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Ardija stretch unbeaten streak to 19

Kyodo

Slovenian striker Milivoje Novakovic scored twice to help propel Omiya Ardija to the top of the J. League — for 24 hours at least — with a 4-0 thrashing of Kashiwa Reysol.

Shohei Takahashi and Cho Young Cheol were also on target at Hitachi Stadium as the Saitama Squirrels stylishly extended their record of consecutive unbeaten J. League games to 19.

The result briefly moved Omiya (20) two points clear of Yokohama F. Marinos, who host promoted Ventforet Kofu on Saturday.

“We scored lots of goals and I am satisfied with the result,” said Omiya manager Zdenko Verdenik. “But it wasn’t just the result and margin of the win that made me happy. This was our best performance of the season.”

“We kept it tight and didn’t give our opponents any space to play in. We attacked the ball and were quick on the counter and our game plan worked well.”

Former J. League Player of the Year Leandro Domingues returned from injury for Reysol, but a misplaced pass from the Brazilian midfielder was punished as Omiya went in front on 18 minutes.

The loose ball fell straight to Cho, and the South Korean striker quickly broke down the left flank before whipping in a cross for Novakovic to steer the ball past Takanori Sugeno.

Looking sluggish after securing their place in the last 16 of the Asian Champions League in midweek with a 1-1 draw at home to China’s Guizhou Renhe, Reysol offered little going forward and Masato Kudo wasted a good chance with a scuffed shot before Omiya doubled its lead in time added on at the end of the first half.

Daigo Watanabe sent a cross into the danger zone following a short corner, and Takahashi, back from a two-game ban for his dismissal at Cerezo Osaka on April 13, reacted quickest to prod in Zlatan Ljubijankic’s flick-on.

Novakovic made it three on 54 minutes, sending Sugeno the wrong way from the penalty spot after Ljubijankic had been shoved over from behind by Hirofumi Watanabe. Cho swept home eight minutes later to put the visitors out of sight.

“Tactically, we were excellent today,” said Novakovic. “There are probably people who can’t believe we are right up there in the standings but hopefully we can stay calm and try and keep ourselves in title contention.”