Saturday, 7 May 2011

Niigata Preview

So how have Ardija been getting on in the three games since the restart of the J1 programme? After the extraordinary opening match of the 2011 season what seems like years ago in early March, in which Omiya took the lead three times away at Kashima Antlers only to concede the third and final equaliser in injury time, the Squirrels have had a mediocre old time of it. A decent enough performance led only to a 1-0 home defeat in front of fewer than 9000 people against Kashiwa Reysol; a 1-0 win at Vissel Kobe that was illuminated by a tremendous Lee Chun Soo goal masked a poor display. In midweek, Keigo Higashi's superb chip put Omiya ahead in a winnable fixture at Ventforet Kofu but the advantage slipped through Ardija's fingers and the game ended in a draw.

Coach Jun Suzuki seems to be working towards a settled line-up, with Daisuke Watabe and Chikara Fujimoto forming a partnership on the right-hand side, but overall the team has yet to deliver consistency. It could be that the newcomers like Higashi and Kota Ueda are simply taking time to settle in and that over the course of the season this will turn into the side that the supporters are hoping will reach club CEO Shigeru Suzuki's target for of 50 J1 points. The last two weeks have nevertheless seen Omiya stutter rather than play the sort of free-flowing football that Ardija at times turned on in the draw with mighty Kashima.

Albirex Niigata come to Saitama on Saturday, fresh from their own 1-0 victory over Vissel Kobe, which featured another brilliant goal in the shape of Bruno Lopes' volley from a backheeled flick by Cho Young Cheol. But despite the fact that the Swans lie in joint fourth place, just a couple of points behind shock leaders Vegalta Sendai, they really should hold no fears for a Squirrels side looking for their first home win of the year. If Ueda and Takuya Aoki can be dominant in midfield and begin to impose the sort of balance that Ardija have been lacking, Higashi and Lee in particular should be high on goal-scoring confidence. There's no reason why Omiya shouldn't be comfortable in the top half of the table by the end of May, but that level of ambition starts with a home victory on Saturday.



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