Kashima Antlers preserved their five-point cushion at the top of the J. League after a 2-0 win away to first-division whipping boys Vissel Kobe on Thursday.
Japan international Masashi Motoyama put Kashima on the way to its sixth consecutive victory when he struck from 12 meters on the half hour and Takuya Nozawa sealed the result, with Alex Mineiro again the provider in the 64th minute.
Kashima improved to 22 points after the eighth round of matches, while Kobe remain rooted to the foot of the table on five points after losing its first match in front of new manager Emerson Leao.
Nagoya Grampus Eight stayed within reach of Kashima in second spot after a highly entertaining 5-4 win over Tokyo Verdy.
Nagoya came from a goal down to take a 4-2 lead after 40 minutes thanks to goals from Keisuke Honda, Kei Yamaguchi, Marques and Masahiro Koga.
Kazuki Hiramoto pulled Verdy back into the game when he completed his hat trick after 62 minutes, only for Brazilian midfielder Claiton to restore Nagoya’s two-goal cushion.
Verdy striker Washington set up a tense finale with his seventh of the campaign from the penalty spot but Nagoya held on to collect a hard-earned three points.
Sanfrecce Hiroshima stayed in third after a 1-1 draw away to Cerezo Osaka, which scored a last-minute penalty through Ze Carlos, while Koki Mizuno inspired JEF United Chiba to a 3-1 home win over Gamba Osaka.
Mizuno scored twice and set up Seiichiro Maki for his fifth goal of the season, as Chiba moved into fifth in the table, one place behind Omiya Ardija, which saw off Oita Trinita 3-1.
Elsewhere, defending champion Yokohama F. Marinos slipped 11 points off the pace after going down 2-1 away to Kawasaki Frontale, while a goal in each half from Cleber and Tomonori Hirayama lifted Kashiwa Reysol to a 2-0 win at faltering FC Tokyo, which suffered its fourth defeat in a row.
Brazilian striker Emerson scored an 87th-minute equalizer to give last year’s runners-up Urawa Reds a 2-2 draw away to Jubilo Iwata. Albirex Niigata was held to a goalless draw at home to Shimizu S-Pulse.
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