KASHIMA, Ibaraki Pref. – Yuto Sato scored twice as unfashionable JEF United Chiba denied Kashima Antlers the chance to regain pole position in the J. League first division after holding the four-time champions to a 2-2 draw on Saturday.
Alex Mineiro swept home his 12th of the season following a corner from Mitsuo Ogasawara to give the home side a 22nd-minute lead at Kashima Stadium.
But Sato headed home after Hitoshi Sogahata had failed to deal with a free-kick from Yuki Abe and buried a flick on from Seiichiro Maki to put the visitors in front nine minutes before the break.
Victory could have moved Kashima two points clear of leader Gamba Osaka, which travels to Shimizu S-Pulse on Sunday, but Mineiro’s 83rd-minute equalizer meant they had to settle for a point and stay in second place.
Gamba leads Kashima on goal difference with 48 points while JEF kept its bid for a first title alive by moving into fourth behind Jubilo Iwata on 42 points with eight games left to play.
At the other end of the table, Brazilian striker Reinaldo struck a first-half winner as Kashiwa Reysol boosted its survival hopes with a 1-0 defeat of troubled Vissel Kobe.
The result lifted Kashiwa up to 12th in the table and increased bottom-placed Kobe’s relegation fears after the defeat left it eight points off the safety zone.
Tokyo Verdy occupies the other automatic relegation spot on 25 points, Washington scoring a hat trick in the 4-4 draw at home to Iwata while Omiya Ardija dropped into 16th in the 18-team table after going down 1-0 at home to FC Tokyo.
Reinaldo took just four minutes to open the scoring at a sun-drenched Kashiwa Stadium when he raced on to a through ball from Hidekazu Otani and beat Seiji Honda with a delightful chip.
But it was Kobe that had the better of a scrappy match and Japan international Atsuhiro Miura was unlucky not to level for the visitor in the 28th minute with a deflected shot that was well saved by Yuta Minami.
Kobe increased the pressure in search of an equalizer but lacked a cutting edge in front of goal, substitute Tomoyuki Hirase missing its best chance with a header that flashed wide in the 62nd minute after good work from the industrious Miura.
“I told my players to be on their guard at the start so it was disappointing to go behind so early,” said Kobe manager Pavel Rehak. “After that we moved forward well but just couldn’t find the finish.
“It’s going to be difficult for us to survive but there are still 24 points left to play for and we will battle right to the death,” he added.
Elsewhere, rejuvenated Oita Trinita produced the surprise result of the day after brushing aside defending champion Yokohama F. Marinos 3-0 away.
Juninho scored his ninth of the season as Kawasaki Frontale beat visiting Albirex Niigata by the same scoreline while a 78th-minute goal from Yohei Toyoda proved decisive as Nagoya Grampus Eight won 2-1 away to Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
In Sunday’s other match, Cerezo Osaka entertain Urawa Reds.