Saturday, 27 November 2010

Niigata Preview

It's not clear to me how this has happened but Saturday's match against Albirex Niigata is the last home game of the 2010 season. The last one! I thought it was like early September or something. Ardija might be in a really predictable situation (get a single point from the last two fixtures to guarantee J1 safety) and might have arrived at it by a really predictable route (terrible start leading to modest improvement by May, all over the place during the summer, relegation certainties in the autumn before salvation in November*), but for some reason the year seems to have included all of those things within a particularly compressed timeframe. OK, I'm getting old although did you notice how some of the players these days look as if they're no more than kids?

So anyway, here we are. Last home game. One point required. Avoiding defeat against Vissel Kobe was pretty much vital to the survival strategy** and as so often in recent weeks, it was the contribution of substitute Naoki Ishihara that got the Squirrels out of a hole. Omiya were pushing hard for a second equaliser and went close when Rafael's stunning volley crashed off the bar and bounced away, but five minutes from time the Vissel defence went to sleep. Overlapping Kazuhiro Murakami was given time and space to play in a left-wing cross and Ishihara sneaked in unnoticed to poke the ball past Kobe keeper Kenta Tokushige at the near post.

In fact all the goals had elements of defensive error to them and it was easy to see why both teams have found it difficult to climb the table this year. Ardija's first goal came about when Mato Neretljak swung a boot at a loose ball from a corner that could have been tidied up by a more alert Kobe back line, while at the other end Vissel had gone ahead early on as the result of a disastrous miscommunication between Takashi Kitano and Neretljak, whose ill-judged interception was seized upon by the alert Park Kang Jo. Yuki Fukaya later put through his own net to restore the lead for the visitors, attempting in vain to defend what was an absolutely brilliant Masatoshi Mihara cross.

But Omiya now look like a team of character, while Saturday's opponents Albirex have stuttered to more than a few draws lately. A 4-0 thumping at Sanfrecce Hiroshima last weekend is admittedly not representative of their recent form, but even so the Swans have dropped too many points to maintain what earlier in the season looked like turning into a shock bid for an ACL spot. Another draw for Ardija would of course be just fine, although there are a few things which it would be nice to see in 2010's final fixture at NACK5: league goal #10 of the season for Ishihara, perhaps, and a farewell to and from the home fans for the departing Mato Neretljak. But how about some further playing time for teenager Taisuke Miyazaki? After all, 2011 will be along in a minute and we need to be ready.

*new members of the Squirrel Nation are advised to print out and keep this as a guide to likely future events and in order to avoid disappointment
** hoho



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