0 Min: Vegalta Sendai have the opportunity to extend their lead at the top of J.League Division 1 to five points, after Shimizu S-Pulse fell to a 1-0 defeat away to Urawa Red Diamonds. However, while the Miyagi Prefecture outfit have led the table for a prolonged period, they are yet to win a fixture in May, and face a Nagoya Grampus side now able to give their full attention to the domestic campaign on the back of a 3-0 victory over Central Coast Mariners which ensured their progress to the latter stages of the AFC Champions League. Stay with me as I bring you team news from the Yurtec Stadium, on an overcast but relatively mild evening in Sendai.
0 Min: Vegalta Sendai – Hayashi; Sugai, Kamata, Uemoto, Tamura; Tomita, Kakuda, Sekiguchi, Ryang Y-G; Wilson, Akamine
Substitutes – Sakurai; Watanabe, Uchiyama; Matsushita, Ota; Muto, Yanagisawa
0 Min: Nagoya Grampus – Narazaki; Tanaka Hayuma, Tanaka Tulio, Masukawa, Abe; Taguchi. Danilson, Fujimoto; Nagai, Josh Kennedy, Tamada
Substitutes – Takagi; Daniel, Alessandro Santos; Yoshimura, Tanabe; Kanazaki, Tanaka Teruki
0 Min: Vegalta Sendai supporters have launched into a stirring, full-blooded rendition of the club anthem “Take Me Home, Country Roads”. Incredibly impressive.
0 Min: Both sides have taken to the field, the routine handshakes are undertaken, and the captains Ryang Yong-Gi for Vegalta Sendai and Seigo Narazaki for Grampus decide the coin toss, in a match which will be overseen by Masaaki Uemoto.
1 Min: Nagoya Grampus kick-off, and a long pass from midfield runs all the way through to Takuto Hayashi in the Vegalta goal, who clears downfield for a Grampus throw-in.
2 Mins: Kensuke Nagai finds teammate Jungo Fujimoto on the right, and he plays the ball off Jiro Kamata to earn his side a corner, which Fujimoto takes.
3 Mins: Shingo Tomita heads away for another corner at the near post. The second delivery is headed clear of the penalty area, and although Kennedy makes a clean connection with his shot from the edge of the area, it’s blocked and Vegalta clear.
6 Mins: It’s a positive opening from Nagoya Grampus.
10 Mins: Taishi Taguchi heads narrowly wide of Hayashi’s right upright.
15 Mins: Danilson has a set piece from 35 yard, awarded after Taikai Uemoto had been deemed to be holding Josh Kennedy, and Vegalta choose to only place two men in the wall. Danilson’s strike clears the wall easily, and although headed straight at Hayashi, the goalkeeper fumbles, and Makoto Kakuda is required to knock the ball away for a corner to tidy up with Kennedy and Takahiro Masukawa looming.
18 Mins: A terrible miss from Kunimitsu Sekiguchi after excellent play from Shingao Akamine and Ryang Yong-Gi. Akamine’s pass down the left channel released Ryang, and his pass across the six yard area was weighted perfectly for Sekiguchi to tap-in from two yards. Astonishingly, he knocks the ball wide.
20 Mins: Twenty minutes played, it’s Vegalta Sendai 0 Nagoya Grampus 0.
22 Mins: It seems Grampus are going to be forced into making an early change. Danilson, whose knee buckled in a challenge with Shingo Timota, signals to the bench that he can no longer continue. He exits the field on a stretcher, and is replaced by Keiji Yoshimuira.
26 Mins: Josh Kennedy and Keiji Tamada exchange passes, Kennedy bringing the ball down wonderfully from Tamada’s lobbed ball, but the volley is mis-hit and it’s well wide of Hayashi’s right upright.
28 Mins: A player from either side are down on the field, Tulio Tanaka who took a kick to the foot in challenging for an earlier ball with Akamine, while Taikai Uemoto struggles to his feet after an off-the-ball incident with Kennedy.
