and were on the back foot throughout the closing stages. Unbelievably, it was Niigata substitute Edmilson who scored the winner, his fifth J1 goal against Omiya and one that occurred after the end of the three minutes of stoppage time.
Omiya on the attack... an unusual collection of words there
So Omiya will go into the period of four crucial matches against each of their closest rivals having failed to make headway in closing the gap on Ventforet Kofu or Oita Trinita. Still occupying one of the two automatic relegation places, they will take on bogey team Sanfrecce Hiroshima in their next J1 game without the suspended Nishimura at exactly the time when Ardija need a stable back line to cope with the threat of Ueslei and Hisato Sato. The pressure on Sakuma increases as the time gets shorter.