With the 2013 season now passing into memory, the ten weeks until 2014 kicks off stretch out ahead of us barren and desolate. That being the case, we'll tick off the days by looking back, looking forward and keeping an eye on incomings and outgoings. In that respect, already covered on Twitter is the impending arrival from Utrecht of Toshiyuki Takagi's younger brother Yoshiaki. Should be an interesting development having two brothers in the squad. Going the other way, former youth team member Makoto Shibahara, who has been loaned out to FC Gifu this season, has been released. Follow us on Twitter for all the news as it happens.
But for now it's time for my pick of the season past! My top five most memorable games from 2013. It's no surprise that they all come from the latter end of the season. That's testament to the impact of our signings and the way the club dealt with the rocky start to the year. So, in reverse order, here we go!
5) S-Pulse 2-1 Nagoya Grampus
September 14th 2013
Our games with Nagoya have in recent years taken on the feel of a derby. What with Iwata now getting relegated this match up has the distinction of being the closest we'll have to a derby day, at least for 2014. Games with Kofu have never been anything special, and with Nagoya lacking their own local rivals, the Tokaido Showdown is set to fill in the gaps. This game was no exception, with the usual mix of needle and rough and tumble setting it off perfectly.
The result was the right one, but above and beyond the three points, it signalled the gelling of our summer time acquisitions. Honda, Omae and Radončić all starred as we came from behind to snatch victory in stoppage time. The late, late winner was the product of Radončić and Omae working together, something we watched with glee having suffered the disappointment of losing our much vaunted striker Bare earlier in the summer. Happy days in the late summer sun.
4) Oita Trinita 2-3 S-Pulse
August 31st 2013
This comes in at number four as much for the away day as for the game itself. The time spent down on Kyushu was full of excitement and adventure, and the match report reflected that. A special travelogue feature was the result of that long weekend.
Genki once again netted with a goal of some class, and Takagi and Muramatsu also got on the scoresheet. At 3-0 we threatened to take the soon-to-be-relegated Oita to pieces, but in the event it was the home team who rallied. Two goals in the last ten minutes gave us all a nervy end to endure, but we held out for the three points. Job done it was back into town for more local delicacies and, the following day, monkeys.
3) S-Pulse 6-4 Sagan Tosu
Saturday October 19th 2013
There's memorable games and then there's straight up unforgettable ones. Who could have thought at 3pm that afternoon they were in for twenty-four shots, ten goals, and a red card? And that's just the bare bones of what went down. Not only did we draw level after going behind twice in the first twenty minutes, having taken a 4-2 lead we got pegged back to 4-4, suffering a sending off minutes later. Any spectator would have put money on the visitors to capitalise on their momentum and man advantage, but instead Hiraoka grabbed a rare goal and Sho Ito completed his hattrick.
It was 6-4 when the whistle finally went, and we all sat down dazed but happy. Some people who don't get football cite 0-0 draws and uneventful matches as a reason not to watch. Well, yeah, they happen. We've all sit through more than our share of turgid games wondering if we remembered to feed the cat or turn off the oven. Those matches are essential in paying your dues as a fan. Without them, you couldn't appreciate an incredible goal-fest, come-from-behind, man-down victory like this one. With thanks to Sagan Tosu for playing their part in one of my all time top ten Shimizu games.
2) S-Pulse 4-3 Kashima Antlers
Wednesday August 28th 2013
I'd arrived back from England the morning before and spent most the day struggling desperately not to pass out at my desk. At 5pm I'd even considered succumbing to jet lag, giving the game a swerve and heading home to crash on my futon. Near misses don't come much nearer. I dragged myself up to Nihondaira and to say I'm glad I did would be the understatement of the season.
Kashima are the old enemy. Both clubs founding J. League members and both ever present in J1 we've played them as much as anyone else. There's been some tasty meetings between us over the years, among the more recent being cup finals in 2011 and 2012. They came off better (ie, they went home with the cup) both times, so I take no small pleasure in us taking any kind of revenge. This game didn't look like being one of those opportunities for pay back, being 1-0 down in ten seconds, 2-0 five minutes later. A friend arrived at his seat shortly after Kashima had extended their early lead and I insisted he turn around and go home. Save yourself!
The 80 odd minutes that followed proved what most people already know: never listen to a word I say. A rip-roaring game which I recall in full detail on my report, but looking back it was an instrumental game in the revival of Takagi. Of course, old partner Genki's return had no small part to play, but the new team was showing its mental strength and character. What a game, and all under Nihondaira's floodlights. Into my top five all time Shimizu games, but what was to come in late October would have me thinking about my top one Shimizu experience...
1) Jubilo Iwata 0-1 S-Pulse
October 27th 2013
A Halloween nightmare for Jubilo as we, their bitter rivals, rolled into Iwata in full carnival mode with the express intention of relegating them. This is the type of scenario which comes around once or twice, if you're lucky, in a lifetime: the opportunity to put the final nail in your local enemy's coffin. The day's early results had gone such that a confirmed demotion was not possible, but a win for Shimizu would leave Iwata hoping for a miracle. It didn't come and they became a J2 team the following match day.
The tension surrounding the fixture had been building for weeks. All the weight attached to the game was magnified by the fact the game was not at Ecopa but at the newly renovated Yamaha Stadium, making it the first league game between us there in a decade. The new home end makes the stadium much more balanced, and should they have the opportunity to lose the gym behind the away and, they could further rebuild to make a ground to rival, dare I say it, Nihondaira in atmosphere.
That's in the future. The warm October afternoon we packed into the cramped stand behind the goal would be one of those rare occasions that lived up to the hype. A game I could easily watch again in it's entirety if only it was made available somewhere, it was the most tense, edgy, frantic, and ultimately enjoyable 90 minutes I've spent watching the boys in Orange. The 5-1 demolition of Iwata back in 2009 was it's own brand of epic fun, but for the backstory and meaning that went with this game, it comes out number one.
The much discussed banners rejoicing in Iwata's relegation were an essential part of what gave this day it's spice and sense of occasion. The biggest accolade though of course goes to the team which rose to the fight magnificently. Iwata simply did not want to lose. They fought for their supporters, for their pride and for their lives. That our boys came out on top was an amazing achievement. Iwata, though our rivals and foes, I pay them them the highest compliment for their part in this unforgettable game.
Number one of the season, number one of my S-Pulse life. The only way it could be topped would be by winning the title. And with that thought, roll on 2014!!!