30 Mins: Nagoya Grampus have five attempts on goal thus far, the home side with just one. Ryang Yong-Gi attempts to even up the count a little as he delivers a set piece from forty yards deep into the penalty area, but Akamine is unable to reach it and the ball is over the touchline for a goal-kick.
32 Mins: Keiji Tamada surges down the left-wing past Naoki Sugai, before turning back and passing to Jungo Fujimoto two yards infield. He finds Shohei Abe, whose vicious cross is superbly headed away by Naoya Tamura.
34 Mins: This is a very dominant performance from Grampus at this stage. The early enforced absence of Danilson has done little to blunt the attacking flair of the forward three, and Keiji Yoshimura is proving a more than capable deputy.
36 Mins: A lovely turn in midfield from Keiji Tamada allows him to pick out Jungo Fujimoto on the left. Fujimoto chooses the wrong option for the pass, however, intending to slip a pass through to Kensuke Nagai when Tamada would have proved the simpler and better option.
37 Mins: The first booking of the match. Tulio Tanaka had given the ball in midfield, and was struggling to get back into position, so chose to clip the ankles of Makoto Kakuda.
38 Mins: GOAL! It’s completely against the run of play, and it’s Vegalta who take the lead. Shingo Akamine clips a pass for Kunimitsu Sekiguchi to run on to, the ball deflecting off Hayuma Tanaka. Tanaka may be caught unawares as he appears to think he has time and space to clear, but the the acceleration of the left-winger allows him to burst clear of the right-back, and although his low cross is blocked out by Seigo Narazaki, Ryang Yong-Gi is on hand to drive low into the goal at the near post. Goalkeeper Narazaki may have been expecting Ryang to cut the ball across goal, and having recovered from his earlier block, might have done better.
40 Mins: More pressure from Grampus, two good deliveries from Jungo Fujimoto on the left into the penalty area but expertly dealt with by an impressive Vegalta defence.
43 Mins: Vegalta retaining possession of the ball in defence, attempting to impose a slower rhythm than they had been allowed to play by a very dynamic, attack-minded Grampus side.
45 Mins: There will be five minutes of added time to play at the end of a very exciting first period.
45 Mins+4: GOAL! Grampus are required to defend two corners in quick succession, and it is the second they are unable to prevent from finding the net. Ryang Yong-Gi whipped the corner to the back post, Makoto Kakuda heading goalwards. In attempting to clear out for a further corner, Takahiro Masukawa only succeeds in putting the ball into his own net over the head of Jungo Fujimoto on the goalline, and Vegalta double their lead after a first-half in which they should really have gone into the interval behind.
45 Mins+4: Vegalta Sendai 2 Nagoya Grampus 0
45 Mins+5: Masaaki Uemoto blows his whistle to bring the first period to a close.
HT: Vegalta Sendai 2 Nagoya Grampus 0 HT: Grampus Manager Dragan Stojković will doubtless be bewildered as to how his side are behind at the break after dominating possession, territory and chances. Whether the second goal, which came on the stroke of half-time, will prove the decisive blow remains to be seen, but Grampus will almost certainly need to be more clinical in front of goal if they are to retain any hope of taking something from this match.
46 Mins: A second change for Grampus, Mu Kanazaki coming on for Taishi Taguchi.
50 Mins: Grampus could be three behind, defensive foibles exemplified by Seigo Narazaki who is unable to hold on to the simplest of crosses, presented to him by Sekiguchi, and Shohei Abe is called upon once more to clear away down the left-hand side.
57 Mins: Makoto Kakuda is shown a yellow card.
58 Mins: Makoto Kakuda attempts to strike from distance, and he forces Seigo Narazaki to go low to his right to make sure of the save. Kunimitsu Sekiguchi, who together with Ryang Yong-Gi has been at the heart of nearly everything Vegalta have created, was the player who provided the pass to find Kakuda in the hole.
