Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Niigata Preview

A big game it might have been for Omiya Ardija on Saturday, but it was a pitifully small performance by Jun Suzuki's men. Facing a lumbering, one-dimensional opponent in Montedio Yamagata, Ardija controlled the majority of possession but as soon as they got within 25 metres of goal the players in orange seemed clueless as to how to penetrate the visitors' defence. Lee Chun Soo came close with a couple of his trademark longer-range blasters that both hit the bar and the Brazilian duo of Rafael and Rodrigo Pimpao worked hard - but as a team display in which all eleven Squirrels were committed to winning the match, it was feeble stuff.

For regular readers of this site Omiya's goal was a moment of high excitement... and dark comedy. Even we're bored of saying what an underused resource Naoki Ishihara is, so for him to fashion enough space on the edge of the area to fire past Yamagata keeper Kenta Shimizu within sixty seconds of coming on as a substitute was, well, let's say bleakly amusing. What was a whole lot less funny was the reaction of the Ardija team as a whole to Tetsuro Ota's equaliser just four minutes later. Less than a quarter of an hour to go with the score at 1-1 in a must-win home game means all-out attack, right? Urgency, movement, dynamism?

Not if you're a member of this Omiya line-up. The sight of Yuki Fukaya and Yosuke Kataoka passing the ball ponderously back and forth ten metres inside their own half as the game moved into stoppage time will live long in the memory. Even if the general standard of the Ardija play was without question better than that of Montedio, there was no evidence that Suzuki's team actually believed that they could win. And the way that some Omiya players hurled themselves to the ground in response to the goal by Ota illustrates how little self-belief exists in the squad: score twice in a single match at home to the team second-bottom in the league? How can we be expected to do that?

Without a league victory at NACK5 since early November, it's not surprising that the Squirrels are involved in a relegation battle. Two things at least in Suzuki's favour are that the J1 table is characteristically close, meaning that a couple of scrambled wins can make a big difference; and also that he does actually have a few decent players at his disposal - not that Saturday's excruciating performance by U22 international Keigo Higashi does much to support that idea. So Omiya go on Wednesday to Albirex Niigata, another team not far from the bottom three. Can Ardija win? Sure - Niigata aren't that good. Whether Jun Suzuki knows how to coach these players to victory is another matter.



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