Sanfrecce Hiroshima's Peter Utaka was a hero with his brace
Home advantage was not much help in the 2016 Meiji Yasuda J1 League on Sunday, with away sides winning six of the day’s nine matches as Urawa Reds rose to the top of the table.
Sanfrecce Hiroshima scored one of the biggest surprises of the afternoon, shrugging off their AFC Champions League elimination and winning 2-1 at Yokohama F. Marinos. Peter Utaka scored both of the visitors’ goals to take his season tally to seven and move past Jay Bothroyd of Jubilo Iwata into top spot in the scoring table.
There was little doubt as to Hiroshima’s mindset during the match. Manager Hajime Moriyasu deployed three center backs and two wing backs, with midfielder Kazuyuki Morisaki dropping back to add another body to the back line. The visitors often had nine men behind the ball and left Utaka on his own up front, but the Nigerian said it was all in a day’s work for a target forward.
“It’s pretty difficult, but it’s part of the game. I have to stay a little bit higher to keep the defense from pushing us down toward our goal,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a little bit frustrating, but the coach always says, ‘Peter, be patient.’ I am patient, and when the time comes for me to be very effective in front of their goal, I’m going to be there to finish up.”
Defending in numbers and counter-attacking at speed did the trick for Hiroshima. Utaka’s first goal came after 15 minutes when Yoshifumi Kashiwa’s attempted through ball took a deflection that appeared to snuff out the opportunity, only for Yokohama goalkeeper Hiroki Iikura to misread the loose ball and let it run. Utaka was on hand to tap in the loose ball and give his side the lead.
Trailing at the break after a somewhat languid first half, Yokohama turned up the intensity in the second by pressing deep into their attacking third. Harassing Hiroshima’s defenders helped increase the tempo and generated turnovers, but that did not translate into goals. Part of the problem was the understanding between the attacking quartet of center forward Kayke and midfielders Shunsuke Nakamura, Manabu Saito, and Quentin Martinus still being a work in progress. Their interchanges and switching positions failed to come off more often than not, leaving many promising attacking moves to end unfulfilled.
Nakamura restored parity on 70 minutes with a penalty kick. His diving header from a Yuzo Kobayashi cross struck Kazuhiko Chiba’s arm in the penalty area, and Nakamura placed his spot kick just inside the right-hand post. The home fans’ joy lasted just two minutes, though. Mihael Mikic chased down Tsukasa Shiotani’s ball into the deep right corner, beat Takumi Shimohira with one touch, and centered for an open Utaka to score from six yards.
“The second goal our typical game plan,” Utaka said. “When I saw Mika [Mikic] have the ball deep behind the defender, I knew what he was going to do so I tried to get myself in a good position to score.”
Hiroshima rose to fourth place in the table on 14 points, with Yokohama fifth on the same number of points. Urawa top J1 with 19 points after their 1-0 victory at Kawasaki Frontale, who suffered their first league loss. Yuki Muto took a smart backheel from Tadanari Lee and scored a cracking goal from 20 yards to secure the win and spoil the celebration of Kengo Nakamura’s 350th game for Kawasaki.
Elsewhere on Sunday, Junya Ito scored one goal and set up another as Kashiwa Reysol continued their remarkable resurgence with a 2-0 win at Kashima Antlers. Kashiwa have won their past five matches in all competitions, and they have lost just once since Milton Mendes’ sudden resignation on March 12. Gamba Osaka, who like Hiroshima have been eliminated from the Champions League at the group stage, ground out a 1-0 win at Avispa Fukuoka. Takashi Usami came off the bench to score the winner in the 79th minute.
Nagoya Grampus were the only side to win on home soil last Sunday
FC Tokyo, who can still advance from their Champions League group with a win next week at Vietnam’s Binh Duong, came from behind to draw 1-1 at Ventforet Kofu. Sota Hirayama scored on 63 minutes to cancel out Shota Inagaki’s opener. Jubilo Iwata snatched a 1-0 win at Sagan Tosu on Kentaro Ohi’s 89th-minute strike, while an 80th-minute penalty by Akihiro Ienaga gave Omiya Ardija a 1-0 win at Shonan Bellmare. Kazuma Watanabe scored twice, the second coming three minutes into second-half stoppage time, as Vissel Kobe drew 2-2 at home with Vegalta Sendai.
Nagoya Grampus were the only side to win on home soil, beating Albirex Niigata 2-1. Kensuke Nagai and Robin Simovic scored for the hosts, with Go Hayama replying for Niigata.
Meiji Yasuda J1 League, First Stage, Round 8
Nagoya Grampus 2-1 Albirex Niigata
Vissel Kobe 2-2 Vegalta Sendai
Avispa Fukuoka 0-1 Gamba Osaka
Yokohama F Marinos 1-2 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Ventforet Kofu 1-1 FC Tokyo
Kashima Antlers 0-2 Kashiwa Reysol
Kawasaki Frontale 0-1 Urawa Reds
Sagan Tosu 0-1 Jubilo Iwata
Shonan Bellmare 0-1 Omiya Ardija