Shimizu S-Pulse failed to take advantage of Kawasaki Frontale’s early-season fatigue in a flat 0-0 draw on Saturday.

S-Pulse headed to Todoroki Stadium on top of the table after two wins and a draw from their opening three J. League fixtures, and had designs on taking three more points from a team whose involvement in the Asian Champions League meant it had played twice as many matches over the past month.

But not even former national team star Shinji Ono could find a way through for Shimizu in a scrappy 90 minutes, earning Frontale a reprieve after last weekend’s shocking 4-0 collapse to Yokohama F. Marinos.

“Our opponents played in the ACL in midweek, and we knew they would be tired so we wanted to press them,” said Ono, who signed for his hometown club at the start of the year after a second stint in Europe with German side Bochum.

“It’s disappointing that we couldn’t take all three points, but we managed to create some chances and that’s encouraging.”

Ono has stated his intention to make a late run into Japan’s World Cup squad for what would be his fourth tournament, but club manager Kenta Hasegawa is more concerned with how he can integrate the 30-year-old into his own team.

“He has a lot of potential, but of course I have to think about how to get the most out of him,” Hasegawa said. “He came here because of various difficulties in Europe, and now I want to see him improve.

“He understands the game well and I haven’t talked much with him about what I want him to do on the pitch. He needs to be granted a certain degree of freedom. I think that’s the best way to use him, and it’s up to the rest of the team to give him support.”

Ono’s midfield battle with another returning national team veteran, Junichi Inamoto, was keenly anticipated, and the pair literally went head to head as early as the second minute as they contested a high ball.

That confrontation ended with Inamoto on his feet while Ono left the field on a stretcher, but it was the S-Pulse man who carved out the first chance with a through-ball for Shinji Okazaki in the 25th minute.

Ono was again at the heart of the action when he lunged for a rebound in the Kawasaki box 10 minutes later, but it was Frontale who came out fighting for the second half when Masaru Kurotsu forced an important save from S-Pulse goalkeeper Yohei Nishibe.

Renatinho and Okazaki traded shots as the match began to open out, but Shimizu’s Akihiro Hyodo hung his head in shame when he missed the best of a slim picking of chances, leaving both teams to pick over the bones of a frustrating afternoon.

“We’re playing games every two or three days because we’re in the ACL, and that started to show last week when we lost 4-0 to Marinos,” said Frontale manager Tsutomu Takahata.

“We couldn’t score today and we didn’t have many chances. There were a few mistakes as well, so it was good not to concede a goal.”

Elsewhere in the J. League, promoted Shonan Bellmare got their first win of the season after beating Albirex Niigata 2-0, but Cerezo Osaka are still waiting for theirs after going down 3-2 at home to Urawa Reds. Champions Kashima Antlers continued their unbeaten start with a 3-1 win over Montedio Yamagata, while Yokohama’s momentum was checked by a last-minute equalizer for Vissel Kobe in their 1-1 draw. Kyoto Sanga also scored at the death to beat Jubilo Iwata 3-2.


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