SAITAMA – Urawa Reds got their faltering J. League title challenge back on track in emphatic style with a 4-0 win over local rivals Omiya Ardija on Saturday.
Reds went into the match at Saitama Stadium trailing league leaders Yokohama F. Marinos by four points having drawn two and lost one of their previous three games, but the home side’s task was made easier when a ninth-minute foul brought a red card for Omiya defender Lucas Neill and allowed Yuki Abe to open the scoring from the penalty spot.
Omiya put up a stubborn resistance until Genki Haraguchi notched Urawa’s second in the 72nd minute, opening the floodgates for Shinzo Koroki and Kunimitsu Sekiguchi to bump up the scoreline and keep Reds in title contention with six games remaining.
“Finally luck was on our side today,” said Urawa manager Mihailo Petrovic. “(Milivoje) Novakovic had a chance to score in the second minute for Omiya, and if he had taken it, it would have been a very different game. After that we got a goal from a penalty and they had a man sent off, and from then on it was always going to be difficult for Omiya to come back.”
Sanfrecce Hiroshima returned to the top of the table on goal difference after coming from behind to beat Shimizu S-Pulse 3-1, while Marinos could only manage a 0-0 draw with Ventforet Kofu. Reds are two points off the pace in third place, while Kashima Antlers remain a point behind after thrashing FC Tokyo 4-1.
“We were ready for this game,” said Urawa forward Yosuke Kashiwagi. “We had trouble scoring a second goal and that frustrated us, and we knew that for us to concede at that time would be dangerous. But then we got our second, and from there on it’s much easier to get a third and a fourth.
“We hadn’t managed to win for a few games, so to win the derby could be very important for us.”
Novakovic volleyed wide from close range after only two minutes, but the game ignited seven minutes later when referee Masaaki Iemoto pointed to the spot and sent off Neill after the Australian had tripped Koroki bearing down on goal. Omiya argued that the contact had taken place outside the box, but Abe kept his cool to dispatch his spot kick beyond the reach of goalkeeper Takashi Kitano.
Koroki almost made it two with a volley past the post in the 20th minute, before Kashiwagi picked up a loose pass from Novakovic only to miss the target soon after.
Tomoaki Makino had a header cleared off the line as Reds struggled to turn their first-half dominance into more goals, and Haraguchi put the ball in the net only to see his effort ruled out for offside as the teams returned after the interval.
But Haraguchi gave the home side the cushion it was looking for in the 72nd minute, racing through the middle to side-foot a Tomoya Ugajin cross home from close range.
Koroki made the result safe four minutes later, latching onto a long ball forward and rounding Kitano before slotting the ball into an empty net, and substitute Sekiguchi completed the scoring with a tap-in at the back post in the 83rd minute.
A late red card for Tomoki Imae compounded a miserable evening for Omiya, and continued a remarkable fall from grace with the club now having lost 12 of its last 13 games despite topping the table as recently as July.
“We lost 4-0 but I think it would have been different if we had stayed with 11 players,” said Ardija striker Zlatan Ljubijankic. “I don’t know what happened with the penalty, but I think the referee could have just given yellow. We fought and we had some chances, but it was very difficult against such a good team, especially at home.”
Elsewhere in the J. League, bottom side Oita Trinita’s return to the second division was confirmed with a 2-0 defeat to Cerezo Osaka. Trinita were promoted last season after winning the first-ever J2 promotion playoffs despite finishing sixth, but goals from Takumi Minamino and Edno sent them straight back down with only one win to their name so far.
Jubilo Iwata moved closer to joining them after a 1-1 draw with Vegalta Sendai, while Shonan Bellmare also remain deep in relegation trouble after drawing 1-1 with Nagoya Grampus.
In the day’s other game, Albirex Niigata beat Sagan Tosu 3-1.