Substitute Takenori Hayashi struck with four minutes left on the clock to send Oita Trinita back to the J. League first division with a 1-0 win over JEF United Chiba in the promotion playoffs final on Friday.
Trinita, who were relegated from the top flight along with JEF in 2009, needed to win at National Stadium to clinch promotion, with the rules for the new four-team playoff system favoring the team with the higher league position in the event of a draw.
But with only four minutes separating JEF — who finished fifth in the final J2 table to Oita’s sixth — from a place in the first division, former Chiba striker Hayashi lifted a Yasuhito Morishima through ball over goalkeeper Masahiro Okamoto to send Trinita up instead.
“This was the first time the playoffs have taken place, and going into the competition after finishing sixth meant that we had to win both games,” said Oita manager Kazuaki Tasaka. “Draws were no good to us, and while I did think about using different tactics, I decided to keep going the way we had been all season.
“We weren’t able to play the way we are capable of early on in the game, but we began to move more and more, and then Hayashi scored his goal. This has been a very important tournament for us and for J2.”
Oita’s eligibility for a playoff place was not even confirmed until October, when the deadline to fully repay a ¥600 million loan from the J. League borrowed in the wake of the club’s 2009 relegation had to be met.
“I’m very happy,” said Hayashi, who scored the goal that confirmed Trinita’s demotion that year while playing for Kyoto Sanga. “I thought I might have been offside for the goal, but I wasn’t nervous and put it away.
“I couldn’t help JEF get promotion when I played for them, and I didn’t want it to be them that we played in the final. But since I joined this club all I have been thinking about is Oita.”
Morishima scored all of Trinita’s goals in their 4-0 semifinal win over Sanga, but the striker sent his first chance of the final over the crossbar before goalkeeper Kenta Tanno denied Koki Yonekura with a smart save at the other end.
Akihiro Hyodo forced another save out of Tanno with a free kick 10 minutes before halftime, and JEF went close to scoring again after the break when Akira Takeuchi sneaked in at the back post.
But Trinita knew that a single goal would change everything, and Shinji Murai sent a warning when he flashed a shot over the bar in the 76th minute.
Then, with time quickly running out, Hayashi found a way through, keeping his cool to beat Okamoto and send his teammates into frenzied celebrations.
“It’s disappointing,” said JEF manager Takashi Kiyama. “The players gave their all, and it’s not easy to look back on a game like this so soon after it has ended.
“We made chances but we just couldn’t take them. We left them a small space for their goal, but there was always the possibility that could happen. It’s really disappointing that we couldn’t take our chances. The fans have supported us all year, and it’s our responsibility that we couldn’t get promotion for them.”