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Marinos outclass league-leading Ardija

by Andrew Mckirdy

Staff Writer

Yokohama F. Marinos clipped J.League leaders Omiya Ardija’s wings and moved firmly into the chasing pack with a 2-1 win on Saturday night.

First-half goals from Marquinhos and Manabu Saito did the damage before Tomoki Imai pulled one back in the final minute at Nissan Stadium, with Marinos completely outplaying an Omiya side that went into the match with a five-point cushion at the top having won 11 of 15 games so far this season.

Ardija saw their lead trimmed to three points after Yojiro Takahagi scored in the 95th minute to give defending champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima a 1-0 win over Cerezo Osaka, with Marinos two points further back alongside Urawa Reds, who suffered a 4-0 meltdown away to Kawasaki Frontale.

Marinos’ form had stalled after setting the early pace with six wins from their opening six matches, but manager Yasuhiro Higuchi was relieved to see his side back on track having last tasted victory at home on April 13.

“We were at home tonight, and for the last four league games we haven’t been able to win in front of our own fans,” said Higuchi. “So to get the three points tonight makes me very happy. It was a really tough game and the players needed all their concentration, so they deserve a lot of praise.

“One thing I would say is that this was a game that we really should have won 3-0. That’s what we have to work on for the next game.”

Ardija went into the match missing prolific Slovenian strikers Milivoje Novakovic and Zlatan Ljubijankic through injury, and manager Zdenko Verdenik could barely contain his frustration with the game practically over by halftime.

“This was our worst game of the season so far, and it was disappointing but we just have to get over it,” said Verdenik. “There was a big difference between the two teams. They were much more aggressive than us, and we just couldn’t match them. We weren’t aggressive enough in attack, and it wouldn’t have been a surprise if we had lost by more.”

Shingo Hyodo drilled a shot into the side-netting as Marinos began the match with attacking intent, and the home side would not have to wait much longer for the opening goal. Saito swung in a cross from the right in the 22nd minute, and Marquinhos found himself completely unmarked to head home for his ninth goal of the season.

Marinos piled on the pressure in search of another, and Saito duly responded in spectacular style. The 23-year-old picked up the ball on the edge of the box in the 36th minute, then proceeded to dribble past five players before slamming home a shot into the bottom corner of the net.

Takamitsu Tomiyama gave Omiya a glimmer of hope with a good run and shot as the second half got under way, before defender Kazuhiro Murakami also went close after finding himself through on goal in the 63rd minute.

But Shunsuke Nakamura pulled a shot just wide of the post to remind the visitors of Marinos’ threat at the other end, and Imai’s effort came too late to prevent Omiya from losing only its second league game so far this season.

“We attacked better in the second half, and we did manage to at least create some chances,” said Verdenik. “But we have to ask ourselves why we didn’t start the game as aggressively as our opponents.”

Elsewhere in the J.League, Shimizu S-Pulse piled more misery on rock-bottom Oita Trinita with a 3-1 win, but fellow strugglers Shonan Bellmare fared better with a 1-0 victory over Ventforet Kofu.

Vegalta Sendai scored a late equalizer to claim a 1-1 draw and deny Jubilo Iwata a second straight win under new manager Takashi Sekizuka, Kashiwa Reysol came from behind to beat Kashima Antlers 2-1, and Nagoya Grampus were pegged back twice before finally shaking off Sagan Tosu 3-2.

In the day’s other game, FC Tokyo scored two goals in the first eight minutes on the way to a 3-0 victory over Albirex Niigata.