Yokohama F. Marinos reclaimed top spot in the J.League table with a 2-0 win over FC Tokyo on Saturday night.
Marinos went into the game at Ajinomoto Stadium trailing previous leaders Sanfrecce Hiroshima by just one point having won four and drawn one of their previous five games, and a 31st-minute goal from Shingo Hyodo put the visitors on their way to another victory before Shunsuke Nakamura secured the result in the 89th minute.
Sanfrecce looked to have done enough to retain their cushion at the top when Mihael Mikic scored a 77th-minute opener against Grampus, however, but Marcus Tulio Tanaka equalized two minutes into injury time to claim a point for Nagoya and send Marinos back to the summit for the first time in almost four months.
“Tonight we were playing away, but our supporters made it feel like a home game,” said Yokohama manager Yasuhiro Higuchi. “Our first objective tonight was not to let the other team score, and the players carried that out to the letter.
“The game plan was to cut out their combinations and stop their attacks at the source, and we did that very well. The result and the performance are something to celebrate, but we have to keep working and make sure we are prepared for our next game.”
Marinos now lead second-place Sanfrecce by one point, with Urawa Reds three further back after a remarkable 4-3 win over bottom side Oita Trinita. Reds conceded three goals without reply in the opening 20 minutes, before making up the deficit and scoring the winner through Daisuke Nasu in the 84th minute.
Tokyo, meanwhile, has now suffered its first defeat in seven games, leaving manager Ranko Popovic railing against his players’ inability to make their opportunities count.
“This is a very disappointing defeat, because if we had taken our chances in the second half it could have been a different outcome,” said Popovic. “We knew that we were facing a very good team and we were prepared for that, but we lost our concentration at times, and if you give them space then they will punish you.
“Our plan was to attack them down the wings, and we were successful in doing that and made some good chances. But we didn’t have the courage to finish them off, and that hurt us.”
Marinos dominated the early stages without managing to carve out any clear-cut scoring opportunities, but Hyodo found a way through with the opening goal shortly after the half-hour mark. The 28-year-old played a neat one-two with Jin Hanato as he burst into the box, curling home the return pass with a crisp first-time shot.
Takuji Yonemoto and Hideto Takahashi both tried their luck from distance as Tokyo tried to regain a foothold, but Marquinhos almost doubled Yokohama’s lead only for his flying volley from close range to miss the target.
Tokyo had a chance to level the score when Ariajasuru Hasegawa was brought down on the edge of the box 15 minutes into the second half, but Keigo Higashi could only fire his free kick into the wall before the ball bounced harmlessly wide of the post.
Tokyo pressed relentlessly in search of an equalizer, and with more and more gaps appearing in the home side’s defense, Nakamura sealed the win for Marinos. The former Celtic playmaker made himself space with a series of feints, before slamming the ball past Shuchi Gonda into the back of the net.
“We have players with a lot of experience,” said Higuchi. “When it’s hot like this, they know how best to use their energy.”
Elsewhere in the J.League, Cerezo Osaka moved into fourth place with a 4-1 win over Shimizu S-Pulse, leap-frogging free-falling Omiya Ardija, who suffered their sixth defeat in a row in a 2-1 loss to Sagan Tosu. Ardija fired manager Zdenko Verdenik last Sunday and replaced him with caretaker Takeyuki Okamoto.
Yoshito Okubo moved top of the goal-scoring chart with a brace in Kawasaki Frontale’s 3-1 win over Ventforet Kofu, taking his tally for the season to 16.
A goal in the 78th minute from Brazilian striker Wellington denied Jubilo Iwata a win in a 1-1 draw with Shonan Bellmare, while Kashiwa Reysol and Vegalta Sendai also drew, 0-0.
In the day’s other game, Yuya Osako scored as Kashima Antlers beat Albirex Niigata 1-0.