Shuichi Gonda saved a last-minute penalty to rescue a 1-1 draw for relegation-threatened FC Tokyo against Albirex Niigata on Saturday.
Tokyo, which turned a 2-1 lead into a 3-2 defeat in the final four minutes of last weekend’s game against Vegalta Sendai, again looked headed for disaster when substitute Ricardinho upended Niigata’s Daigo Nishi with the match deep into injury time at Ajinomoto Stadium.
But a flying leap by 21-year-old Gonda denied Marcio Richardes with practically the last kick of the game, and moved Tokyo two points clear of the drop zone with third-from-bottom Vissel Kobe losing 2-1 to Nagoya Grampus later in the day.
That result extended Nagoya’s lead at the top of the table to 11 points, although nearest challengers Kashima Antlers and Gamba Osaka both have a chance to cut the gap on Sunday.
Midtable Albirex have neither title aspirations nor relegation concerns to think about with seven games left to play, and manager Hisashi Kurosaki was suitably relaxed despite the late drama.
“I didn’t really know what was happening with the penalty until it was all over,” he said. “I hoped he would score, but I wasn’t going to be too disappointed if he missed.”
Tokyo manager Kiyoshi Okuma can certainly not afford to be so blase, and there was plenty for him to worry about when Marcio Richardes curled a superb free kick past Gonda to give Albirex the lead on the stroke of halftime.
A 61st-minute Yohei Kajiyama penalty brought the home side back into the game, however, and Okuma was pleased to see his players go the distance after last weekend’s late collapse.
“There were times when we shot ourselves in the foot with the mistakes we made passing the ball, but we kept at it for the full 90 minutes today,” he said. “I want the players to keep going like this, attacking and defending as a team right until the end.
“It’s not about individuals. In the games we still have to play, I want the players to feel like scoring a goal is something that the entire team is involved in.”
Tokyo wasted little time in taking the game to the visitors, and Masato Morishige was unlucky not to score when Albirex goalkeeper Masaaki Higashiguchi blocked his header off the line from an 11th-minute corner.
But the home side’s early pressure gradually withered on the vine as Albirex took control of midfield, and the Hokuriku side would have its reward before the first half was out. Yohei Tokunaga tripped Marcio Richardes as he rushed toward the box, and the Brazilian promptly dusted himself down to guide the ball past a helpless Gonda for the opener.
Naohiro Ishikawa fired wide as Tokyo tried to make amends after the break, and Kajiyama made no mistake from the spot when the opportunity came after a foul on Sota Hirayama. Suddenly the home side had the wind in its sails, but chances for Masashi Oguro and Hirayama both went begging before Ishikawa blazed the best of them over the bar with Tokyo moving in for the kill.
Instead, it was Albirex who almost snatched the three points.