So this is it. The J1 season may be 34 games long and last for nine months of the year, but for Omiya Ardija, the real action begins on Saturday against Sanfrecce Hiroshima and goes on for a matter of just a few short weeks. This is the crunch period of four matches that will effectively decide the Squirrels' fate. If they gain sufficiently good results in their forthcoming meetings with Sanfrecce, Yokohama FC, Oita Trinita and Ventforet Kofu, it is perfectly possible that Ardija will be playing J1 football next season; if they don't, they won't and in 2008 will host Tokushima Vortis and Sagan Tosu at the revamped Omiya Koen stadium.
September provided Omiya supporters with tantalising glimpses of the level of performance that their team can deliver, with a delirious derby win over Urawa Reds and a polished 2-0 defeat of Yokohama F Marinos sandwiching inept home losses to Jubilo Iwata and JEF United. Since taking over as coach, Satoru Sakuma may have come up with a few high points - but he has utterly failed to instil in his players any consistency.
This is a point exemplified in the last match at Albirex Niigata, in which the Squirrels put in a decent enough display for the majority of the ninety minutes, missed more than one easy chance to take the lead and then fell apart in the final stages. Defender Takuro Nishimura was foolish enough to get himself red carded late on - and the subsequent shambolic reorganisation of the back line and of defensive responsibilities throughout the team meant that Edmilson was able to steal a winner in injury time.
Who knows which Ardija side will turn up at Komaba on Saturday afternoon to face Hiroshima, in an encounter that Sakuma knows is a must-not-lose game? Will it be the team that fought and fought heroically against Reds, with Leandro and Hiroshi Morita combining brilliantly to slice open the league leaders' defence for a stunning goal? Or will it instead be the line-up that in the very next match slumped to a gutless defeat at the hands of a less-than-brilliant Jubilo?
It seems unlikely at this stage in the season that Sakuma will want to tinker too much his favoured starting eleven on Saturday, although Yusuke Murayama would appear favourite to come in at right back as replacement for the suspended Nishimura. Elsewhere, the only question mark is over the forward line, in that the introduction of Denis Marques and Pedro Junior during the second half against Niigata failed to provide the hoped-for extra energy and mobility.
As for Sanfrecce, well - this is not a game about Sanfrecce. The records show that the Three Arrows are Omiya's number one bogey team, having defeated the Squirrels on all five occasions that the two teams have met in the top division. But as Steve commented the other day, statistics mean nothing. And for Omiya, a win in the last-ever match at Komaba will mean everything.