S-Pulse 0-2 Niigata
DF Hiraoka (yellow 45)
MF Honda (yellow 22)
FW Fujimoto (yellow 90)
Takaki on for Hiroi (HT)
Nagai on for Ito (70)
M. Yamamoto on for Tsujio (70)
Crap, I'm meant to write something here, aren't I? OK, where to start? Excuses? OK then. We were without top two keepers Nishibe and Kaito, defenders Ota, Iwashita and Bosnar, and midfielder Ono. So yeah, nearly half the team being out is going make any game an uphill struggle. Still, regardless of that, we were the better team in the second half. It was the first 45 where we blew it. A header at the near post from a corner, and an inability to curtail a run deep into our penalty area gave Niigata the chances they needed.
I was briefly wondering if starting the second half 2-0 down was some kind of grand plan. You know the type of thing - give ourselves a challenge and that. On Wednesday it gave us a chance to enjoy a truly memorable come back, and for the first ten minutes of the second half against Niigata it looked like the same thing was about to play out. We were charging up the field with purpose and within moments of the restart only a stunning save from point-blank denied Jungo.
The chances continued to come. Ten shots in the second 45 compared to one in the first, and 8 corners compared to two tell a lot of the story, but when it's not going to go in, it's not going to go in.
As time wore on, Niigata, who came out nervy and hesitant, grew in confidence and started looking dangerous on the counter attack. As time wore on Niigata also started the inevitable play acting and time wasting to help run the clock down. A mock substitution where the man to be replaced saunters at a snail's pace to the touchline only to turn around and rejoin play? That was 90 seconds run down right there. An Albirex player falling down and laying flat out for a good ten seconds before suddenly rolling over in supposed agony? Then waiting five seconds before rolling over the other way? Yep, all the possible gamesmanship tricks and time wasting ploys were out in force. It was embarrassing to watch, but I guess it just underlined the desperation of the visitors.
But all that aside, we just couldn't put the ball in the net. If Okazaki had not had his best chance stopped by an excellent one handed save I don't doubt we'd have been sufficiently motivated to mount a serious assault for the equaliser, but the breakthrough never came, time got shorter and we gradually ran out of steam.
Well, our first league defeat since November 29th last year is always going to be a major downer, but the facts remain we're the least defeated team in J1, we're top and we've got the best goal difference. Not at all bad for nearly a third of the way through the season. Saturday away at the Ajinomoto stadium with most of our regular starters back will be a different ball game entirely, and avoiding defeat will ensure top spot until the middle of July thanks to the World Cup break.
I wasn't going to bother with FC Tokyo this year (two visits, two defeats - I don't especially like the Ajisuta), but when there's so much at stake with every game at the moment, how could I possible stay away? See you in the capital on Saturday!
BARRY WRITES... I really should have thought of doing this as soon as highlights became available officially on YouTube a while back. Be...