J. League leader Shimizu S-Pulse squandered a two-goal cushion and with it a golden opportunity to rebound from their first defeat of the season in a 2-2 draw away to FC Tokyo on Saturday.
A Yasuhiro Hiraoka header and a fabulous free kick from Jungo Fujimoto put S-Pulse in command but the visitors could not hold on and two goals in the last five minutes from Yuto Nagatomo and substitute Toshihiro Matsushita provided Tokyo with a share of the spoils.
“We would normally have taken three points from a game like today but we have only taken one and that is obviously a little disappointing,” said Shimizu manager Kenta Hasegawa. “I thought we would be able to hold on as we didn’t seem to be in any great danger.
“Having said that, we failed to beat Tokyo at home and away last season and they set the aim of winning the championship this year, so when you look at things objectively a point is not so bad.”
S-Pulse moved to 25 points from 12 games, three ahead of Nagoya Grampus, who host champions Kashima Antlers at Toyota Stadium on Sunday before the J. League heads into the World Cup break.
In other games, goals from Marcio Richardes, Isao Homma and Cho Young Cheol saw Albirex Niigata come from behind to beat Montedio Yamagata 3-1 and make it four wins in a row, while Takumi Miyayoshi grabbed a late equalizer to earn struggling Kyoto Sanga a 2-2 draw at Yokohama F. Marinos.
North Korea international Ryang Yong Gi scored in Vegalta Sendai’s 1-1 draw at home to Urawa Reds, and Shinji Kagawa’s goal in the sixth minute of first-half injury time, his last for Cerezo Osaka before moving to Germany, earned a 2-1 win at home to Vissel Kobe.
With Naohiro Ishikawa looking particularly lively, Tokyo made most of the early running at Ajinomoto Stadium and Sota Hirayama smashed just wide on 13 minutes.
Yohei Nishibe got down well to paw away a dangerous ball across the face of goal from Ishikawa but it was S-Pulse who broke the deadlock on 26 minutes.
Suspended for last week’s 2-0 defeat at home to Albirex and struggling with stomach problems, Shinji Ono was the provider, the 30-year-old midfielder whipping in a free kick for Hiraoka to beat Shuichi Gonda with a textbook header.
Ono and Norwegian striker Frode Johnsen both went close and Nishibe pulled off a smart save at his near post to deny Hirayama eight minutes from halftime.
Tokyo brought on Brazilian striker Ricardinho to beef up its attack, but despite producing sustained pressure the hosts fell further behind when Fujimoto beat Gonda with a 30-meter effort into the top corner.
Tokyo refused to roll over though and hit back in the 85th minute with an equally impressive strike from World Cup-bound defender Nagatomo, before Matsushita ensured it finished honors even with a shot that took a deflection and beat Nishibe three minutes from time.
“That’s the way it is,” said Johnsen. “We didn’t actually play a very good game so it was stupid to give away a two-goal lead, but we have to live with it. We are still number one.”