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Thursday, May 10, 2012
J. LEAGUE NOTEBOOK
Golden Week resuscitates strugglers
While people around the country took a well-earned break during last week's Golden Week holiday, some of the J. League's biggest strugglers were putting in overtime tackling their early-season problems.
Of the seven games that made up last Thursday's midweek program, five were won by teams from the bottom half of the table. Last-place Consadole Sapporo set the tone by beating Cerezo Osaka 1-0 for their first victory of the season, and although a degree of normality was restored in Sunday's results, unrest among the lower orders has made its mark on the updated standings.
Kawasaki Frontale are the biggest movers, jumping from 12th to sixth over the past two rounds courtesy of consecutive wins over Jubilo Iwata and Nagoya Grampus. It remains to be seen how long the bounce generated by new manager Yahiro Kazama's appointment will last, but seven goals in two games — including four for striker Takuro Yajima — is an impressive start.
Vissel Kobe have also hit a rich vein of form, responding to the dismissal of manager Masahiro Wada with wins over Omiya Ardija and Cerezo Osaka. Former Gamba Osaka manager Akira Nishino has been touted as Wada's long-term replacement, but caretaker Ryo Adachi is certainly doing a fine job in the meantime.
Yokohama F. Marinos are the other team enjoying an upturn in fortunes, winning three games in a row to rise from 17th to 13th over the past three rounds. Seven goals in three games suggests Marinos have put their early-season scoring drought behind them, and the return from injury of veteran Marquinhos adds further options up front.
All three teams began the season with unfamiliarities of one kind or another, with Marinos under a new manager in Yasuhiro Higuchi, and Vissel and Frontale having undergone extensive changes to their squads. All three have ambitions higher than the bottom half of the table, but nothing is assured despite their Golden Week surge.
For the time being, at least they can breathe a little easier.
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Shimizu S-Pulse finally ended Vegalta Sendai's unbeaten start to the campaign after 10 games last Sunday, adding another feather to the Shizuoka side's cap in what is turning out to be a very impressive season.
S-Pulse have now won six of their last seven games, with Sunday's 1-0 victory taking them within two points of leaders Vegalta and offering an intriguing riposte to critics who wrote off their chances of silverware at the start of the year.
"Just because we won, it doesn't mean we've jumped into first place," said goalscorer Genki Omae. "We've only played 10 games, so it's what we do from now on that counts.
"There are a lot of things that we haven't been able to do as a team, so we have to work to fix that."
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Nagoya Grampus manager Dragan Stojkovic will not be happy to see his side in the bottom half of the table, but that is the reality facing the 2010 champions after failing to register a league win since April 14.
Asian Champions League commitments mean Grampus have played a game less than most of their rivals, but after losing consecutive league matches for the first time since 2009, the pressure is starting to build.
"Personally, I don't think there is a bad atmosphere in the team," said midfielder Danilson Cordoba after Sunday's 3-2 defeat to Kawasaki Frontale. "We just have to keep thinking positive as we always do.
"It's important that we take hold of the situation and sort it out, but I'm not worried. We just have to put in some good performances."
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Quotable: "It means nothing if you make a good run but don't get a good pass, just as it means nothing if you get a good pass but don't make a good run."
— Sanfrecce Hiroshima striker Hisato Sato takes his scoring tally to nine for the season with two goals in Sunday's 5-2 win over Kashiwa Reysol.