SAITAMA – Sagan Tosu hit an 83rd-minute equalizer to claim a 1-1 draw with Omiya Ardija and cut the J.League leader’s cushion at the top to three points as play resumed from a six-week international break on Saturday.
Surprise package Omiya went into the game at Nack5 Stadium with a five-point lead over Urawa Reds and Yokohama F. Marinos, and a 17th-minute opener from Takuya Aoki looked like preserving it until Kei Ikeda popped up with seven minutes left to claim a share of the spoils for Tosu.
Reds beat Ventforet Kofu 1-0 to make up ground on their first-place local rival while Marinos drew 1-1 with last-place Oita Trinita, and with three more games to play over the coming 11 days, Omiya manager Zdenko Verdenik is demanding a quick improvement.
“I can’t be satisfied with this result,” said the Slovenian. “The only thing I can be satisfied with is the first 30 minutes. Our target tonight was to play aggressively and take care of the ball, and although we managed to do that at times, we couldn’t see it through to the end. It’s difficult to explain why we kept the ball and played well in the first half but not in the second, and it’s disappointing.
“This was the first game back from the break, so it was important. Mentally it was important because if you do well it can give you a big lift for the games to come.”
Sagan went into the shutdown fourth from bottom having lost their previous three games, and manager Yoon Jong-hwan was pleased to finally have the chance to work off the frustration.
“We’ve had over a month to prepare for this game, but in the first half we weren’t able to show what we could really do,” said Yoon. “But as the game went on we got ourselves together, we didn’t give up and it paid off in the end. We would have liked an even better result, but we have to be satisfied coming away from here with a point against the leaders.”
Milivoje Novakovic failed to give Omiya an early lead with only the goalkeeper to beat in the eighth minute, but Aoki made no mistake when the opportunity presented itself almost 10 minutes later. Tomoki Imai burst into the box down the right side before cutting the ball back into the center, where Aoki was waiting to redirect it into the corner of the net with a deft touch of his right boot.
Cho Young-cheol headed over the bar from close range as Ardija immediately went in search of a second goal, but Tosu weathered the storm and came out fighting at the start of the second half with Kota Mizunuma testing goalkeeper Takashi Kitano with a flying volley.
Tosu’s Toshiya Sueyoshi tried his luck from a free kick before Yeo Sung-hae headed over the bar, and Novakovic jabbed a shot wide at the other end as the result hung in the balance heading into the final 10 minutes.
But Sagan got their reward when Ikeda broke forward with the Omiya defense struggling to shake him off the ball, giving the 26-year-old just enough time to let off a shot that nestled in the back of the net.
Novakovic somehow saw the ball scrambled off the goalline as Ardija launched a desperate injury-time onslaught on the Tosu goal, but Sagan held firm to escape with a point.
“We worked a lot harder in the second half, but the main thing was a question of confidence,” said Yoon. “The players showed much more fighting spirit in the second half, and that’s what brought us this result.”
Elsewhere in the J.League, Yoshito Okubo scored two goals to take him to the top of the scoring chart on 10 in Kawasaki Frontale’s 4-2 win over Kashima Antlers, while Park Hyung-jin scored in the 94th minute to give Sanfrecce Hiroshima a 1-0 victory over FC Tokyo.
Substitute Hideya Okamoto grabbed an injury-time winner to lead Albirex Niigata past Kashiwa Reysol 3-2, Cerezo Osaka drew 2-2 with Jubilo Iwata, while Vegalta Sendai and Shonan Bellmare played out a 0-0 stalemate.
In the day’s other game, Nagoya Grampus halted a run of five straight defeats with a 2-1 win over Shimizu S-Pulse.