Avispa 2 : 0 Tochigi
Avispa went into their first home game for 3 weeks knowing that a win here would mean they had won all their games for the month of June, and would leap-frog their opponents and likely end the day in the play-off positions.
There have been times watching Avispa when the team have appeared very fragile emotionally, but here today they looked relaxed and confident; like a team who believed they were going to win the match.
I think this confidence has been helped by keeping a consistency to the team line-up and personnel with the team playing almost the same 352 formation since the game we should have won against Sapporo. It was the same here, with the only change being Jogo at right-back (where he had finished against Mito).
The first 10 minutes of the game were a little shaky, with Tochigi able to hold the ball and move it forward to attack, but their attack wasn’t really very high quality with Jumbo doing what Jumbo generally does and Hirose coming from a little deeper and wasting opportunities which came his way.
Rather than panic and lose the game-plan Avispa weathered the storm, with our central defensive 3 throwing themselves at attacks, and Kamiyama being well-placed to make blocks behind them.
The key to our recent run of form has been defensive solidity; we have only conceded 1 goal in June while scoring 10.
The attackers we have at the club mean that we are always going to score goals if it is kept tight at the back (Only Shonan, Jubilo and Matsumoto have scored more than us), and with the team playing with confidence it wasn’t long before chances started to fall our way.
I am always very happy to see Jogo at right-back. I think he is good defensively (something you might not expect), has height, and is still able to offer an attacking threat if he knows he is able to get forward.
He loves scoring goals, but if he gets to know the position he will see that it can actually allow him to drift into the box unmarked by coming from deeper.
He did so after about 15 minutes here and probably should have done a bit better with a shot across goal which looked a little bit like a shot for the far corner and a little bit like a cross. He had more time than he realised, and may have even been able to take a touch.
It didn’t matter in the end as he did score from a similar route 5 minutes later. Again a cross from the left, this time from Abe was sent into the box. There have been times when the crossing from the full-backs has been poor, but Abe has put some good crosses in in the last couple of games. This one bounced along the 6 yard box and evaded everyone until it reached a totally unmarked Jogo at the back post who scored easily from about 2m out.
Avispa doubled their lead 5 minutes later from our new offensive weapon, a corner. Having gone about 4 years with no threat from corners (since Nakamachi left the club) we are now a real danger at corners.
It is obvious the team has been working hard on them, but it is also so simple. I used to write that our corners were so poor, with Suzuki Jun sending every corner to Koga at the back post where he would fail to head the ball. Now we are whipping crosses to the near post with Sakai and Park attacking the ball while Lee and Tsutsumi occupy defenders in the middle.
As has happened quite a few times it was Sakai who met the ball, with the ball coming off the back of his head and into the goal to double the score.
At the other end Tochigi were also winning corners, but they were doing what we used to do. Sending corners deep, where they were able to be dealt with quite easily.
Tochigi continued to try and get a goal back but Kamiyama was having one of his days where he is able to use his size to get something behind the ball.
He did also make one excellent diving save where a well hit shot was going inside his near post but he was able to get a strong hand to it and turn it round the post.
He is proving that he is a good shot-stopping keeper at this level. There have been a lot of keepers at the club who are at a similar sort of level to him (Rokutan, Kawata, Kasegawa, Mizutani and now Shimizu) but they have all left with Kamiyama staying as keeper. He has some clear faults, but I think the club needs to stop bringing similar level keepers as competition for him, and either have faith in him as our keeper (and save money on someone similar), or get someone who is clearly of a much higher standard (which will cost a lot of money, and/or come from overseas).
Avispa also made chances and Kanemori was eager to score to make it 4 goals in 4 games. He came very close with a placed shot which rebounded off the inside of the post, but was substituted for Hirai after 60 minutes without getting his goal.
As the game went on Avispa tucked their full-backs in a little and brought Sakata on coming back from injury to try and hold the ball up a bit in attack and protect their clean sheet.
Ishizu was doing ok on his return to the starting line-up, but he does still appear to me to have favorites on the pitch and can sometimes try to pick out more difficult passes or run with the ball himself when there are better options available.
When it works it is great, but when it doesn’t then his decision making looks like it might stop him from becoming a really good player.
My only other observation of the day was that I nearly stopped watching when I found out that we were going to have Noda (野田 祐樹) as referee, I’ve never watched a game with him that he hasn’t spoiled, but today he didn’t ruin the game.
He got things wrong; mostly good tackles in midfield which he called as fouls, but for the first time didn’t seem to actively change the result of a game.