KASHIWA, CHIBA PREF. – Sagan Tosu lost further ground in the J. League title race after a 2-0 defeat to Kashiwa Reysol on Tuesday night left them nine points adrift of leaders Urawa Reds.
Sagan, playing in only their third season in the top flight, were in first place as recently as Aug. 2 only to be thrown into turmoil by the dismissal of manager Yoon Jung-hwan for what the club described as a lack of trust with his players.
Sagan went into the game at Hitachi Stadium having won only two of their six league games since Megumu Yoshida replaced Yoon on Aug. 8, and a second-half double from Reysol striker Masato Kudo continued the Kyushu side’s slump and dropped it to fourth in the table.
“We’ve had a run of games and we didn’t look like our usual selves tonight,” said Yoshida. “We had chances to score and at times we played well. But our defense wasn’t able to deal with Kashiwa’s passing and we didn’t have the legs to keep up. We didn’t play our usual game tonight.
“If we don’t put together a run of wins now, we won’t be able to achieve our objective. We have to take each game as it comes.”
Shinzo Koroki and Ryota Moriwaki scored either side of halftime to give Urawa a 2-0 win over Albirex Niigata to maintain its six-point cushion at the top of the table.
Kawasaki Frontale stayed in second place as World Cup striker Yoshito Okubo celebrated his return from a two-match ban for kicking an advertising boarding by notching a hat trick in a 3-1 win over Omiya Ardija.
Kashima Antlers beat Vegalta Sendai 1-0 to move into third, leapfrogging a Tosu side that has now failed to keep a clean sheet in all seven games since Yoon’s departure.
“This is a very frustrating result,” said Tosu defender Tatsuya Sakai. “We wanted to try to stick with them, but we lost our shape and they scored. We wanted to use this run of games to put together some good results.”
Kashiwa had the better attacking chances in a lively first half, with Kaoru Takayama forcing Sagan goalkeeper Akihiro Hayashi to tip a free kick over his own crossbar before Leandro again tested Hayashi with a pair of fierce shots from distance.
The visiting ‘keeper was again called upon to deny Kudo from point-blank range in first-half injury time, and Sagan needed further rearguard action when Teruaki Kobayashi scrambled a Kudo shot off the line in the 58th minute. Furious Reysol players appealed that the ball had crossed the line, but referee Hajime Matsuo waved away their protests.
Kim Min-woo hit the post as Sagan looked to land a sucker punch at the other end, but Reysol soon nipped the threat in the bud with the opening goal. Leandro barreled forward before laying the ball off to Kudo, and the Japan international picked his spot with a sweet first-time finish into the far corner.
Kudo then doubled Kashiwa’s lead less than 10 minutes later, dispatching a cross in front of goal with Leandro again the supply line.
“Tosu didn’t have their usual energy tonight,” said Kudo, whose goals helped his team move up to eighth place. “For my goals, that’s what I’m good at, taking chances when the ball comes to me in that position. I was confident that I could put them in the back of the net.”
Elsewhere in the J. League, runaway second-division leaders Shonan Bellmare confirmed their return to the top flight after a year’s absence with a 2-2 draw with Kyoto Sanga. Bellmare now have an unassailable 28-point gap over third-place Jubilo Iwata with nine games left to play — guaranteeing promotion in record-quick time.
In J1, Gamba Osaka thrashed Shimizu S-Pulse 3-0 for their fourth win in a row, while FC Tokyo also turned on the style in a 4-0 victory over bottom side Tokushima Vortis.
Sho Ito scored in the 87th minute as Yokohama F. Marinos beat Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-0, Ventforet Kofu checked Vissel Kobe’s recent good form with a 2-0 win, and Nagoya Grampus beat Cerezo Osaka 2-1 to cast the preseason favorites into deeper relegation trouble.