Monday, 16 August 2010

The Squirrel's Eye View: Reasons To Be Cheerful

Ardija might have failed in their attempt to pull off for the first time ever three consecutive J1 victories, but there are still positives to be drawn from Sunday's 0-0 draw with Jubilo Iwata. The last four games, all played in Saitama, have yielded eight points and taken the Squirrels out of the relegation zone. Four games unbeaten and just a single goal conceded are indicative of the increasingly solid-looking defence based around goalkeeper Takashi Kitano - who put in another exemplary performance against Jubilo - and the assured central partnership of Yuki Fukaya and Shusuke Tsubouchi.

It's not clear whether the continuing absence of last year's undoubted Omiya star, Mato Neretljak, is as a result of lack of fitness or of form. But what is a lot more certain is that the Croatian giant is going to have to be at the top of his game to get back into the starting line-up. For much of the game against Reds and for a good period of the first half on Sunday, Ardija were under considerable pressure. But the fact that that pressure so rarely translated into clear-cut chances on goal is to a very great extent down to the commitment and concentration demonstrated by the two players currently keeping mighty Mato out of the team.

The other main plus point to come from the Jubilo match is quite how much Omiya were able to improve after a poor opening half. Even before the arrival ten minutes into the second period of Naoki Ishihara, coach Jun Suzuki's side had taken control of the game, with the likes of Daisuke Watabe, Norio Suzuki and Takuya Aoki in particular getting forward to support the front players. Debutant Lee Chun Soo played respectably and has a clear contribution to make to the squad, perhaps as a speedy winger when Rafael returns to the team following a reported injury in training.

If Sunday evening's encounter was a good example of the cliched game of two halves, the Squirrels certainly looked a lot more like scoring during their period of domination than Jubilo had done in theirs. And that's why the match has to go down as having been something of a frustrating experience - two points lost, rather than one gained. The less positive aspects were that Aoki twice repeated his trick from the Urawa game of taking up brilliant scoring positions, but then somehow failing to put the ball into the net. And with a touch more accuracy in a curling left-foot shot, Chun Soo might have crowned his first match in an orange shirt with a goal.

Most significantly, Jun Suzuki seems only on rare occasions to engineer a situation in which all the members of his Ardija side are performing at a comparable level. Agent Orange has on this website outlined at length his lack of enthusiasm for Chikara Fujimoto and although the Squirrels captain has played a lot worse than he did against the Shizuoka Sky Blues, he still seems out of sync with much of the rest of the team - unable to combine properly with an overlapping sideback, Fujimoto's main contribution is often to cause many Ardija attacks to break down before they've properly got started.

The same can to a degree also be said of Kazuhiro Murakami, back in the team after suspension. Although he defended competently enough, the surging attacking runs that seemed such a key part of his game at Kawasaki Frontale are now almost entirely absent. Further forward, while it would please me greatly to be able to report that Masahiko Ichikawa has slotted seamlessly into the team and is a constant threat to opposition defences, the unfortunate fact is that Ichikawa doesn't seem to have the temperament for high-pressure J1 football. A winger, maybe - a striker and a goalscorer, unfortunately not.

Still, it would be churlish to adopt a glass-half-empty view of the Squirrels' recent progress, given how gloomy things were looking after the eye-poppingly bad defeat at Vissel Kobe three weeks ago. Since then, Omiya might not have played the best-quality opposition, but evidence suggests that Suzuki's team are becoming tougher to score against and tougher to beat. We have a couple of brand new squad members in Chun Soo and Sunday's other debut man, late substitute Lee Ho. Reasons to be cheerful, all. So can it really be true that there's cause for... what d'you call it... optimism? Could be, you know. Could be.



  © Blogger templates Newspaper III by 2008

Back to TOP