(Extended highlights of Albirex Niigata versus FC Tokyo at the Tohoku Denryoku Big Swan Stadium. The Gas won the Matchday Ten contest 2-0, which condemned Albi to their sixth J.League Division One defeat in only ten matches)
FC Tokyo struck twice in the second half to send struggling Albirex Niigata to a defeat which leaves them lingering in Division One’s bottom three, and Albi were a shadow of the side which was so unfortunate to take any points off Vegalta Sendai and surprised Sanfrecce at the Hiroshima Big Arch in their most recent J.League fixtures. Manager Hisashi Kurosaki was left to ponder two particularly pressing issues from this match, the first being that while his team’s defensive record is only bettered by four other teams, all of whom sit in the top five in the division, they have only managed to find the net an average of just once in every two games. They never looked like adding to that tally despite forward Bruno Lopes returning to the starting line-up having serving a one-match ban, attempting a paltry three shots in total. Equally as troubling is that FC Tokyo weren’t required to raise the level of their performance beyond merely competent to leave with the victory, and Kurosaki, the former Albirex player, will need to find a way of addressing these problems quickly if they are to avoid the prospect of a relegation battle later in the year.
The visitors were in control from the opening moments of the game, Tatsuya Yazawa and Yohei Kajiyama both shooting a yard wide of Masaaki Higashiguchi’s right upright in the very early stages, and ten minutes had passed when Yazawa stung the Albi goalkeeper’s palms with a drive from outside the penalty area.
The attacking midfield trio of Yazawa, Kajiyama and Kanyu, supporting the lone forward Lucas, were finding space between the banks of four deployed by Kurosaki, but it was Albirex who nearly took the lead against the run of play midway through the first period. Atomu Tanaka delivered a pass to Bruno Lopes, whose leggy run took him inside the FC Tokyo 18-yard box before being tackled by Yuhei Tokunaga. Tanaka recovered possession, and attempting to drive past Kenta Mukuhara, he cracked a left-footed shot which deflected off the central defender’s foot, sadly for the 24-year old midfielder finding the wrong side of the right-hand post.
The remainder of the opening 45 minutes was readily forgettable, as Albirex brought their defensive and midfield lines closer together, strangling the Gas’s attacking outlets and isolating Lucas in particular. Thee Brazilian forward cut a frustrating figure at times and let himself down with a number of poor touches and awry distribution when trying to hold up play. The highlight of an otherwise drab period came three minutes before the interval, and it was Albirex who came close to breaking the deadlock. A rare error from the otherwise excellent Yuhei Tokunaga in failing to connect cleanly with a clearance allowed Jun Uchida to fire a low cross along the six-yard area, but Atomu Tanaka couldn’t adjust his feet in time to turn the ball home.
Three minutes after the restart, FC Tokyo gave warning of their attacking intentions, and it was one which the hosts failed to heed. With the typically metronomic Aria Hasegawa taking a position slightly higher up the field, Lucas, Hanyu and the Iranian-Japanese midfielder were all involved in the move which led to Lucas crossing, the ball slightly too high for Yazawa to head goalwards.
The guests were in front shortly after. Hasegawa won a challenge superbly midway inside Albirex territory, Kenta Mukuhara advancing with the loose ball and exchanging passes with Lucas before flighting a cross to Yohei Kajiyama. Kajiyama swivelled and volleyed first-time into the bottom left corner, and the goal set his team on the way to their fourth win in five on their travels.
With the Gas dominating possession and territory, Kajiyama found the woodwork on 58 minutes, and the second goal arrived with 19 minutes of normal time remaining, owing much to a succession of errors by the Albirex defence. First, substitute Kisho Yano appeared to handle the ball within the home side’s 18-yard box, but while referee Nobutsugu Murakami waved away Lucas’s appeals for a penalty, Yusuke Murakami’s attempted clearance cannoned off Daisuke Suzuki’s ankles, and presented Tatsuya Yazawa with the opportunity to roll the ball to Higashiguchi’s right for his first goal of the season.
There were no further changes to the scoreline, continuing FC Tokyo’s successful start to the 2012 campaign. They now sit in eighth place in the league with one game less played than any team above them, and a victory would enable the Gas to leapfrog several sides into the top four. Manager Ranko Popović now turns his attention to Saturday’s trip to the Sapporo Dome, where they face a Consadole team very low on confidence and points and holding the second worst defensive record in J1, and he will be confident of obtaining a further positive result.
|Albirex Niigata||FC Tokyo|