Niigata and FC Tokyo came into their 16th round J-League clash with just three points separating them. At 22 and 19 respectively both are still in with a shout of the ACL places, but both could be dragged into the relegation battle.
Early in the piece FC Tokyo had the home crowd concerned with some cleverly constructed attack on the perimeter of the box. But as is oft the case with pretty play there was no end product. Shortly after, the Niigatians did have cause for concern, when Michael James’s failed clearance lead to a cross being whipped in. FC Tokyo’s 22 year old midfielder Yoshinori Muto obliged with a tap in, in the 17th minute.
The remainder of the first half saw an increasingly impatient Niigata resorting to long range shots, with midfielder Leo Silva trying his luck a number of times. Despite the reckless shooting Silva is a genuine star for the northerners. Along with his attacking play comes a work ethic not often associated with Brazilian imports.
The second half started like the first ended, with Niigata in the FC Tokyo defensive third, launching regular raids and coming up empty handed. Right-back Matsubara’s overlapping runs were a highlight, but his crosses were unable to break a staggered eight man defence.
The story would remain the same for the rest of the match. The most realistic chances falling to Okamoto and Yamamoto. The former weaving his way through a mini battalion, only for his shot to be a mere stab, which the keeper happily swallowed up.
For their part FC Tokyo offered very little by way of attack, but they didn’t need to. They picked up the prized ‘go ahead goal’ early, and as the away team, they were unconcerned with entertainment value. Ironically it would be them who had the best chance to score in the second half, when Edu found himself staring down a stranded goalkeeper. The advancing Niigata forces had been dispossessed and Edu skilfully slalomed past the keeper, only for his goal bound shot to be redirected by a desperate Matsubara – sliding in, in a nick of time.
But for all Niigata’s labour the 1-0 scoreline which arrived in the 17th minute would remain, allowing FC Tokyo to level with them on the J-League table. The ‘gas-men’ on the way up, while Niigata continue to slide. Though Hideya Okamoto did provide some hope for the home team last night, the locals will be yearning for the return of forward Kengo Kawamata. And more specifically, Kawamata in his ruthless 2013 guise.