Thursday, June 23, 2011

Goals galore in midweek J. League action

By Matt Collard

Shoki Hirai celebrates Gamba's second goal last night

If last season’s top four were reliant on a run of mid-season form to catapult them up the table, they were handed a rude shock on Wednesday night.
While Nagoya Grampus, Gamba Osaka and Kashima Antlers all picked up three points on the road – with Cerezo Osaka suffering another loss and displaying the consistency more true to the relegation battle they find themselves in than the form of last season’s third place finish – all of the top five, except for leaders Kashiwa Reysol, also won.
It was a change to see all the usual top names snaring wins but with the other surprise packages sitting high on the table taking home the three points also, the top seven could very well run away from the rest of the league.
A congested fight for Asian Champions League places and the crown of J-League champions is set to occur despite a large chunk of the season still to be played. With Gamba Osaka possessing two games in hand and Nagoya also having played a game less than the rest of the league, the top four battle is set to become even more competitive.
Gamba Osaka are yet to play in a game with less than three goals scored and they once more lived up to the high expectations formed of a team covered in a thick coat of creativity and attacking prowess.
Their away trip to another of the league’s free-scorers, Kashiwa, wasn’t reason enough for them to play with any hint of caution and they romped to a 4-2 win.
It was an uncharacteristic faulty defence from Reysol after they worked tirelessly in the early stages of this season to fix up a leaky defence – they had the same amount of losses and just two less goals as sixth place Urawa Reds in the season they went down, but their leaky defence lead to too many draws.
But poor defence was a recurring theme on this night of midweek fixtures as five other teams also conceded three or more goals.
For Cerezo Osaka it was only their second match featuring four or more goals. Their 3-2 home loss was only sugar-coated by a 90th minute consolation goal as their Champions League hangover seems to be lingering strong.
Their equaliser in the 42nd minute was short-lived as the reigning Champions capitalised on their high confidence, brewed from an undefeated streak of five games, and ran away with the match.
Tadanari Lee celebrates his
goal for Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Two other games ended 3-2 with both third placed Kawasaki and fourth Sanfrecce Hiroshima simultaneously taking the lead in their respective matches.
As if in direct competition with each other, Koji Morisaki scored from the penalty spot to get ahead of Montedio and his Sanfrecce team leapfrogged Frontale on the ladder. But their third place celebrations lasted just 60 seconds when Kawasaki took an 81st minute lead through Yu Kobayashi with 10 men away to Shimizu S-Pulse.
Alex Brosque and Ono Shinji closed a 2-0 deficit though it wasn’t enough for S-Pulse who stay seemingly bound to mid-table mediocrity.
It was only Vegalta Sendai who weren’t made to raise a sweat out of the sides in Champions League places, as they cruised to a 4-0 win and summoned Ventforet Kofu to the last relegation spot.
The Sendai domination was welcom news in Urawa as the Red Diamonds finally clawed out of the red-zone with a 3-0 win over the hapless Avispa Fukuoka – who have just the one point to show for their troubles.
The Reds triple strikes all came in the second half and they claimed their third clean sheet of a so far miserable season. For Sendai it was a typically solid performance as they show no signs of their surprisingly strong start fading.
Only Kashima’s 1-0 win over Vissel Kobe and Yokohama’s triumph by the same margin over Albirex Niigata also had clean-sheets in this match day. Kobe and Niigata are no strangers to low scoring games and are last and second last respectively in terms of goals scored in the matches they play in.
Kobe’s matches average 1.75 goals a game and Niigata’s matches average two goals a game. The lone strikes on the half hour mark in both games stayed true to the trend of goal-dry matches for these teams.
Jun Kanakubo celebrates a late winner for Omiya
Jubilo Iwata dropped an opportunity to slightly close the gap between them and the runaway teams towards the top end of the ladder with Omiya snaring a 95th minute winner in the fixture between the pair.
Jun Kanakubo was on the pitch for just five minutes before he broke the hearts of the Iwata home crowd in a stunning end after the match had been goalless for 80 minutes. Jubilo took a 2nd minute lead before Omiya equalised in the 15th. The match was then held at a stalemate until the 95th minute winner.

Full results:
Vegalta Sendai 4-0 Ventforet Kofu
Cerezo Osaka 2-3 Nagoya Grampus
Shimizu S-Pulse 2-3 Kawasaki Frontale
Jubilo Iwata 1-2 Omiya Ardija
Kashiwa Reysol 2-4 Gamba Osaka
Urawa Reds 3-0 Avispa Fukuoka
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 3-2 Montedio Yamagata
Vissel Kobe 0-1 Kashima Antlers
Yokohama F. Marinos 1-0 Albirex Niigata

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