KASHIWA, Chiba Pref. — Three-time J. League champion Yokohama F. Marinos took a big step toward first-division survival with a 3-1 win over Kashiwa Reysol on Saturday, while Nagoya Grampus’ bid for a first-ever championship hit a snag with a 0-0 draw against Jubilo Iwata.

Third-place Oita Trinita also suffered a setback, going down 1-0 at Vissel Kobe to leave Kashima Antlers in pole position, one point clear of Grampus with a game in hand going into Sunday’s matches.

Speculation has intensified this week that Yokohama is on the brink of sealing a deal to bring Celtic star Shunsuke Nakamura back to the club where he made his name, but the ailing former powerhouse has been in real trouble this season, starting Saturday just four points off the drop zone.

Kenta Kano’s goal shortly before halftime at Hitachi Stadium helped ease the worries, before Yusuke Tanaka doubled the lead early in the first half. Substitute Ryoichi Kurisawa pulled a goal back for Reysol in the 76th minute, but Kano notched his second with five minutes left to play to give Yokohama three vital points in its bid to avoid a first-ever relegation.

Marinos manager Kokichi Kimura was thankful for the reprieve, but chided his players for thinking they had finished the job before the final whistle.

“We knew they would play with one striker and that we had a chance to attack them down the wings,” he said. “We took the three points, but when we were 2-0 up in the second half we thought we had it won and lost concentration.”

His Reysol counterpart, Nobuhiro Ishizaki, had a different perspective.

‘We didn’t take our chances today,” he said. “If you don’t take your chances then you can’t win. It’s frustrating.”

Shohei Ogura almost gave Marinos a second-minute lead when he thumped a long-range shot against the crossbar, but Reysol dictated the early pace.

But the former Bayer Leverkusen striker was as guilty as anyone of giving the ball away cheaply, and although Minoru Suganuma and Ryuji Kawai both had glimpses of the goal at either end, neither side could build any sustained pressure.

A brilliant cross-field ball by Kano midway through the first half lifted the gloom, but Hayuma Tanaka was unable to take advantage as he sent his shot flying over with only Reysol ‘keeper Takanori Sugeno to beat.

Daisuke Sakata huffed and puffed as he struggled to find room to maneuver in the box in the 40th minute, but when the ball fell to Kano, the 22-year-old made no mistake as he blasted the ball past Sugeno for the opener.

Shingo Hyodo wasted a chance to double the lead minutes later when he lashed a shot into the side-netting, and again when he struck the post on the stroke of halftime.

Hyodo fired another attempt just wide of the target as Marinos began the second half with the same attacking intent, but Alex replied with a dangerous shot of his own to suggest Reysol was not out of the reckoning yet.

Kano had other ideas. The shock-haired striker burst into the box in the 54th minute, before sending a cross to the far post that Tanaka back-pedaled just enough to get his head onto and send bouncing off Sugeno into the net.

Yuzo Kurihara crashed a shot at goal as Marinos looked for a third, before Hidekazu Otani went close to reducing the deficit for Kashiwa as Marinos took their foot off the gas.

That set the tone for a late Kashiwa revival, and Kurisawa took full advantage when his shot took a deflection and looped into the Yokohama net to make it 2-1.

But Marinos had the last word, with Ogura getting free down the left to send a low cross into Kano, who was on hand to tap the ball in.

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