SAITAMA – Shimizu S-Pulse missed a golden opportunity to move into the J. League first division lead as Afshin Ghotbi’s side had yet another man sent off and went down 1-0 at the hands of Urawa Reds on Saturday.
S-Pulse might have wrested first place from Vegalta Sendai with what would have been their fifth win in six matches, and outplayed Reds for the most part in an intense affair at Saitama Stadium.
But Shimizu had to brave the premature departure of Australian international Alex Brosque early in the second half before succumbing to their fourth defeat of the season.
Sendai — on 27 points, five points ahead of S-Pulse — firmly held on to the top spot after thrashing Nagoya Grampus 4-0 at home.
Brosque was also sent off for a pair of yellows on April 28. In just the past month, Shimizu also has seen forward Jymmy Franca and defender Calvin Jong-a-Pin tossed for two bookings.
S-Pulse have drawn a total of 37 yellow cards in just 12 league games this year.
“It seems to be every week,” Brosque said. “I haven’t had one game this year where the referees were on our side, not that they have to be.
“The big clubs here seem to get the favoritism all the time and that’s what’s annoying. Doesn’t matter how hard we fought or what we do, the bigger clubs are always going to get the decision.”
Added Ghotbi, “We have so many players with yellow cards. Alex is going to be suspended for several games, (Taisuke) Muramatsu with three yellow cards, (Lee) Ki Je with three yellow cards.
“If you put our roster of the starting members with the yellow sheets next to them, it’s almost all yellow.”
World Cup midfielder Yuki Abe scored the lone goal late in the first half for the former Asian champions, who halted a three-game winless skid before the home fans.
Ghotbi said his young S-Pulse team, with an average age of 23, is being put to test and must respond if it wants to win the title.
“Now, we have to grow mentally and have a personality of a championship team if we want to be champions,” the former Iran coach said.
“The question down the stretch is, ‘Do we have a championship personality?’ “
Shimizu, which beat Urawa twice last season, owned the opening half at the ground where it had not lost since 2009 in the Nabisco Cup.
Unfortunately for S-Pulse, they didn’t have a goal to underline their dominance with Reds placing so many men behind the ball, trying to hit them on the break.
Urawa capitalized on Shimizu’s misfortune in the 42nd minute, after Akihiro Hayashi produced a cat-quick reflex save to keep out Marcio Richardes.
From a leftwing corner, Abe happened to be in the right time at the right place to mop up the loose ball and poke in his second goal of the campaign off the hand of Hayashi, who had a terrific individual game on this afternoon.
The complexion of the match changed in the 54th minute when Brosque was given his marching orders for a soft foul that did not appear to merit a second yellow card.
With the advantage in manpower, Reds finally started coming out of their own half, pouring it on Shimizu which somehow held fort to deny the hosts a second goal but could not come up with the equalizer.
In other J1 games, Yokohama F. Marinos and Gamba Osaka played to a 0-0 draw at Nissan Stadium while Ryota Moriwaki scored a 91st-minute winner in Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s 3-2 home victory over Vissel Kobe.
Sanfrecce moved into second, passing Shimizu on goal difference.
Japan striker Ryoichi Maeda warmed up for the World Cup qualifiers with a brace as Jubilo Iwata embarrassed Albirex Niigata 6-1 away, and Kashima Antlers humbled last-place Consadole Sapporo 7-0 at home through seven different scorers.
Champions Kashiwa Reysol beat Cerezo 2-1 in Osaka to win back-to-back games for the first time this season, while Kawasaki Frontale defeated Omiya Ardija 2-0 away.