Saturday, 23 June 2012

Hiroshima Preview

So one week in, how is Zdenko Verdenik-period Omiya Ardija looking? The new coach's debut game, a 4-2 home defeat in the Noda Line derby with Kashiwa Reysol, underlined the problems facing the veteran Slovenian as he comes in to pick up the pieces of outgoing coach Jun Suzuki. A couple of the Reysol goals were superlative pieces of shooting that really no defence or goalkeeper could expect to have prevented. But sloppy Omiya defensive play of the sort familiar to regular Squirrels watchers contributed arguably to Kashiwa's third and definitely to their fourth goal, which killed off the game early in the second half.

At the other end Ardija missed outstanding chances to pull themselves back in to the match after the Sun Kings had taken their foot off the gas. Daisuke Watabe - a player seemingly destined never to find the net - Cho Young Cheol and surprise substitute Masahiko Ichikawa all should have scored. But the combination of poor attacking play, a lack of concentration in defence and outstanding chance-taking by Kashiwa led to a resounding loss for Verdenik in his first match in charge. He has a lot to do to save Omiya's floundering season: the squad looks weak and confidence is low.

But Saturday's early evening game at Sanfrecce Hiroshima is a poignant one for many Squirrels fans, as the high-flying hosts now feature in their line-up former GGOA favourite Naoki Ishihara. Squeezed out at Omiya as a consequence of Jun Suzuki's baffling view that his role in the squad was no more than that of an impact substitute, Ishihara has this year slotted into Sanfrecce's first team in a withdrawn position behind Hisato Sato. The two players have quickly formed J1's most prolific partnership, their seventeen goals together firing Hiroshima up to second position in the standings.

I will confess to feeling torn about Naoki Ishihara and his performance on Saturday. Obviously it gives me no pleasure to see my team struggle close to the relegation zone. But at the same time my view is that Ishihara was treated unbelievably badly at Omiya, where club management had no sense of what an important player he was. I'm delighted, and unsurprised, to see that he's gone on to be such a success at Hiroshima, who can hardly be said to be missing departed international striker Tadanari Lee. For Ardija, Verdenik needs to pick up points - but Ishihara has a point to prove. And I know which one is more likely to go home happy on Saturday night.



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