ICHIHARA, Chiba Pref. – Modest JEF United Ichihara crushed Vegalta Sendai 5-1 at home on Saturday to move three points clear at the top of the J. League after 10-man Kashima Antlers were beaten 2-0 at lowly Shimizu S-Pulse.
South Korea striker Choi Yong Soo marked his return from injury with a five-star display as he grabbed a brace and created two more to move Ichihara onto 26 points with three games of the first stage remaining.
Ichihara, which is seeking its first-ever league title, is three points ahead of Yokohama F. Marinos, who won 2-1 at home to bottom-club Kyoto Purple Sanga courtesy of an 86th-minute winner from another South Korean star Yoo Sang Chul.
Perennial underachiever Nagoya Grampus Eight cruised to a 3-0 win away at Vissel Kobe to go third ahead of Kashima on goal difference with 22 points.
Choi set the wheels in motion by capitalizing on some kamikaze Sendai defending to calmly slot home the opener on 17 minutes and had a hand in the second soon after when goalkeeper Daijiro Takakuwa spilled his free-kick, allowing Naotake Hanyu to lash home the second.
More sloppy defending saw Zeljko Milinovic grab the third on 25 minutes before Satoru Yamagishi swept home a clever through ball from Choi for the fourth just before the break.
Hisato Sato converted a penalty for Sendai in the 63rd minute but it was of little significance as Choi, who also hit the woodwork twice, completed the rout with a league-leading 11th goal of the season.
In Shizuoka Prefecture, Kashima lost ground on the leader after a brace from Brazilian striker Tuto gave Shimizu its first win in three matches.
Kashima finished the game with 10 men after Japan midfielder Mitsuo Ogasawara was sent off 15 minutes from time for a second bookable offense.
Elsewhere, resurgent Tokyo Verdy came from behind to beat Kashiwa Reysol 3-1 to preserve its unbeaten record under new manager Osvaldo Ardiles while neighbor FC Tokyo won 1-0 away at Urawa Reds.
Defending league champion Jubilo Iwata travels to Oita Trinita while Gamba Osaka hosts crosstown rival Cerezo Osaka on Sunday.
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