CHIBA — JEF United Chiba slipped closer to the relegation trapdoor with a 2-1 loss to fellow strugglers Montedio Yamagata on Saturday, on a night when Kashima Antlers’ stumbling pursuit of the title took yet another wrong turn.
With third-from-bottom Kashiwa Reysol drawing 0-0 with Oita Trinita earlier in the day, the pressure was on Chiba to take something from the basement battle at Fukuda Denshi Arena.
But a goal from Yamagata’s Yu Hasegawa midway through the first half put the home side on the back foot, and even though Michael managed to pull one back for JEF after the interval, Tomotaka Kitamura took just two minutes to restore the visitors’ lead and secure three vital points.
The result increased Yamagata’s buffer against the drop zone to three points above Reysol, and left Chiba seven points adrift with only seven games left to play.
The significance was not lost on JEF manager Atsuhiko Ejiri.
“This was a game that we had to win, and of course we wanted those points,” he said. “We got the equalizer but then they scored again straight away.
“I have talked to the players, and they intend to pick themselves up and keep going. All we can do is keep going.”
After enduring a rough month, Yamagata manager Shinji Kobayashi was glad to see some light at the end of the tunnel.
“We had lost our previous four games, so we were really determined to win here,” he said. “We kept our shape, worked hard, and we didn’t just rush our chances — we put some nice moves together.
“We were disappointed to give a goal away, but we kept going. Next we play Oita, and we’ll be trying to win that one too.”
At the top of the table, meanwhile, league-leader Kashima’s nightmare run continued with a 4-1 home loss to Nagoya Grampus, giving Oswaldo Oliveira’s men just six points from their last seven games.
Kawasaki Frontale again failed to take advantage, however, going down 2-1 to Gamba Osaka and sending Gamba into third place level on points with Shimizu S-Pulse.
Shimizu has the chance to cut Kashima’s lead to one point when it plays Vissel Kobe on Sunday, but Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s title aspirations were hit by a 2-1 defeat to Albirex Niigata.
Chiba failed to provide the composure to go with its early eagerness, and Tatsuya Yazawa ruined a penetrating run by choosing the wrong pass with Seiichiro Maki screaming for the ball in front of goal.
Instead it was left to Hasegawa to give the home side a lesson in clinical finishing. Latching onto a slide-rule pass from Katsuyuki Miyazawa in the 27th minute, the 22-year-old kept his cool to slot the ball past Masahiro Okamoto for Yamagata’s opener.
Masaki Chugo blasted over from distance as JEF searched for an answer, but Tatsuya Furuhashi gave a reminder of Yamagata’s threat with a deflected shot that crashed against the Chiba crossbar early in the second half.
JEF’s persistence eventually paid off when a series of corners ended in Maki knocking the ball on for Michael to head in, but the home side’s joy was short lived.
Kohei Miyazaki broke down the wing before squaring the ball for Furuhashi, and although Okamoto managed to block the striker’s shot on the turn, substitute Kitamura gobbled up the rebound.
In the day’s other games, FC Tokyo beat Jubilo Iwata 3-2, and Omiya Ardija crept closer to safety with a 3-1 win over Kyoto Sanga.