0 Min: Welcome to today’s live-blog, featuring a match which pits Albirex Niigata versus FC Tokyo at the Tohoku Denryoku Big Swan Stadium. Albirex surprised potential championship contenders Sanfrecce at the Hiroshima Big Arch on Matchday Nine with a 1-0 win and were desperately unfortunate to lose at the Yurtec Stadium against league leaders Vegalta Sendai a few days previously, and they will be aiming for a further positive showing to lift them out of a three-way tie for fifteenth place as the table currently stands.
The Gas, meanwhile, were in AFC Champions League action in mid-week and ensured their progress into the Round of 16 with a 4-2 victory at the National Olympic Stadium over Brisbane Roar. Three points today would lift Ranko Popović’s side into the top half of the table, three points off the top four with a game in a hand.
I’ll have team news for you very shortly.
0 Min: Albirex Niigata – Higashiguchi; Uchida, Suzuki, Ishikawa, Kim; Kikuchi, Homma, Mikado, Tanaka; Lopes, Michael
Substitutes – Ozawa; Oi, Murakami; Kogure, Fujita; Yano, Hirai
0 Min: Gonda; Mukuhara, Tokunaga, Morishige, Ota; Takahashi, Hasegawa, Hanyu, Kajiyama, Yazawa; Lucas
Substitutes – Shiota; Jang; Yonemoto, Kawano, Ishikawa; Watanabe, Shigematsu
0 Min: Albi boss Hisashi Kurosaki makes two changes to the side which provided the excellent three points in Hiroshima, as Bruno Lopes returns to the attack having completed a one-match suspension, Kisho Yano dropping to the bench, while Yuta Mikado comes in for Kenji Koyano in midfield.
The FC Tokyo line-up also sees a couple of changes from that used to achieve Knock-out Round status in the AFC Champions League, Lucas restored to his role as primary striker in place of Kazuma Watanabe, while Kosuke Ota is in defence, taking over from Jang Hyun-Soo.
0 Min: With kick-off scheduled for 11:04 BST/19:04 JST, we’re about twelve minutes from getting underway. The officials today are referee Shinji Murakami, assisted on the sidelines by Toshiyuki Tanaka and Mitsuharu Takeda.
0 Min: After a day in which severe weather has adversely affected a number of matches across the country, I’m very happy to say that it’s a cloudy and dry evening in Niigata, and with the thermometer reaching 14 degrees Celcius, these are perfectly pleasant playing conditions.
0 Min: The pre-match photographs are complete, which featured Albi forward Michael’s daughter, and it’s now two minutes until this game commences.
0 Min: Referee Murakami signals to get the match going, and Michael and Atomu Tanaka play the ball backwards.
2 Mins: A lovely low cross from Kosuke Ota is knocked back by Naotake Hanyu inside the Albi penalty area, and Tatsuya Yazawa goes close with a left footed drive which is a yard wide of Masaaki Higashiguchi’s right upright.
3 Mins: It’s a bright, confident start from FC Tokyo, and Yohei Kajiyama puts an effort from 20 yards into the same area Yazawa did. Positive beginnings for the Gas.
5 Mins: Jun Uchida has a throw which eventually wends its way to Bruno Lopes, and he beats an FC Tokyo defender before laying the ball off to Atomu Tanaka in the penalty area. Tanaka’s attempt to return the ball to Lopes by a back heel is weak, however, and Gonda is able to gather.
10 Mins: A good diving stop to his right from Higashiguchi sends a Tatsuya Yazawa effort palmed wide for a corner, after Yohei Kajiyama had seen his intended shot blocked very bravely by Kim Jin-Yu, who took a heavy knock in the process. The defender leaves the field for treatment.
13 Mins: The corner is well cleared by Albirex. Fumiya Kogure is warming up should Kim be unable to continue. The home side currently down to ten men.
15 Mins: Aria Hasegawa and Kenta Mukuhara link well on the right-wing, but they are crowded out by several Albirex shirts. Kim is up and running, albeit uncomfortably, having returned to the field of play.
18 Mins: Hanyu, Yazawa and Kajiyama are finding space between Niigata’s two lines of four, but the distribution has been lacking in finding the forward three midfielders.
21 Mins: A spell of possession draws applause from Ranko Popović, Aria Hasegawa’s long drifting pass finding Yazawa in space in the penalty area, but he’s deemed to be in an offside position.
