Sanfrecce triumph to move three points clear
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 3-1 Omiya Ardija
Sanfrecce frontman Naoki Ishihara returned to haunt his former club with a hat trick in an open and entertaining encounter between the best two defences in J1. The visitors have now lost three games on the spin, having been at the top of the table for much of the season and are only one point ahead of Yokohama F Marinos, who are third. In truth, the margin of victory flattered the hosts who were pinned back for lengthy spells, having started brightly. Mikic and Yamagishi were particularly lively, finding space early on in the wide areas and it was the latter who crossed for Ishihara to head the opener after only two minutes.
Omiya, playing in change strips so tight one suspects they have to be surgically removed post match, took a hold of proceedings thereafter, with Korean forward Cho making regular incisions in the home side’s backline. Hasegawa rattled the crossbar with a thumping header from a Ueda cross midway through the first period before Hiroshima duly responded, Mizumoto forcing Kitano to beat away his close range effort. Moments later it was Nishikawa at the other end who was alert to parry a fierce volley from Squirrels captain Kosuke Kikuchi.
Despite the visitors greater possession, Sanfrecce’s attacking triumvirate of Sato, Ishihara and Takahagi remained potent on the break, displaying an almost telepathic understanding at times. Ultimately, theses combinations would win them the game.
The second half followed the same pattern as the first as Omiya dictated the flow of the match but the reigning champions were disciplined and obdurate, refusing to be forced out of position. It took a moment of individual skill from Watanabe to unlock Sanfrecce, as he cut in from the right with fifteen minutes remaining and curled a sublime effort, low into the corner of the net to restore parity.
In their efforts to retrieve possession and press for a winner, Verdeniks men began to give away a number of fouls and the concession of one such free kick contributed to their eventual downfall. Takahagi’s set piece from a central area was well delivered and when Ishihara out jumped the flailing Kitano, the ball hit the net via his shoulder for 2-1.
For the second game in succession Omiya Ardija were reduced to ten men when Kanazawa was ordered off in the closing stages for a tackle on Aoyama, which most observers would agree merited no more than a caution. To the squirrels credit and perhaps testament to their conditioning, they continued to surge forward in search of the point their performance deserved but, inevitably they were undone on the counter, Takahagi squaring from a wide position for Ishihara to complete the hatchet job on his former employers.
One bright note for Omiya was the return of Slovenian frontman Zlatan Ljubijankic after a lengthy injury lay off, though he failed to make any meaningful impact on proceedings after his introduction as a sub early in the second half. Sanfrecce’s excellent run of form continues and they will arrive in Saitama full of confidence at the weekend for another top of the table clash with Urawa Reds.
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