Tochigi SC 2 : 0 Avispa Fukuoka
Tochigi seem to be our biggest bogey team in the division, I can’t ever remember us doing well against them. While they are not a bad team (and seem to have a very good knack at getting some impressive foreign players) I’m never too sure why we seem to struggle against them quite so much.
I was worried on seeing the team-sheet for today which due to suspensions, injuries, and Pusnik’s approach to the game saw us play with Tsutsumi and Park Gon in midfield; a starting line-up with 4 central defenders in it (and alongside them Okada who has also played as centre-back this year, albeit in an emergency).
Ahead of this defensive minded midfield were the 2 youngsters Kanemori and Mishima, with Jogo in the middle who has played in midfield at home this season.
It’s not a line-up I agree with as it pays a little too much respect to the opponents, trying to chase them down with the front 3 and then break down attacks with the midfield rather than playing to our strengths.
Despite my misgivings we actually did pretty well for the first 15 minutes of the game and held the majority of possession, without ever really making a clear chance.
This is where my next concern comes up. Through the last few games we have scored through a defensive mistake against Kumamoto, a corner and penalty against Gifu, and a corner and free-kick against Toyama. While it is great to be scoring through set pieces finally we can seem to over-play things a little in attack.
There can be a bit of a problem in trying to play a counter-attacking game in that when you have the ball you need to try to stretch the defence to find the spaces, and while we move the ball around the pitch there doesn’t seem to be the final pass to break it down.
If a defence stays well organised in face of our lateral movement then they can end up defending the ball in to the penalty box quite easily it seems.
It reminds me a little of the Roma coach’s comment when facing Liverpool in Europe a few years ago. How was he going to deal with Liverpool’s proficiency on the counter? Give them the ball.
As it turned out this was what happened in this game. After weathering a bit of a storm Tochigi were able to move the ball forward quickly. After one attack which ended with an ill-advised back-heel they could first have a shot, and then recycle the ball to play a cross into the middle which was converted by a header from a not very tall midfielder.
It was a horrible goal for Avispa. Kazuki was in no-mans land, Omata was out of position for the initial cross, Park had come back but was totally out-maneuvered on the dge of the box, and then Koga seemed to let the cross into the box go over his head unchallenged. It was a goal you wouldn’t hope for under any circumstance, with the number of defenders we had on the pitch it was ridiculous.
If a counter-attacking game at 0-0 was proving difficult then it was near impossible at 1-0 down. Pusnik seemed to realise this and did a double substitution at half-time.
I generally like to see all 3 substitutions, but a half-time substitutions seems fairly desperate. A double half-time substitution is pretty much an admission that the starting line-up was wrong.
We continued to hold a lot of the ball, but against struggled to break down a Tochigi defence who were keeping their back 4 well organised and quite narrow, easily able to deal with balls into the box.
In similar fashion to the 1st half we then got caught out by another quick counter as a missed tackle (foul) on halfway allowed the Tochigi left winger to run straight at the defence, totally bypass Koga, and play a ball just beyond Park for Cristiano to finish expertly over Kamiyama.
The game was a lot more even than 2-0 may suggest, but Tochigi clearly deserved all 3 points.
My Man of the Match – Tsutsumi
Adifficult one, because no-one really stood out, but he did OK in midfield, and then looked quite good at right-back.
Not a great performance, but at least he did OK in 2 different positions.