CHIBA – A 60-second nightmare for Nagoya Grampus goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki dented his side’s title aspirations and handed relegation-haunted JEF United Chiba a precious 2-1 win on Tuesday night.
With Grampus starting the second half at Fukuda Denshi Arena 1-0 up thanks to Yoshizumi Ogawa’s 40th-minute goal, the Japan No. 1 bundled a Tatsuya Yazawa header into his own net before palming the ball into the path of Masaki Fukai for the second less than a minute later.
Oita Trinita beat Consadole Sapporo 3-2 earlier in the day to draw level at the top on points with Nagoya, with third- and fourth-place Urawa Reds and Kashima Antlers not in action.
For JEF, however, a third win in as many games lifts the club out of the automatic drop-zone for the first time since the fourth week of the season, with fellow struggler Jubilo Iwata slipping down after a 5-1 defeat at FC Tokyo.
A JEF performance full of grit and graft deservedly halted Nagoya’s five-match winning streak, but manager Alex Miller warned his side is not out of the woods yet.
“It was a vital game for us,” he said. “We were playing at home and on this occasion we had the better luck you need in football.
“But we are still in relegation trouble, make no mistake about that. There is no room for complacency. We have given ourselves a fighting chance, but we are still in trouble.”
Grampus manager Dragan Stojkovic, meanwhile, was left reeling from Chiba’s early second-half blitz.
“At halftime I said to the players the first five minutes are crucial, but as you can see, we absolutely lost concentration,” he said. “It was like a bad dream.
“It is very difficult to play against a team who is looking for any points, who have high motivation. But I am not somebody that thinks we have to win all the games. I am somebody who is watching game by game. The championship will be more interesting now.”
JEF started out as the livelier of the two teams, but it wasn’t until the 17th minute that the home side managed a clear attempt at goal when Reinaldo fired a long-range shot narrowly wide of Narazaki’s post.
Nagoya was by no means taking it lying down, however, and Ogawa almost handed the visitors the lead when he rolled the ball across the face of the goal after a through-ball from Frode Johnsen.
But with both teams pressing deeper and deeper into one another’s territory, the opening goal came like a bolt out of the blue. Keiji Tamada rolled a quick free-kick to Ogawa, who let fly with an audacious shot that took ‘keeper Masahiro Okamoto by surprise and sailed into the net for his fifth goal in six matches.
Reinaldo had a chance to level the score immediately after the break as he headed over the bar, but that was just an appetizer for what was to come.
First Yazawa aimed a header at goal that looked simple enough for Narazaki to deal with. But the goalkeeper somehow let the ball squirm through his grasp and under his body, watching in horror as it crept over the line.
Yazawa then turned provider as he fired a shot that Narazaki parried only as far as the waiting Fukai, who blasted the ball into the net to send the disbelieving crowd into a frenzy.
JEF stayed in the hunt for more with Michael and Tomi Shimomura directing midfield traffic and Reinaldo toiling hard as the lone striker, and Narazaki had to be alert to tip a Fukai effort over in the 77th minute.
Masataka Sakamoto made several vital late interventions as JEF’s defense held steady, giving Chiba the victory it needed to keep its survival hopes alive.
In the day’s other games, Kawasaki Frontale’s title challenge looks to have fizzled out after a 1-1 draw with Yokohama F. Marinos, while Kisho Yano scored six minutes from time to give Albirex Niigata a 3-2 win over Vissel Kobe. Shimizu S-Pulse beat Tokyo Verdy 1-0 to leave Verdy with a relegation dogfight firmly on its hands.
HIROSHIMA (Kyodo) Sanfrecce Hiroshima clinched promotion back to the J. League first division at the first time of asking on Tuesday after a 4-1 demolition of visiting Ehime FC.
Hiroshima went down last year after losing a two-legged playoff to Kyoto Sanga, but Tuesday’s win put the club on 81 points at the top of the table and guaranteed it one of the two automatic promotion spots with seven games to spare.
Hiroshima, which have been top all season after beginning its season with a six-match unbeaten run, became only the second team to win promotion as early as September after Kawasaki Frontale did it in 2004.
Second-placed Montedio Yamagata, who have 59 points, suffered a 1-0 defeat at home to Sagan Tosu while Vegalta Sendai (58) beat Shonan Bellmare 2-1 away to replace their opponents in the third-placed promotion-relegation playoff spot.