Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The Squirrel's Eye View: Why We Didn't Score

J1 has now gone into a two-month break for the World Cup and for Ardija fans, the experience of the games against Montedio Yamagata and on Saturday at home to Sanfrecce Hiroshima suggests that the pause comes not a moment to soon for Jun Suzuki. The new Squirrels coach has managed to extract a promising four points from his first three matches in charge, but the nature of the team's performances following the scrambled home win over Kyoto Sanga would indicate that this is hardly a question of a quick fix. Indeed it is striking how similarly Omiya have played under Suzuki as under Jang Wae Ryong.

Encounters with Hiroshima tend not to produce too many goals, but Saturday's game is one that seems set to live so briefly in the memory that I'm having to type extra quickly in case the whole thing slips from my mind before I finish this piece. Sanfrecce, left in mid-table in J1 following their ultimately unsuccessful ACL sojourn, looked some way from being a good side, but where they appeared more effective than the Squirrels was in the close support given to their attacking players. The likes of Kota Hattori and Satoru Yamagishi were constantly available to receive the ball as their team moved forward.

In contrast, Omiya's offensive movement often broke down because the player in possession was simply too isolated from his team-mates. There wasn't the opportunity for Ardija to be truly dangerous because the ball was lost so quickly: again and again Naoki Ishihara was tackled before he had the chance to draw colleagues into the move. Compare the number of times that Hiroshima's defensive kingpin Tomoaki Makino got in a shot on goal with the number of times that the Squirrels' midfield players - never mind defenders - were able to get forward and do the same.

Another area of play that requires urgent attention from Suzuki is how badly Omiya used set pieces. None of the corners or free kicks generated any serious attempts on Shusaku Nishikawa's goal and when a team is finding it tough to create chances from open play, this is bad news. The header against Shimizu S-Pulse by Shusuke Tsubouchi indicates that Ardija haven't entirely lost the knack, but although Mato Neretljak has the potential to be a real weapon in the penalty area, against Sanfrecce he never came close to getting on the end of kicks from Jun Kanakubo or Hayato Hashimoto.

A first start since March for Rafael ought to be acknowledged and to be fair in the light of the above there were a couple of glimpses of the link-up play that he brings to the team. Just two or three minutes before the end, he somehow managed to retain the ball on the edge of the area as a trio of Hiroshima defenders swarmed around him, Rafael eventually drawing a foul that gave Ardija a free kick in a good position. Overall he looked rusty, but glad to be back. Let's hope Rafa picks up plenty of playing time in the forthcoming set of Nabisco Cup games and is fully ready for league action in July.



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