KAWASAKI — Kawasaki Frontale shredded Nagoya Grampus’ hopes of opening up a gap at the top of the J. League table with a clinical 4-0 win on Wednesday night.
Grampus went into the game at Todoroki Stadium with a two-point lead and a game in hand over nearest challengers Kashima Antlers and Shimizu S-Pulse, but if the stage seemed set for Dragan Stojkovic’s men to stretch their legs, no one told Frontale.
Vitor Junior gave the home side a first-half lead before doubling the advantage after the break, and a daunting task for Grampus was made even more difficult when defender Takahiro Masukawa picked up his second booking of the game in the 71st minute.
Juninho and Yusuke Tasaka then rubbed salt in Nagoya’s wounds with two late goals, lifting fourth-place Frontale firmly into the title race only three points behind Grampus. With Cerezo Osaka moving up to fifth with a 4-1 win over FC Tokyo, Stojkovic can feel the chasing pack breathing down his neck.
“After this result the race for the title will be more interesting,” he said. “There are five or six teams all the same and it will be interesting watching the J. League this year.
“We missed the chance to extend our point difference but sometimes like tonight, when you are 2-0 down and you get a red card, it is extremely hard. Whether we have five points or two or three or one, we have to keep our pace and we have to keep our style. This was not the last game.
“We can’t lose hope. It will not change our minds or our style of working or our target.”
Vitor Junior forced a diving save from Seigo Narazaki on the half-hour mark, but the goalkeeper was powerless to prevent the Brazilian from hitting the target five minutes later. The 167-cm striker showed impressive strength to shrug off the hulking Masukawa, before lashing the ball past Narazaki with a crisp left-foot finish.
Point-blank clearances from Yusuke Igawa and goalkeeper Takashi Aizawa preserved Frontale’s lead until halftime, and Nagoya’s toothlessness in front of goal undermined the visitors’ chances of gaining a foothold after the break.
Instead it was Kawasaki that doubled its lead. Masaru Kurotsu set off on a raiding run down the right flank, and Vitor Junior somehow stole in front of the Grampus defenders to poke the cross home in the 64th minute.
Masukawa then saw red for a clumsy foul on Kurotsu, and Juninho made the man advantage count when he prodded in Frontale’s third after a sharp counterattack before Tasaka rounded off the scoring with a deflected shot.
“We knew this was an important game and the players put in a great performance and won us the three points,” said Frontale manager Tsutomu Takahata. “Playing our last two games at home has relaxed us and in a few days we play Niigata away, so hopefully we can take this form into that game.”
At the other end of the table, last-place Kyoto Sanga grabbed a vital point as Atsushi Yanagisawa came off the bench to hit a 95th-minute equalizer against second-from-bottom Shonan Bellmare, while Omiya Ardija’s improvement continued with a 2-1 win over Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
In the day’s other game, Jubilo Iwata beat Vissel Kobe 3-2.