An own goal and a strike apiece from Yohei Toyoda and Kei Ikeda gave Sagan Tosu what appears at first glance a surprising win, but after a contest in which Sagan were superior across every department, the only unexpected outcome is that Sagan’s margin of victory was not much greater. Manager Jung-Hwan Yoon, the former South Korean international who in his playing days was renowned as a gifted creative midfielder, and who guided his young side to promotion in his initial season as manager, will have been delighted with the attacking verve on display from Min-Woo Kim, Kota Mizunuma and Yohei Toyoda, but equally impressive was the resolute defensive performance in which Sung-Hye Yeo and Ryuhei Niwa were outstanding.
Sagan attacked Vissel Kobe from the opening minutes, and rarely was there any respite for the visitors. Barely two minutes into the match and they had their first sight of goal, Kei Ikeda controlling a long ball perfectly on his chest, before swivelling and volleying narrowly over the bar from 25 yards. 60 seconds later Min-Woo Kim, who would begin the match on the left-wing but later switch to left-back following an injury to Keita Isozaki, showed a clean pair of heels to Gakuto Kondo, who brought down the tricky midfielder and received an early yellow card. Despite his subsequent move to defence, the Under-23 South Korea international was relentless in his support for Sagan’s attacks, and his overlapping runs were likely a factor when Sagan eventually opening the scoring. First, however, Kim and Sagan were guilty of profligacy. After seven minutes, and with a clear goalscoring opportunity beckoning, Yohei Toyoda unselfishly chipped a cross across the penalty area from six yards to an unmarked Kim, who could only direct his header back across goal against the left-hand post, and Toyoda’s effort on the rebound deflected wide for a corner.
Vissel tried to get a foothold in the game, but any attempts to make a mark were dealt with by a well-organised Sagan defence, with their wingers working extremely hard to close down any attempts to use the flanks, and as a consequence any efforts on goal were largely opportunistic. After 10 minutes Hideo Hashimoto drilled a well-struck shot low from 22 yards after teammate Yoshito Okubo had been crowded out, but the ball flew beyond goalkeeper Taku Akahoshi’s right hand and post.
With a quarter of an hour played, Kota Mizunuma spurned a glorious opportunity to put the home side in front at the Best Amenity Stadium. Yohei Toyoda dispossessed Takahito Soma on the Vissel left, and sending his cross low into the penalty area, Mizunuma failed to connect properly. Shortly after, with Isozaki unable to recover from challenging at a corner and forcing a substitution on Yoon, the change of player may have resulted in a change to the outcome of the match. Ryunosuke Noda took the field midway through the first period, and five minutes later Sagan were in front, although they can count themselves fortunate with the manner in which the goal was scored. Noda’s very first touch of the tie was to slide with his left foot to reach a cross, and what appeared an attempted shot, which would have diverted harmlessly across the penalty area, evaded Kazumichi Takagi and deflected via the head of an unsighted Masahiko Inoha into the net.
Inoha would be an unwilling participant in Sagan’s second goal, which came two minutes before the end of the first period. Breaking quickly down the right-hand channel, Kota Mizunuma was found in plenty of space. He delivered a perfect low cross for Yohei Toyda, who swept the ball high into the roof of the Vissel net off the unfortunate Inoha, leaving goalkeeper Kenta Tokushige stranded.
Clearly stinging from a rebuke from manager Masahiro Wada, Vissel appeared for the second-half before the cheerleaders had left the pitch. However, whatever was said had little overall effect. Straight from the restart Sagan launched an attack, a lofted ball from Kei Ikeda over the centre-back pairing of Inoha and Takagi, who looked vulnerable all game, found Kota Mizunuma, who could have done better than to win a corner-kick. Moments later Vissel provided one of the very few moments in which Taku Akahoshi was called into action in the Sagan goal. Yoshito Okubo received a lay off in a central position three yards outside the penalty area, but his high shot swerved towards Akahoshi, whose strong palm sent the ball over the crossbar for a corner.
Sagan then provided a moment of brilliance which, had it been finished, would have been an early contender for goal of the season. An exhilarating counter-attack from the left-hand side of the penalty area in which no fewer than six players were involved, and with Ryonosuke Noda and Min-Woo Kim exchanging delightful intricate passes, Kim pulled the ball back across the penalty area to Kei Ikeda. The forward had the goal at his mercy, but couldn’t gather his feet and his left-footed shot from six yards spun harmlessly away.
55 minutes had elapsed when it was Ryunosuke Noda’s turn to waste a chance to seal the result. Running on to a delicately lobbed throughball, and bearing down on goal, Noda could only fire his shot at Tokushige, when placing the ball either side of the goalkeeper would have secured a certain third for Sagan. As it was, Sagan’s failings in front of goal raised the possibility of Vissel mounting a comeback. Fortunately for Sagan, with twenty minutes left on the clock Yoshito Okubo failed to capitalise from 18 yards when he received the ball unmarked from a Hideo Tanaka cross, blazing over the bar. Any further opportunities were merely half-chances for the Hyogo club, and it was left to Kei Ikeda to tap in five minutes into stoppage time to complete the scoring. Taking a quick free-kick and leaving the Vissel defence with no time to recover, replacement Shohei Ikada placed a cross into his path, and this time Ikeda made no mistake. The result lifts Sagan Tosu into fifth place in the table, and a continuation of this kind of form will see Jung-Hwan Yoon and his team well-clear of the relegation spaces come the end of the season.
|Sagan Tosu||Vissel Kobe|
|Masahiko Inoha (OG)||28|
|Yohei Toyoda||67||Gakuto Kondo||3|
|Sung-Hye Yeo||87||Kazumichi Takagi||64|