Saturday, 1 October 2011

Fukuoka Preview

Seven games to go, five points ahead of the relegation zone. Three points in Saturday's home match with not-quite-certain-to-go-down Avispa Fukuoka would constitute a huge boost to Omiya Ardija's hopes of securing J1 football at NACK5 Stadium next season, and would be an excellent way to build on last weekend's triumph over Kashiwa Reysol. But the Squirrels have yet to win consecutive games throughout the whole of 2011, and long-time observers of the club will know that this is exactly the sort of encounter in which Ardija are apt to struggle.

It's the lack of consistency that has dogged Omiya, a characteristic of the team that is perhaps personified by Fukuoka native Keigo Higashi - someone who is a talented young player, but is just as likely to give the ball away in a dangerous position or fade out a match completely as illuminate play with a brilliant touch and turn. Coach Jun Suzuki seemingly hasn't discovered how to get the best out of the Japan U22 international and there were signs in the middle of the year that their relationship was turning frosty, when Higashi reacted to being substituted with obvious annoyance.

But all that was forgotten when a delicious instinctive flick opened up the Kashiwa defence for Rafael to score the vital second goal in the most recent league game, an example of Higashi at his best. Rested in the midweek Nabisco Cup defeat to Urawa Reds both players are needed fresh and alert for the Avispa game. There are some promising signs that following the introduction of Jun Kanakubo to the team Ardija are stirring themselves for an improved finish to the year. And with relegation rivals Urawa and Albirex Niigata facing difficult matches with title-chasing Gamba Osaka and Yokohama F Marinos respectively, this is just the weekend to start putting together a winning run.



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