Ardija rally for draw in Saitama derby


Staff Writer

Omiya Ardija fought back from a goal down and an early red card to claim an unlikely share of the Saitama derby spoils with a 1-1 draw against Urawa Reds on Saturday night.

Genki Haraguchi gave Urawa an 11th-minute lead at Saitama Stadium as Reds looked for the win that would potentially send them top of the J.League table, and the home side’s prospects improved further when Omiya’s Slovenian World Cup striker Milivoje Novakovic was sent off seven minutes later for two bookings in quick succession.

But the complexion of the match changed entirely when Keigo Higashi leveled the score with Omiya’s very first shot of the game in first-half injury time, and a disciplined defensive performance after the break coupled with an uninspired Urawa attack combined to earn Ardija a hard-fought point.

“Before the game I would have been happy with a draw, so for us to get one after a match like this is very satisfying,” said Omiya manager Zdenko Verdenik, whose team remains deep in relegation trouble in 17th place. “Urawa hit the woodwork three times and created a lot of chances, so to get this result makes me very happy. We were lucky but we made our own luck.

“We were disappointed not to make so many chances, but that’s football. We defended well and limited them to only a few opportunities in the second half, and to fight like this with 10 men and get the draw is a huge result for us.”

Vegalta Sendai regained first place with a 2-1 win over Kawasaki Frontale, while previous leaders Sanfrecce Hiroshima slipped a point off the pace after a 1-1 draw with Jubilo Iwata. Urawa remains two points behind in third, and manager Mihailo Petrovic refused to let the emotions of the derby cloud his team’s overall target for the season.

“Of course this is a disappointing result for everyone at this club, but there’s no need for despair,” he said. “The players gave their all and kept fighting until the end, and that is enough. Football is a sport.

“If you think about the state Urawa Reds were in four or six months ago, you can see how much we have improved. There is not a team in Japan that has improved as much as this one. There are still 10 games left to play, and we are setting our sights high.”

Reds drew first blood after a confident start to the match, with Haraguchi taking a touch to control a lay-off from Marcio Richardes before dispatching a side-foot shot into the far corner of the net.

Tsukasa Umesaki almost doubled Urawa’s lead five minutes later when he hit the crossbar after cutting in from the left wing, but Omiya’s night would soon go from bad to worse when Novakovic saw red for a clumsy tackle just three minutes after being booked for an infringement in the defensive wall.

Marcio hit the post with a header as Urawa turned the screw, but with the prospect of a second goal looking little more than a formality, Omiya stunned the hosts with an equalizer moments before halftime. Higashi let fly from the edge of the box, and goalkeeper Nobuhiro Kato looked back aghast to find the ball nestling in the net behind him.

That set the scene for an intriguing second half, with Omiya frustrating Reds’ attempts to break through while all the time looking dangerous on the counterattack. Substitute Tomoya Ugajin hit the corner of post and bar with one of Urawa’s few serious chances on goal, before goalkeeper Takashi Kitano denied Haraguchi with a curling shot from the edge of the box with time running out for the home team.

“We lost the previous Saitama derby and we were looking for revenge,” said Petrovic. “It was a big motivation for us but the players also knew that they had to stay calm. Everyone is very disappointed at the result.”

Elsewhere in the J. League, Sagan Tosu moved into fifth in the table with a 4-1 win over Gamba Osaka, while Yokohama F. Marinos slumped to their second straight defeat in a 3-1 loss to FC Tokyo.

Keiji Tamada scored the only goal as Nagoya Grampus beat Kashiwa Reysol 1-0, while Yuya Osako made the difference as Kashima Antlers beat Vissel Kobe 1-0.

Shimizu S-Pulse hammered another nail in Consadole Sapporo’s coffin with a 2-0 win over the Hokkaido side, while in the day’s other game, Cerezo Osaka beat Albirex Niigata 1-0.