Monday, 18 May 2009

Not The Bus

There were two GGOA staffers present at the 1-1 draw with Nagoya Grampus on Saturday and Agent Orange has already offered up his thoughts on the match itself, together with a carefully drafted description of the bus trip to Toyota Stadium which somewhat pointedly neglects to mention the fact that 50% of the GGOA team were victorious in what was in reality a competitive and very enjoyable game of bingo. Moving swiftly on from Agent Orange's surprising but it would appear profound enthusiasm for truck stop meat, here's an alternative view of the Squirrels' performance from me, i.e. the newly-crowned Bingo King.

All in all it was something approaching a pulsating encounter (just to eliminate all doubt, in case anyone has lingered a little too long over the latter part of the previous paragraph, yes, I've moved on to the football now), with Ardija and Grampus both going all out for the win. Ultimately it was a lack of quality that prevented either side from claiming three points and as such it was not too surprising that both the goals came about as a result of defensive blunders.

In the fourth minute, Yoshihito Fujita took advantage of poor marking and a lack of concentration at the heart of the Red Whales' back four to hook the ball smartly past Seigo Narazaki and although as the game went on it seemed as if that would be enough for Omiya, nine minutes from time Mato Neretljak tried to be in two places at once. A hole opened up in the Ardija penalty area and inevitably Davi was sufficiently alert to punish the error by bundling the ball over the line.

Immediately afterwards, one Squirrels defender could be seen hammering the ground with his fist in frustration - but although on balance of play this has to go down as two points dropped, a 1-1 draw away from home against one of the stronger teams in Japan has to go down as a half-decent result. This feeling is heightened by Omiya's hopeless recent record against Grampus and a sense that Ardija sides of a previous vintage would probably have managed to lose the match despite Fujita's early goal.

Coach Jang Wae Ryong is gradually working towards achieving the kind of Omiya team that he wants and although hard work is quite clearly a key characteristic of the style required by the Korean, above all what was on view at the spectacular Toyota Stadium was a Squirrels line-up that offered constant movement. Fujita and his strike partner Naoki Ishihara must be relentlessly exhausting opponents for any J1 defence, if for no other reason that they are able to run and run for ninety minutes.

They harried and hustled, always on the lookout for half-chances or the opportunity to put the Grampus back line under pressure. It was a quite extraordinary effort and any Orange fans still wishing that Klemen Lavric and Denis Marques were being selected as the Ardija front pair must accept that the two foreign players - whatever the positives that they might bring to Omiya - simply would not be able to make the same concerted contribution as did Fujita and Ishihara.

This is without doubt a positive change when compared to last season. Jang's midfield still creates little off its own bat, but the ceaseless toil of his two strikers means that there is always a possibility of them sniffing out a goal from nothing. Just try saying that about Omiya forwards of the recent past, like Kota Yoshihara or Hiroshi Morita. You can stop trying now, because it didn't happen.

So what about Denis and what about the midfield? Well, against Nagoya Jang abandoned his recent experiment of a diamond-shaped quartet at the heart of his team and instead reverted to a flat four, although an attacking one with Shin Kanazawa and Hayato Hashimoto - more generally used as an offensive wide player - in the middle, Denis on the left and Chikara Fujimoto on the right. Jang doesn't possess anyone in his squad that would enable Ardija to dominate the middle of the pitch, but Kanazawa and Hashimoto did a reasonable job.

Denis Marques is a conundrum because, as Agent Orange observed, he will never be a player who tracks back and grafts when Ardija are not in possession; neither does he have the mobility that the new coach evidently prizes so highly. But on the other hand, there's an argument that says that the Brazilian should still be selected in one of the wing positions, if only because Denis is perhaps the most skilful player at the club. Frustrating and ponderous he may be, but he can also cut open a defence with a dazzling run in a way that nobody else can.

Chikara Fujimoto certainly can't do that kind of thing and indeed the former club captain was woeful against Nagoya. Everything seemed to go wrong and he also missed a couple of excellent chances to make it 2-0, as Omiya took the game to Grampus in an impressive second half display. It's hard to believe that someone like Tomoya Uchida or even youngster Daisuke Watabe wouldn't have been able to do considerably better than Fujimoto, who may have the imagination but whose execution leaves so much to be desired.

Overall, bearing in mind the club's supposed ambition of an ACL place for 2010, the reality is that there are too few players at the club of the required quality to achieve a top six finish - Ardija busted a gut to draw with Nagoya, who arguably underperformed and definitely missed midfield general Magnum. But if Jang can regularly coax from his team performances of such energy then they will have little to fear and it will not be long before Omiya start to climb the table from their current lowly standing.



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