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Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010

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That winning feeling: Gamba Osaka's Hayato Sasaki celebrates his 75th-minute goal against Shonan Bellmare during his team's 2-1 win on Tuesday. KYODO PHOTO

Ishihara's late strike gives Omiya Ardija draw against Vissel Kobe

Staff writer

SAITAMA — Naoki Ishihara salvaged an 85th-minute equalizer to all-but secure Omiya Ardija's first-division survival and edge Vissel Kobe closer to the relegation trapdoor with a 2-2 draw on Tuesday.

Vissel, occupying the third and final spot in the J. League drop zone, went into the game at Nack5 Stadium after fourth-from-bottom FC Tokyo had beaten newly crowned champions Nagoya Grampus earlier in the day, meaning defeat for the Kansai side would leave it four points adrift with two games remaining.

But despite twice taking the lead through Omiya's defensive blunders — the second a Yuki Fukaya own goal — Vissel threw away their advantage as first Mato Neretljak, then Ishihara struck to give the home side a share of the spoils and a six-point buffer against relegation.

"It's disappointing not being able to hold onto the lead twice, and I have to take responsibility," said Kobe manager Masahiro Wada. "The players did their best and we have got a point, and we'll keep going while we still have a chance. You never know what is going to happen until the very end.

"I didn't tell the players the Tokyo score. Regardless of their result, we knew we had to win or it would mean nothing. We were paying that no mind."

With Nagoya under no pressure having wrapped up the title last weekend, Masashi Oguro pounced at Toyota Stadium to give Tokyo a priceless 1-0 win. Vegalta Sendai moved six points clear alongside Ardija with a 1-1 draw with Albirex Niigata, while Montedio Yamagata secured their safety with a 1-0 win over Kyoto Sanga.

Whoever goes down will be replaced by Avispa Fukuoka, who sealed a return to the top flight after a five-year absence with a 2-0 win over FC Gifu.

Omiya's confident start was undermined when Neretljak handed the visitors their opening goal in the 14th minute. With goalkeeper Takashi Kitano diving to cut out an easy ball, the Croatian inexplicably redirected it into the path of Park Kang Jo to head into an empty net.

Neretljak made amends when he slammed in the equalizer from a corner in the 67th minute, and Rafael thought he had capitalized on Omiya's revival when his shot cannoned down off the underside of the bar five minutes later.

Instead it was Vissel who took the lead when midfielder Masatoshi Mihara swung the ball into the box, leaving Fukaya to watch in horror as his clearance attempt ended up in the back of his own net.

But there was still time for a reprieve. The impressive Lee Chun Soo fed Kazuhiro Murakami rampaging down the wing with five minutes left, and the substitute slipped the ball across for Ishihara to apply a deft finish.

"We were having difficulty attacking down the wings but we had more success with that in the second half," said Omiya manager Jun Suzuki. "It was a very intense game for both teams. We couldn't win, but I think this was a very important point for us."

In the battle for the two remaining Asian Champions League places behind Nagoya, Gamba Osaka jumped into second with a 2-1 win over Shonan Bellmare, replacing Kashima Antlers, who lost 2-1 at home to Jubilo Iwata.

Cerezo Osaka moved within a point of Kashima with a 2-1 win over Kawasaki Frontale, while Shimizu S-Pulse are one further back after beating Sanfrecce Hiroshima 2-1.

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