60 Mins: Daniel is on as a substitute, and it is Keiji Tamada who makes way.
62 Mins: Tulio Tanaka rises well in the air to meet Jungo Fujimoto’s cross from the left, but it’s well clear of Takuto Hayashi’s crossbar. He looks disappointed, but it wasn’t the easiest of balls to control.
65 Mins: Vegalta have now fully imposed themselves on this encounter. Set up to counter-attack against what now seems an unbalanced away side, they are very comfortable in resisting Grampus attacks.
65 Mins: Wilson and Akamine link on the left-hand side, and gain a corner after Akamine plays the ball off Naoki Sugai.
68 Mins: Ryang’s initial cross is put behind for a further corner, to the consternation of his own defenders, by Daniel. Ryang strolls over to the opposite side of the field to take, which first Tulio and then Kanazaki clear.
72 Mins: Taikai Uemoto is in some considerable pain as he takes a knock to his knee during a challenge with Keiji Yoshimura, and he is immediately replaced by Kodai Watanabe.
76 Mins: The pace of the match has dropped somewhat, as Grampus try to find a way through a more compact Vegalta midfield. A cross is sent over from the left by Jungo Fujimoto, but it’s easily claimed by Takuto Hayashi.
77 Mins: Seigo Narazaki makes a good stop, diving to his right as Akamine unleashed a powerful drive from outside the penalty area.
79 Mins: Toshihiro Matsushita is on the field, in place of Shingo Akamine.
82 Mins: Mu Kanazaki undoes all his good work on the right-wing with a single touch. Dispossessing Naoya Tamura, he fired a quick pass to Fujimoto, who played the ball back into his path. He has the opportunity to play the ball square across goal, but he skews his cross and it is straight into the hands of Hayashi.
84 Mins: Yoshiaki Ota replaces Ryang Yong-Gi, who has been excellent today.
85 Mins: A deep cross from the right touchline, is headed back across by Daniel, which is easily taken away from the box by Naoya Tamura at pace. It seems he is going to go all the way, his run taking him to the edge of the penalty area, but he is just crowded out as he looks to get a shot away. A wonderful run from the defender.
86 Mins: GOAL! Immediately after Tulio Tanaka has a shot superbly cleared off the line by Jiro Kamata, Vegalta break. Yoshiaki Ota, collecting the ball on the right just inside the Grampus half, skips inside Daniel and finds a defence-splitting pass which allows Wilson to run unimpeded into the area. He calmly slots the ball to the right of the out-rushing Seiko Narazaki from 14 yards. This match is over, seconds after Tulio Tanaka must have through he had given his side a lifeline.
86 Mins: Vegalta Sendai 3 Nagoya Grampus 0
90 Mins: GOAL! Vegalta have a corner, and it’s curled right footed into the penalty area. Takahiro Masukawa is not in the best position to challenge Makoto Kakuda for the ball, and the Vegalta midfielder is able to direct his header on target. Narzaki makes a fine save, but Naoki Sugai is the first to react to the rebound and he knocks home to add a fourth for the home side.
90 Mins: Vegalta Sendai 4 Nagoya Grampus 0
90 Mins+3 With five minutes of added time to play, the crowd are in full voice after a second half in which Vegalta were well worth all four goals.
90 Mins+5: Masaaki Uemoto looks at his watch and brings the match to a close, having booked Takahiro Masukawa.
FT: Vegalta Sendai 4 Nagoya Grampus 0
FT: Dragan Stojković was forced into taking a risk by adding an extra forward to his side and destabilising his midfield in seeking a toehold in the game, and Vegalta were ruthless in exploiting the space in midfield and quickly breaking from defence. Vegalta’s third goal in particular serves as a tactician’s textbook example of how to counter-attack. Despite a first-half in which Grampus were dominant, Vegalta were well worth the four goals by the close of play, exposing gaps in midfield time and again as the away side looked for a way back into this match. Vegalta now go five points clear at the top of the table, and have their first win in May after a small stumble earlier in the month.
FT: Thank you for joining me. A match report will follow on 20 May.