Nathan Burns scored the winner and created the opener as FC Tokyo defeated Japanese treble-winner Gamba Osaka 2-1 for its third straight victory in the J. League second stage on Sunday.
Takuji Yonemoto put Tokyo on the board early thanks to Burns before Patric erased the lead on the other side of halftime. But Massimo Ficcadenti’s side had the last laugh as Burns netted his second goal in Japan midway through the second half.
“It was a great bit of passenger play, a bit of combination and I just put my head on it,” the Australian international said of his 58th-minute strike.
“I was in the right place at the right time to get the winning goal. The hardest thing for a striker is to get into the box with the work rate involved so I was happy to be in that position.
“We’ve had some good results the last couple of games. I think this game was one of the most important games and I hope we can continue with our winning ways and have a good run for the (playoffs).”
Tokyo, on 13 points from seven games, closed to within three points of the stage lead with the win while Asian Champions League quarterfinalist Gamba fell seven points off the pace of Kashima Antlers, who beat Vegalta Sendai 3-2 at home for their fourth successive victory.
At Ajinomoto Stadium, where the game was hit by an intense downpour minutes before kickoff, Japan defender Masato Morishige took the first stab of the game after 12 minutes, calling his international teammate Masaaki Higashiguchi into action with a stinging free kick from 25 meters out.
Tokyo broke through three minutes later, though, when Burns blew by defender Keisuke Iwashita before cutting back to Yonemoto, who arrived late in the box to open his season account from close range.
“We hadn’t really gotten into momentum so it was good to get the early goal,” Burns recalled. “It was a good play for Yone to get into the box as a midfielder and it was a very good goal overall.”
Gamba nearly pulled level in the 19th minute, but Takashi Usami was denied by Tokyo’s veteran custodian Tatsuya Enomoto, and the two sides continued to exchange punches as Hiroki Kawano clanked the bar for the hosts shortly past the half-hour.
The champions made it 1-1 after the break in the 47th minute, when Usami swung the ball to right-back Koki Yonekura, who set up Patric for the equalizer from point-blank range.
But Tokyo restored its advantage shortly before the hour on the counterattack with Yonemoto leading the way. Yonemoto laid off to the right for Naotake Hanyu, who crossed for the far post, where Burns dove in for a header.
Gamba created plenty of chances to turn the game around, but Patric didn’t have his usual finishing touch and Shu Kurata hit the post with a quarter-hour remaining.
Gamba boss Kenta Hasegawa made no excuses for the defeat.
“We deserved to lose today,” Hasegawa said. “After we equalized we had enough opportunities but we just didn’t take them. We know FC Tokyo are a strong team on the counterattack but we didn’t defend them properly.
“It’s one thing if we lose while doing everything that we had to do, but that wasn’t the case tonight. Clearly we have plenty of room for improvement. We are getting better in some areas but we need to be more accurate in front of goal.”
Elsewhere in J1, Sanfrecce Hiroshima lost at home again, this time 3-0 to Kashiwa Reysol. Both Hiroshima and Kashiwa are one point behind Kashima.
First-stage winners Urawa Reds edged Shonan Bellmare 1-0 at Saitama, and Nagoya Grampus defeated Matsumoto Yamaga 1-0 away. Vissel Kobe ended a three-game skid by beating Kawasaki Frontale 2-0, Shimizu S-Pulse picked up their first point under new coach Kazuaki Tasaka in a 1-1 home draw to Albirex Niigata, and Yokohama F. Marinos sank Ventforet Kofu 2-0 at home.
Sagan Tosu beat Montedio Yamagata 3-1.
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