23 Mins: POST! Atomu Tanaka delivers a pass to Bruno Lopes, who takes a mazy run into the penalty area where he is tackled by Yuhei Tokunaga. Tanaka recovers the ball and nearly drives past Kenta Mukuhara, and he cracks a shot against the outside of the post, deflected off the centre-back’s foot for a corner. Gonda probably had that covered.
25 Mins: Tanaka’s corner bounces around in the 18-yard box, and it’s then cleared by the Gas.
28 Mins: Keisuke Ota and Kajiyama exchange passes, then the most central of the advanced three midfielders stretches play to the right as Yuhei Tokunaga joins the attack. Tokunaga’s cross is poor, however, and a good attacking opportunity is lost.
31 Mins: Yuhei Tokunaga lets fly from 35 yards, and the effort is as good as you would expect from a centre-back, which is to say, not very.
32 Mins: Michael, on the edge of the Gas penalty box, and despite the attention of three FC Tokyo players, manages to unleash a swerving shot which fortunately for Gonda is straight into his chest.
33 Mins: An excellent, patient move which began close to their own touchline sees Albirex advance in to the FC Tokyo penalty area, Michael and Atomu Tanaka heavily involved, with the former using his acceleration and quick feet to beat a number of Gas players. Bruno Lopes’s final pass is just a touch too strong, and Gonda collects.
36 Mins: Atomu Tanaka has a corner on the right, but referee Murakami seems an infringement in the area, Bruno Lopes alleged to have pushed Yuhei Tokunaga to the ground.
38 Mins: Lucas is particularly isolated in attack, and he hasn’t helped himself with a number of poor touches and bad distribution to teammates. Kosuke Ota is finding plenty of space on the left on the overlap, but his delivery of crosses needs to improve if he is to give Lucas any chance of heading on goal.
40 Mins: Five minutes until the end of the first period, it’s Albirex Niigata 0 FC Tokyo 0.
42 Mins: A poor clearance from Yuhei Tokunaga puts his defence in trouble as the ball is picked up on the edge of the area. Jun Uchida drives a low cross along the six yard area, but Atomu Tanaka can’t adjust his feet in time to turn the ball home.
43 Mins: A succession of throw-ins inside FC Tokyo’s half for Albi, two of which have been taken long by Kim. The third is glanced backwards unintentionally by Hasegawa, but it lands at Gonda’s feet.
45 Mins: Into stoppage time at the end of the first period, of which there will be two minutes.
45 Mins+2: And those two minutes ends without incident as Murakami brings the first period to a close.
HT: Albirex Niigata 0 FC Tokyo 0
HT: A half with no clear chances, then, the closest either side coming to opening the scoring was Uchida’s cross along the six-yard area, Atomu Tanaka unable to react in time. Albirex hit the post, but with a shot that Gonda would likely have saved, and the best the Gas have had to show for their exertions was Yuzawa’s shot which Higashiguchi was equal to. While the side from the capital had met with some success in finding space between the banks of four in the first twenty minutes, Albirex noticeably closed the space between the defence and midfield, stifling their creative outlets.
46 Mins: The match recommences at the Tohoku Denryoku Big Swan Stadium, and Kim has a long throw-in for Albirex which Tokunaga side-foots down field.
47 Mins: Kenta Mukuhara handles four yards outside his own area to the edge of the penalty area and gives away a free-kick which Atomu Tanaka bends into the box, but Lucas heads strongly away from danger.
48 Mins: Lucas, Hasegawa and Hanyu are all involved in a move which comes close to finding a goal for the away side. Hanyu eventually laid the ball off to Lucas on the right wing, and he sent a powerful cross along the six yard area which was just too high for Yazawa.
50 Mins: Yuta Mikado wins a corner from Kosuke Ota, but it’s a poor corner from Atomu Tanaka, much to close to Suichi Gonda and the goalkeeper catches.
51 Mins: GOAL! Kenta Mukuhara exchanges passes with Lucas on the right of the Albirex penalty area after a good challenge from Aria Hasegawa had won possession for the Gas midway inside Albirex territory, and Mukuhara’s cross is met perfectly by captain Yohei Kajiyama, who volleys first-time into the bottom left corner.
51 Mins: Albirex Niigata 0 FC Tokyo 1
54 Mins: Much better from Tanaka at a corner, his ball headed on by Mikado and forcing Gonda to make a save. Yuhei Tokunaga completes the clearance.
57 Mins: Another Kim long throw-in which is cleared to the edge of the penalty area by Tokunaga. Uchida lobbing the ball into the penalty area, but it’s too high for Naoya Kikuchi to direct back across goal, and he heads well wide.
