FC Tokyo trampled Jubilo Iwata’s J.League title ambitions into the dirt after coming from behind to beat the three-time champions 2-1 on Saturday.
Jubilo went into the match at Ajinomoto Stadium fourth in the table, eight points behind leaders Sanfrecce Hiroshima, and striker Minoru Suganuma looked set to consolidate their place among the front-runners when he opened the scoring with a header in the ninth minute.
But an equalizer from Tokyo’s Edmilson nine minutes into the second half took the wind out of Jubilo’s sails before substitute Nemanja Vucicevic completed the turnaround in the 85th minute, leaving the visitors 11 points off the championship pace with seven games to play after Sanfrecce beat Sagan Tosu 4-1 earlier in the day.
Sanfrecce opened up a five-point gap at the top with the win, as second-place Vegalta Sendai threw away a lead to lose 3-1 at Shimizu S-Pulse. Third-place Urawa Reds drew level with Vegalta on 48 points after a 93rd-minute goal from Popo gave them a 2-1 win over Kashiwa Reysol.
“As a player you never give up, and we intend to keep going until the end,” said Jubilo manager Hitoshi Morishita. “We still have seven games left, starting with an important derby game (against S-Pulse) next week. We just have to get back to training and keep working hard.
“We were never looking to just be satisfied with the draw today. We created a lot of chances, but didn’t have the accuracy to finish them.”
Vucicevic was integral to Tokyo’s second-half revival after replacing Takuji Yonemoto at the break, and the Serbian was happy to play his part by notching his second goal for the club since joining from Turkish side Manisaspor over the summer.
“Recently we have been playing well but not getting the results, so we were a feeling a little under pressure to get the win today,” he said. “In football, you have to get results.
“In the first half Jubilo played very well and we had to ride it out, but we managed to turn it around by playing as a team. I’m glad I could make a contribution.”
Jubilo’s opener came against the run of play, with Suganuma nodding home Hiroki Yamada’s deep cross from close range after a series of neat attacking moves from Tokyo.
The goal allowed Jubilo to gradually grow into the match, and Yuichi Komano almost embellished the point when he curled a free kick just wide of the post midway through the first half.
Hideto Takahashi headed a corner against the upright minutes later as Tokyo hit back, and the capital city side was again denied on the stroke of halftime when Jubilo goalkeeper Naoki Hatta kept out Lucas from point-blank range.
Rather than put a brake on Tokyo’s momentum, however, the interval gave the home team the chance to refocus before coming out with all guns blazing. Edmilson made it count with the equalizer, turning home the rebound after Hatta had spilled a volley across goal from Vucicevic.
Jubilo’s Ryoichi Maeda had a goal chalked off for offside before Tokyo’s Naohiro Ishikawa responded by rattling the crossbar, but Vucicevic settled it with five minutes of the 90 remaining, firing home a cross from substitute Kazuma Watanabe.
“The first and second halves were very different for us,” said Tokyo manager Ranko Popovic. “It was an open attacking game. Our movement was sluggish in the first half, but at the break I told the players to relax, play their game and be confident. In the end it paid off.”
Elsewhere in the J.League, struggling Albirex Niigata pulled off the shock of the day with a 5-0 win over Nagoya Grampus, while Cerezo Osaka came from two goals down to beat Vissel Kobe 3-2.
Gamba Osaka salvaged a point with a late equalizer to draw 2-2 with Kashima Antlers, while fellow strugglers Omiya Ardija drew 0-0 with Yokohama F.Marinos.
In the day’s other game, Kawasaki Frontale beat Consdole Sapporo 1-0.