Thespa Kusatsu 1 : 2 Avispa Fukuoka
4′ Nagai, 82′ Sakai, 87′ Morimoto
Last season we had a huge monkey on the back of the team as we lost leads, and lost games by conceding goal after goal in the last 10 minutes of games.
For the 3rd time this season we have scored goals to win games in the last 10 minutes and turn ourselves from a team who panics going into the last 10 minutes, to a team which other teams should start to be worried about.
Unfortunately just as that monkey has climbed off the player’s backs another has jumped on in the last 2 3 weeks as the team seems totally incapable of putting together 2 halves of football.
2 weeks ago we lost the first half to Nagasaki 5-0 before winning the second 2-0; last week we didn’t give Sanuki a look at goal as we won the first half 1-0 but then stopping playing totally in the 2nd to go on to draw the game; in today’s game we had what Pusnik described after the game as the worst half of football in the league in the first half, but then looked a totally different team to score twice in the second with he Gunma keeper also having to pull off 2 really good saves to stop further goals.
As I had said in my preview, and Pusnik said in his post match interview the issue is entirely with confidence. The players have talent, and in the halves they have played well in (you could also add the comeback against Jubilo) have shown they should be doing well this season.
Hopefully this win will be the spring-board to go into games and try to play and have fun on the pitch. When they play with a smile on their faces we invariably do better than the worried and exasperated looks they have sometimes. One look at the table should help, with us now comfortably in the play-offs.
What the management at the club need to do now is try to spot triggers for these poor 45 minutes. I fully believe the issue is a mental one with the players, but what can be done to try to prevent the players getting into this state of mind? I don’t believe the players are good enough, or mentally strong enough to get over all their issues, so prevention may be better than a cure.
A common factor of the Nagasaki game and today’s game was the attack being led by Punosevac, who left the field at half-time and then watched a much better performance from the bench.
Now I don’t think that Punosevac is a bad player at all, but watching the players on the pitch I can feel that they don’t fully trust him, and fail to read his hold-up play at times or fail to pass to him in good positions. He has now failed to score in over 20 appearances for the club, and not really had any clear chances since first coming to the club.
I think a lot of the blame for this goes to his team-mates, and there can be few foreigners in Japan who haven’t felt invisible or over-looked at times in their work, but is something deep-rooted and difficult to resolve in the 90 minutes of a football match.
It could also be noted that the other player who has come off with Punosevac in both instances has been Korean, with both players replaced by Japanese nationals. Not a nice thing to think about, but something which does exist. The foreigners which have come to Japan and succeeded have been players who were clearly superior to the Japanese options available; players who are battling for a position are generally going to have a tough time.
The issue is compounded if the players look across to the bench and see Ishizu sitting there not playing. This is a player who was the joint top scorer (with no penalties last season), and has been something of a mood-maker, and popular guy at the club since arriving 3 season ago. Ironically he is one of the players who the foreign players have talked about as being one of the most open and friendliest at the club.
His work-rate without the ball has been questioned, but his performance could hardly be faulted today as he came on, tracked back, ran from a forward position to defence and generally caused problems with his dribbling.
The goal which we equalised with came directly from one of these dribbles as Ishizu skipped across the front of the box and was clearly brought down as he prepared to shoot with his next step.
As with the Jubilo game the team showed they are doing work on the training pitch by scoring a very well worked goal.
The free-kick was too close to get up and down over the wall so was passed to Sakai on the left of the box who hit first time across goal to score.
Avispa had the momentum after that but it wasn’t clear if they would have enough time to find a winning goal.
Again Sakai was at the heart of it when it came as he did a similar dribble to Ishizu; collecting the ball and running direct at the box. Taking 3 defenders with him he slid a ball onto the penalty spot where Morimura had taken a chance and finished well to give 2 players their first goals for the club in the same match.
It couldn’t have happened to a better player as we really need Morimura to boost in confidence and be the player to take the chance to run into the box and meet balls like this.
It gave us a win which looked unlikely in the first half.
We had looked totally out of ideas with our only ‘attacks’ being balls from halfway into the penalty box which were generally totally over-hit and could be collected by the keeper. I guess they were trying to make use of Punosevac’s height, but he didn’t really get a chance to get on the end of anything.
The only other attacks were from crosses delivered by Mishima which were all terrible, totally over-hit. Mishima is a young player and able to develop this area of his game but he needs to be staying behind after training to hit crosses for 30 minutes every day.
The half wasn’t helped by conceding a goal after 4 minutes with a horrible mess in defence.
Thespa only really had 1 tactic. Hit the ball behind our full-backs and know that someone would be running onto it most of the time.
As Abe was upfield the Kusatsu winger crossed across the box, everyone missed it. The ball went back across from the right, was hacked about for a while, and then poked him by an attacker.
It isn’t the first time we have conceded a goal like this which just needed anyone to smash the ball clear, and we very nearly conceded another in exactly the same circumstance after 30 minutes.
We didn’t and went on to win the game, but this 3 week spell needs to be looked back as a period of difficulty which the players got through (and earned 4 points in the 3 ‘bad’ games) and build momentum with some good performances from now.