58 Mins: POST! Kajiyama is a touch fortuitous to see his dribble in the penalty area be deflected into his path by Kim Jin-Su, but his excellent effort is diverted on to the post and away for a corner to FC Tokyo.
59 Mins: Albirex making two changes, Jun Uchida and Atomu Tanaka being replaced by Kosuke Murakami and Kisho Yano.
60 Mins: Two successive corner-kicks come to naught for the Gas, the second of which is caught and launched downfield by Higashiguchi.
62 Mins: Naoki Ishikawa is on the field for the last eighteen minutes, as Naotake Hanyu makes way.
64 Mins: Shuichi Gonda is fortunate to see his attempted clearance deflect off defender Yuhei Tokunaga and behind for a corner, when it could have bounced anywhere with Bruno Lopes lurking. While Gonda makes poor contact with his attempted punch clear, FC Tokyo launch an immediate counter-attack, Naohiro Ishikawa driving forward from halfway, but an excellent challenge from Yita Mikado brings his run to an end on the edge of the penalty area.
67 Mins: Mid-way through the second-half, and it’s Albirex Niigata 0 FC Tokyo 1.
69 Mins: Lucas nearly carves out some space for himself in the Albirex penalty area, but Hideto Takahashi stabs the ball out for an FC Tokyo throw-in.
70 Mins: GOAL! A comedy of errors in the Albirex defence. The throw-in first appears to be handled by Kisho Yano, but referee Murakami ignores Lucas’s protests. The ball then drops to Yusuke Murakami, who tries to clear but only strikes the ankles of Daisuke Suzuki, and it deflects very kindly into the path of Tatsuya Yazawa, who tucks the ball away into the bottom left corner from six yards.
70 Mins: Albirex Niigata 0 FC Tokyo 2
75 Mins: Michael will play no further part in this contest, Shoki Hirai on in his place.
76 Mins: Although they have created very little in attack, the ball is not dropping for Albirex today. A cross from Murakami is missed by Masato Morishige, but fellow substitute Hirai is slightly ahead of where the ball lands, and Gonda dives to collect inside the six yard area.
77 Mins: The Gas making a further change. Lucas, who has been much improved in this second period, leaves the field to be replaced by Kazuma Watanabe.
79 Mins: Albirex keeping possession, but it’s limited to their own half, and a long pass to Kim on the wing can’t be kept infield.
80 Mins: Kisho Yano does very well to pull a ball back across the Gas penalty area, but with Shoki Hirai waiting to head home, Kenta Mukuhara clears with an excellent defensive header.
80 Mins: Ten minutes remaining, it’s Albirex Niigata 0 FC Tokyo 2.
82 Mins: Jim Jin-Su is the first Albirex player to be booked in this match, sliding in late on Mukuhara.
85 Mins: Frustration for the home side, as FC Tokyo maintain possession, and Daisuke Suzuki bundles over Kosuke Ota to give the Gas a free-kick on the left touchline.
86 Mins:Yazawa takes, and it’s pulled back into the path of Hasegawa by Ishikawa loitering in the penalty area. Hasegawa sees his volley fly into the side netting.
88 Mins: Yohei Kajiyama is brought down 25 yards from goal, which Ishikawa will take.
88 Mins: Kajiyama floats the ball into the penalty area, and had Watanabe made any connection with his attempted diving header, the Gas would be three in front. Instead, the ball deflects off Naoki Ishikawa for a corner, which is easily cleared.
90 Mins: Final substitution for FC Tokyo, and Takuji Yonemoto will see out stoppage time in replacing captain Yohei Kajiyama. Five minutes will be added on.
90 Mins+5: A really rough challenge from Kim Jin-Su on Tatsuya Yazawa is ignored by the officials, and a final attack for Albirex sees a cross from Shoki Hirai not find any of his targets, and that’s the last action of the match as Murakami brings play to a close.
FT: Albirex Niigata 0 FC Tokyo 2
FT: A competent performance from the visitors was sufficient for FC Tokyo to take all three points, an opening goal of collective excellence followed by one which Albirex Niigata would rather forget. FC Tokyo will also be happy with the way in which they blunted the attacking force of Bruno Lopes and Michael, and limiting the lively but inprecise Atomu Tanaka to delivey of few set pieces.
FT: Thank you for joining me. A match report will appear on Football Japan no later than Monday 7 May.