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FC Tokyo’s Okuma comes up short in return to top job

by Andrew Mckirdy

Omiya Ardija ruined Kiyoshi Okuma’s second coming as FC Tokyo manager with a 1-0 win that plunged the capital city club even deeper into the relegation quagmire on Saturday.

Former national team assistant Okuma this week returned to the club that he led from non-league to J. League first division in the late ’90s, with sacked predecessor Hiroshi Jofuku paying the price for a poor run of results that saw Tokyo start the day third from bottom in the table.

But any hopes of an instant turnaround were resolutely shot down at Ajinomoto Stadium. Omiya striker Rafael served warning with a second-half shot that appeared to cross the goal-line but was not given, moments before Jun Kanakubo headed in the winner in the 73rd minute.

The result cast Tokyo six points adrift of Omiya in a tight relegation battle, and Okuma made no bones about the task he faces with only 10 games remaining.

“I’ve only had a short time with the players and they did a lot of the things I asked of them,” he said. “But the lack of precision and poor decision-making meant we couldn’t control the game.

“The fact is we are also not scoring. With the amount of chances we made today, we should have got on the scoresheet.”

Tokyo has scored only 22 goals in 24 games this season, but Okuma insists his team’s strikers are not solely to blame.

“A lot of our inability to score goals comes down to finishing, but we also have to improve the way we get the ball into the box,” he said.

“Of course we need to improve our shooting, but we also need to do better throughout the attacking third of the pitch. We have to keep working on moves and repeating them in training.

“It’s the same basics as the team played under Jofuku — attacking and defending as a unit and making the ball do all the work. We want to get back to those basics.”

Masato Morishige wasted an excellent opportunity to put Tokyo ahead when he blazed over from Sota Hirayama’s knockdown in the 19th minute, but that was about all the home side could muster until Ricardinho forced Shunsuke Fukuda into a goal-line clearance in first-half injury time.

A second-half injection of urgency brought a rash of chances for Hirayama, Ricardinho and Hokuto Nakamura, but none could find the target. Instead Lee Chun Soo fired wide to remind Tokyo that Omiya’s threat was still present, and Rafael hammered the point home — or so he thought — when his shot cannoned down off the bar and away without validation from referee Jumpei Iida.

Omiya would not have to wait long to avenge the injustice, however. Rafael swung in a cross for Kanakubo waiting at the back post, and the 23-year-old hustled clear of Tokyo’s defense to head the ball into the back of the net to settle the match.

“Tokyo was first to every loose ball in the first half and again at the start of the second half,” said Omiya manager Jun Suzuki.

“We had an unlucky incident but we were able to harness the momentum from that to score. We had some problems in defense and attack, but we were strong mentally today.”

At the other end of the table, a hat trick from Keiji Tamada and a double from Josh Kennedy gave league-leading Nagoya Grampus an emphatic 5-1 win over Shimizu S-Pulse, re-establishing their seven-point cushion at the top after second-place Kashima Antlers drew 1-1 at Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Cerezo Osaka also drew, 0-0 with Vissel Kobe, while Gamba Osaka beat Kawasaki Frontale 2-1.

In the day’s other games, Urawa Reds beat Albirex Niigata 2-0, Montedio Yamagata drew 1-1 with Shonan Bellmare, Vegalta Sendai topped Yokohama F. Marinos 1-0 and Jubilo Iwata defeated Kyoto Sanga 1-0.