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Reds trounce Ardija, increase lead atop J. League table

by Andrew Mckirdy

Staff Writer

J. League front-runners Urawa Reds thrashed relegation-threatened local rivals Omiya Ardija 4-0 on Saturday to extend their lead at the top of the table.

Tsukasa Umesaki opened the scoring midway through the first half before Shinzo Koroki notched a second three minutes later, and Ryota Moriwaki and Tomoya Ugajin added two more after the break to give Urawa a comfortable three points in front of 42,308 at Saitama Stadium.

A 2-2 draw for second-place Sagan Tosu against Shimizu S-Pulse allowed Urawa to open up a three-point gap at the top of the table, while third-place Kashima Antlers also lost ground in the title race after a 2-2 draw with FC Tokyo.

“To be honest, we weren’t really thinking about the fact that it was the derby,” said Urawa defender Tomoaki Makino. “That’s something that the supporters really enjoy, but as players we are really just concentrating on racking up the wins.

“The thing we had to watch out for today was what happened after we scored the first goal. We’ve had games where we’ve scored and then conceded soon after, so we had to be careful of that.”

Ardija stayed rooted in the relegation zone after their 12th defeat of the season, which leaves them five points adrift of safety and second from bottom in the table.

“We were trying to play the offside trap for their first goal, but we lost our concentration for a second and paid the price,” said Ardija manager Kiyoshi Okuma. “What’s important is to have the mentality to respond to that, but we don’t have that at the moment. You have to hold firm after you let in the first goal and we couldn’t do that.”

Koroki spurned two excellent opportunities to give Urawa an early lead, drawing a sharp save from Omiya goalkeeper Takashi Kitano before incredibly missing an open goal shortly afterward.

Yosuke Kashiwagi was also guilty of profligacy with a chance in the 31st minute but, fortunately for the home side, Umesaki was in a more decisive mood. First the midfielder let fly with an audacious lob that hit the Omiya crossbar, before giving Urawa the lead less than a minute later with a sliding shot to turn home Ugajin’s low cross.

With the deadlock broken, Reds wasted little time doubling their advantage. Kashiwagi broke free down the left wing, and Koroki was waiting in acres of space to head his cross into an empty net.

But if Ardija thought the halftime whistle would offer some respite, Reds picked up from where they left off with a third goal four minutes after the restart. Kashiwagi swung in a corner, and Moriwaki thumped home a near-post header with Omiya’s markers nowhere to be seen.

Ugajin then made it four in the 60th minute, sweeping the ball home after Koroki’s hard work had cut Omiya’s defense to ribbons.

The visitors did rouse themselves enough to threaten Urawa’s goal before the final whistle, but a Zlatan Ljubijankic header that cannoned down off the crossbar and bounced off the line marked the end of Omiya’s dismal evening.

“Despite what the final score says, this was anything but an easy night’s work for us,” said Urawa manager Mihailo Petrovic. “They played hard and we made a few mistakes. We showed how much we wanted to win this game right from the start, and the fact that we got the three points was a result of that.”

Elsewhere in the J. League, new national team call-up Yusuke Minagawa scored the winner from the penalty spot as champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima beat Tokushima Vortis 1-0, while fellow new recruit Ryota Morioka was also on target as Vissel Kobe beat Cerezo Osaka 2-1.

Gamba Osaka were the day’s big winners with a 5-0 rout of Albirex Niigata, while new Nagoya Grampus striker Kengo Kawamata found the net in a 1-1 draw with Kawasaki Frontale.

Kashiwa Reysol eased to a 3-0 win over Ventforet Kofu, while in the day’s other game, Takumi Shimohira struck in the 93rd minute to give Yokohama F. Marinos a 2-1 victory over Vegalta Sendai.