KASHIMA, IBARAKI PREF. – Substitute Yu Kobayashi pounced with virtually the last kick of the game to complete a remarkable turnaround for 10-man Kawasaki Frontale in a 2-2 draw with Kashima Antlers on Saturday night.
First-half goals from Yuzo Tashiro and Koji Nakata looked to have put Antlers well on their way to a third straight win at Kashima Stadium, and Frontale’s prospects grew even bleaker when defender Jun Sonoda was sent off less than 15 minutes after the interval.
But a 70th-minute goal from Yusuke Tanaka restoked the visitors’ fire, and although a goal disallowed for offside denied Takuro Yajima in injury time, Kobayashi finally claimed an unlikely equalizer in the 95th minute.
“It was a difficult game and they were on top of us in the first half,” said Frontale manager Naoki Soma.
“All we could do was try and get through it. We conceded the first goal and tried to get to halftime as things stood, but the timing of their second goal was very bad for us.
“At halftime I told the players I wanted them to show what they were made of, and they never gave up until the end. We were the team with 10 men but Kashima ran out of gas first. I’m very proud of my players tonight.”
Kashima manager Oswaldo Oliveira was understandably less enthusiastic with his point.
“Frontale were down to 10 men but we couldn’t keep possession of the ball,” the Brazilian said.
“You would think that when you bring on quality players like (Mitsuo) Ogasawara and (Masashi) Motoyama, you would be able to keep it, but unfortunately it didn’t go as we had hoped.
“When you put an expensive part into an engine, you expect it to work better. But we’re not machines, so it doesn’t always work like that.”
Frontale’s defense suffered a setback when Tomonobu Yokoyama came off injured midway through the first half, and Tashiro was quick to take advantage when he collected a long pass and shrugged off replacement Sonoda before slipping the ball past Takashi Aizawa for the opener.
Koji Nakata made it two on the stroke of halftime, lunging in with a volley at the back post after Frontale’s defense could only half-clear a Takuya Nozawa free kick.
Sonoda’s nightmare evening reached its nadir 14 minutes into the second half when a foul on Shinzo Koroki earned him a red card only three minutes after picking up his first booking.
But Tanaka reduced the deficit when he smashed the ball past Hitoshi Sogahata in the 70th minute, and the goal lit the fuse for a period of pressure that looked like it had yielded an equalizer when Yajima bundled the ball over the line after a frantic penalty-box scramble.
An offside flag ended Frontale’s celebrations, but there was no stopping Kobayashi when he lashed home the rebound after his own header struck Antlers defender Daigo Nishi to claim a precious point for the visitors.
“We knew this was going to be a difficult game, and it’s a huge point for us,” said Kobayashi.
“I came off the bench looking to score, and thankfully I was able to.”
Elsewhere in the J. League, leaders Kashiwa Reysol beat Ventforet Kofu 4-1 with two goals apiece from Junya Tanaka and Jorge Wagner.
The Urawa Reds, meanwhile, also salvaged a point in dramatic style when Mazzolla scored in the 98th minute to claim a 1-1 draw with Nagoya Grampus.
Jubilo Iwata heaped more misery on bottom-side Avispa Fukuoka with a 2-1 win, while Albirex Niigata and Cerezo Osaka drew 1-1 in the day’s other game.