TOSU, SAGA PREF. – Hisato Sato scored a stunning first-half strike and reigning J. League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima closed the gap on leaders Yokohama F. Marinos to two points with a 2-0 win away to Sagan Tosu on Saturday.
Sato opened the scoring after 23 minutes with his 17th goal of the season, taking a pass from Yojiro Takahagi and giving Tosu goalkeeper Akihiro Hayashi no chance with a blistering effort that nestled inside the right-hand post.
The 2012 J. League Player of the Year made way for Gakuto Notsuda in the 68th minute and Notsuda sealed victory from the penalty spot with three minutes left.
Naoya Kikuchi was sent off for bringing Naoki Ishihara down in the box and Notsuda made no mistake from the resulting spot kick for only his second J. League career goal.
“I am happy that the way the players prepared for this game has paid off with a winning result,” said Hiroshima manager Hajime Moriyasu.
“We arrived here expecting a tough game but the players never stopped running and battling from start to finish and the team got the result and that pleases me.”
In the day’s first game, Marinos were held 0-0 away to Vegalta Sendai in a yawn-inducing encounter at Yurtec Stadium.
“It was a very close game and either team could have taken all three points so in that sense one point seems fair,” said Yokohama manager Yasuhiro Higuchi.
In other afternoon matches, Urawa Reds needed a late equalizer from Yosuke Kashiwagi to rescue a point in a 2-2 draw away to struggling Shonan Bellmare. Reds are four points off the pace in third spot.
Kashima Antlers came from behind to beat all-but relegated Oita Trinita 3-1 behind a brace from Yasushi Endo and stayed fourth on 47 points.
Genki Omae scored twice as Shimizu S-Pulse beat Ventforet Kofu 2-1 at home and Cleo equalized 15 minutes from time to give Asian Champions League semifinalists Kashiwa Reysol a 1-1 draw at home to Albirex Niigata.
In Saturday’s evening fixtures, Japan striker Yoichiro Kakitani put sixth-place Cerezo Osaka on the way to a 2-0 win over relegation-threatened Jubilo Iwata, Lucas scored a hat-trick in FC Tokyo’s 5-2 win at Omiya Arijda, and former Japan striker Yoshito Okubo was on target in Kawasaki Frontale’s 2-1 win at Nagoya Grampus.