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Shinzo Koroki hit the winner against his former club as Urawa Reds beat Kashima Antlers 2-1 on Saturday to stay two points clear at the top of the overall J. League table.

First-stage champions Reds went into the game having won five of their last six games after suffering a wobble at the start of the season’s second stage, but it was Antlers who took the lead through Yasushi Endo in just the third minute.

Urawa’s Toshiyuki Takagi leveled the score three minutes later at a boisterous Kashima Stadium, but despite the home side going on to dominate the match, Koroki plundered the spoils for Urawa after a mistake by goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata left him with an open goal in the 72nd minute.

The result keeps Reds two points clear of Sanfrecce Hiroshima — 5-1 winners over Shimizu S-Pulse — in the overall standings, and lifted the Saitama side into third in the second-stage table, five points behind leaders Sanfrecce.

Koroki joined Urawa from Kashima ahead of the 2013 season having won three league titles with the Ibaraki club, and the striker is determined to taste success with his current team.

“It was a difficult game but I got a lucky chance to score,” said Koroki. “I never feel that I play my best every time I come to this stadium, and that was true again today. But I’m happy that we got the win.

“Our aim is to finish the season on top of the overall table, so this was an important win for us. Antlers are playing well at the moment so it’s good to beat a team like that.”

Antlers began the day trailing Sanfrecce only on goal difference at the top of the second-stage table, and manager Masatada Ishii was left to rue a wasted opportunity.

“We conceded two goals from basic mistakes, and that is something that we have to work on,” said Ishii. “If you want to win the title, you can’t make mistakes like that.”

Antlers caught Reds completely cold in the opening minutes, Caio driving deep into opposition territory before popping up again on the left and cutting the ball back for Endo to rifle home.

But Urawa hit back almost immediately as Tomoya Ugajin raided down the wing before sending in a low cross that Takagi finished with conviction.

Kashima then had a goal disallowed with the match showing no sign of slowing down, and the home side fell foul of the officials again when Gen Shoji put the ball over the line but saw his effort ruled out for offside in the 25th minute.

Mu Kanazaki almost gave Antlers a lead to take into halftime, only for Urawa goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa to parry his goal-bound shot in injury time.

Kanazaki then rattled a header off the crossbar from a Gaku Shibasaki free kick in the 58th minute, before Urawa substitute Zlatan Ljubijankic went close at the other end.

But with the game seemingly heading for a 1-1 draw, Koroki gave Urawa an unlikely lead. Sogahata dropped a cross right at his former teammate’s feet, and Koroki gratefully blasted the ball into the empty net.

Davi almost hit back with a shot from an acute angle that shaved the post before trickling agonizingly along the goal line, but Urawa held on to claim all three points.

“I want to praise my players for the way they defended until the final whistle, but I’m not satisfied with the way we played today,” said Reds manager Mihailo Petrovic.

“Kashima deserved to win today. Football is a harsh game. When we played against Hiroshima and Nagoya, we made lots of chances but we still came out on the losing side. Today it was the opposite, but football is like that.”

Elsewhere in the J. League, Takuma Asano hit the target twice as Sanfrecce put relegation-threatened S-Pulse to the sword, while Kashiwa Reysol lost ground in the second-stage title race with a 3-1 loss to Gamba Osaka.

Bare scored the winner as Ventforet Kofu beat Sagan Tosu 1-0, a Ryoichi Maeda goal gave FC Tokyo a 1-0 win over Matsumoto Yamaga, and Shonan Bellmare and Yokohama F. Marinos drew 1-1.

Montedio Yamagata and Vegalta Sendai played out a 1-1 draw, Yu Kobayashi scored a double as Kawasaki Frontale came from behind to beat Albirex Niigata 2-1, and in the day’s late game, Nagoya Grampus beat Vissel Kobe 2-0.

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