Naoaki Aoyama equalized with the last attack of the game to snatch a point for Ventforet Kofu and deny Yokohama F. Marinos a return to the top of the J.League table with a 1-1 draw on Saturday.

Marinos looked to be cruising back into first place a day after Omiya Ardija had taken it from them when Shunsuke Nakamura scored a 4th-minute free kick at Nissan Stadium, but Ventforet had other ideas as Aoyama headed home from a goalmouth scramble with the match five minutes into injury time.

The result means Ardija finish the weekend top of the table for the first time in club history, and Aoyama returns to Kofu with a smile on his face after battling through illness to face his former club.

“I couldn’t eat anything last night, and I finally managed to get just enough down me to get me through the game today,” said the 26-year-old defender, who joined Ventforet from Marinos over the winter. “I was really looking forward to this game, and I was cursing my luck at the thought that I might have to miss it. I was just hoping that I could recover in time because I was determined to play.

“It feels good to get the goal. We knew it was the last attack, and when the ball came, thankfully I was able to stick it in.”

Ventforet took only one point from three matches to begin their first season back in the top flight after winning the second division title last season, but Aoyama’s late intervention means the Yamanashi club has now gone five games unbeaten.

“The last time we played Marinos in the Nabisco Cup they beat us 2-0, but it should have been more,” said Ventforet manager Hiroshi Jofuku. “Today we wanted to show that we had progressed since then, and we did that, but they scored an early goal. That’s where you really feel the level of J1.

“The players kept going throughout, and right at the end the football gods gave us our reward. I don’t think any of the players felt we were lucky today. It could have been three points if it hadn’t been for their early goal.”

Nakamura bagged his fourth goal of the season to put the visitors on the back foot, taking advantage of a casually organized Ventforet wall to curl home a free kick from all of 35 meters.

Neither side looked like troubling the scoresheet further until Marquinhos headed a Yuzo Kobayashi cross just wide a minute before halftime, but things picked up after the interval with Yokohama’s Seitaro Tomisawa cracking a shot against the crossbar from outside the box.

Marquinhos and Jin Hanato both went close to doubling Marinos’ lead, but Ventforet almost struck at the other end when a Hugo header forced Kosuke Nakamachi to scramble off the line in the 76th minute.

Then, with the seconds ticking away, Kofu scored an unlikely equalizer. Substitute Koki Mizuno launched a long throw into the box, Yukio Tsuchiya struck a shot that Marinos goalkeeper Tetsuya Enomoto could only parry against the bar, and Aoyama pounced to head the ball home.

“To concede a goal right at the end and give up the three points like that is very disappointing,” said Marinos manager Yasuhiro Higuchi. “It’s a waste. We lost our last game against Albirex Niigata, but we were mentally focused today and our motivation was high.

“We got the early goal and created chances, and if we could have scored again then it would have been a different story.”

Elsewhere in the J.League, Kashima Antlers beat Albirex 3-2, Toshihiro Aoyama canceled out an opener from Yoshizumi Ogawa to earn Sanfrecce Hiroshima a 1-1 draw with Nagoya Grampus, and Cerezo Osaka and Oita Trinita played out a 0-0 stalemate.

Bottom side Jubilo Iwata beat Shonan Bellmare 4-0 to pick up their first win of the season in emphatic style, Bare scored to give Shimizu S-Pulse a 1-0 victory over Urawa Reds, and in the day’s late game, FC Tokyo beat Kawasaki Frontale 2-0.


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