Veteran defender Yutaka Akita scored a second-half winner as 10-man Kashima Antlers defeated JEF United Ichihara 3-2 to move to the top of the J. League on Sunday.
Kashima had defender Naoki Soma sent off after 68 minutes as South Korean striker Choi Yong Soo drew Ichihara level from the penalty spot but Akita rose to head home 14 minutes from time to send his side top after a pulsating encounter at Tokyo’s National Stadium.
Unbeaten Kashima ended Ichihara’s flawless start to the second stage and moved on to 10 points from four matches, a point clear of the Chiba Prefecture club at the top of the table.
Chances were at a premium in the early stages and the best effort came from Kashima’s industrious Japan midfielder Mitsuo Ogasawara, whose rasping shot on nine minutes was well pushed away by Ichihara ‘keeper Ryo Kushino.
But it was Ichihara that opened the scoring with a trademark free-kick from captain Yuki Abe in the 32nd minute.
Soma was somewhat harshly adjudged to have pulled down striker Choi and Abe stepped up to bend the ball through a gap in the wall beyond the outstretched arms of Hitoshi Sogahata.
But justice was done three minutes later when Kashima hit back with a contender for goal of the season.
Tomoyuki Hirase picked up a loose ball and swiveled on the edge of the box to rifle the ball into the left-hand corner before Kashima doubled its lead courtesy of an own goal by Eisuke Nakanishi on the stroke of half time.
Kushino did superbly to block a close range effort from Ogasawara but Nakanishi was unable to get out of the way of the rebound and ran it into the empty net.
The drama continued after the interval and a sustained period of pressure from Ichihara was rewarded when Soma bundled over Choi in the box and the South Korean dusted himself off to send Sogahata the wrong way from the spot.
Incredibly, the match swung Kashima’s way for the second time as Akita rose to glance home Fernando’s free-kick and the visitors held on for all three points.
Sunday’s other match between Oita Trinita and FC Tokyo ended goalless.
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