Having predicted an easy win against Thespa it seemed I didn’t learn and predicted an easy win against Fagiano as well. I may have guessed a very different score had I known that two of the most important players for Avispa were going to be out suspended after picking up yellow cards.
Without Makoto Tanaka the defence is missing a key organiser, and without Nakamachi the team is missing the undoubted player of the season and main goal threat. Had I known that these two players were suspended I would have still predicted a win, but perhaps not a comfortable one.
Kicking off at 6pm to avoid the main heat of the day it was still well over 30 degrees, but the stadium had picked up a lot of casual fans from the World Cup as the cheapest seats at either end of the ground were much more crowded than usual.
Avispa started at a good pace and were able to use the wings to move up the field and create chances to score. Within the first 20 minutes they had two good chances, most notably a good shot across the area by Sueyoshi which someone should have been able to get a foot to. Daiki in particular must be wondering how he failed to score from it.
Fagiano were looking like a club who had only scored 9 goals all season, and I don’t think Kamiyama had a save to make in the first half.
Fagiano were playing with 10 men behind the ball and crowding the penalty area well for every attack, and it was looking like if Avispa managed to sneak a goal they could go on to score a few more as the game became more open.
Unfortunately rather than continue to play this high tempo game (maybe the heat had something to do with this) the team seemed to revert back to their standard play of passing the ball around defence and then launching a long ball up to Jumbo.
This tactic doesn’t work. I can think of only 2 goals this season which have come from a long ball straight up the middle, and neither have involved Jumbo. He doesn’t run so can never get into a good position, and has terrible timing so when he is quite near the ball always jumps too early. In unusual circumstances where he does touch the ball it bounces off him at strange angles, usually starting an opposition attack.
The Fagiano defenders are not the best in the world, but playing up against this they knew they didn’t have to worry about movement or running, and could just concentrate on dealing with Jumbo. They did so easily and the teams went to half-time at 0-0.
Thoroughly depressed by this I had an instant boost at the start of the 2nd half where it seemed that maybe manager Shimada had agreed with my assessment of Okubo and substituted him. Not for my choice of Oyama, but the experience of Takahashi was perhaps a better choice in this situation.
Immediately the club were playing with more energy and chances were coming time after time for Avispa. Powered mainly by the energy of Takahashi pressuring midfield and defence, and Genki playing really well for about 20 minutes it was just the final ball which was missing as again Fagiano were playing with 10 men in a compact defence and hoping for a draw.
It looked only a matter of time before Avispa would score, but then Fagiano broke and had the best chance of the game as hesitation by Daiki in defence allowed a Fagiano striker to sneak behind him and miss from a few yards out when he should have scored.
This seemed to disrupt Avispa and their attacks became less frequent while at the same time encouraging Fagiano who started to look the more likely to score. After 65 minutes Kamiyama was called upon to make his first save of the game, a very good one to block a free header from 5 yards out. The rebound falling to an Okayama player to easily head home; fortunately from a clear off-side position spotted by the linesman.
The crowd started to call for Yusuke to come on and hopefully do something to change the game. Hideya had already come on, but despite having fresh legs and an incentive to try hard after being dropped for Jogo, looked disinterested.
With 15 minutes left to play Avispa gave it one last push and in reality were unfortunate not to snatch a late victory.
Suzuki Jun rattled the crossbar from a long range shot, and in the last minute of the game Genki cut in again from the left and tried to beat the goal-keeper at his near post. Bouncing off the goal-keeper, and then onto the post it rebounded out to Yutaka to head home into the empty goal from about 2m out. Unfortunately the ball came to him too quickly and he messed the chance up, sending it wide of the post. As he was left to walk back to half-way with his head in his hands the whistle went for full time.