Soccer / J. League

Antlers fall further back in pursuit of first-stage title

by Andrew McKirdy

Staff Writer

Kashima Antlers lost further ground in the race for the J. League first-stage title after a 0-0 draw with Omiya Ardija on Saturday.

Antlers went into the game at Nack 5 Stadium in third place in the table, trailing leaders Urawa Reds by six points after suffering their second defeat of the season at home to Kashiwa Reysol the previous weekend.

But the seven-time champions were unable to bounce back with a victory as a well-drilled Omiya claimed a share of the spoils, leaving Kashima five points off the pace with eight games of the first stage remaining.

“It was one-way traffic from the start, but if you don’t score in the first half, it turns into that kind of game,” said Antlers striker Shoma Doi. “You need to score when the chances come your way, and that goes for me personally as well as for the team.

“That’s what we need to take from this game. We played well, but we just needed to do something to score. Everyone wants to score but we haven’t managed it in our last two games and that’s something we have to work on.”

This weekend’s fixtures marked the start of an intense burst of J. League action over the Golden Week holiday, and Kashima defender Gen Shoji was keen to move on with Albirex Niigata next up for his team on Wednesday.

“When you lose or draw, you want the next game to come around soon so that you can take out your anger,” said Shoji. “I want to start getting ready for the next game straight away.”

Last season’s second-division champion Omiya faces Avispa Fukuoka on Wednesday, and manager Hiroki Shibuya is hoping to build on his fifth-place team’s impressive start to the campaign.

“Watching Antlers left me with a strong impression of how good their awareness in attacking and shooting is, but that brought out the best out in us,” said Shibuya, whose team has picked up 15 points from nine games.

“But we need to attack with a little more quality, stay calm and not panic. I learned a lot from today’s game.”

A feisty first half produced few clear-cut chances but plenty of incidents, not least when Kashima’s Caio squared up to Omiya defender Ryo Okui and accused him of swinging an elbow in his direction.

Omiya goalkeeper Nobuhiro Kato tipped away a curling Yasushi Endo shot in the 49th minute as Antlers pressed for an opener, before Doi blazed an acrobatic volley high over the Ardija crossbar.

Kashima began to lay siege to the Omiya goal as the second half progressed, and Kato again bailed the home side out when he denied Caio with his legs in the 72nd minute.

Ardija were lucky to finish the match with 11 men on the field after Akihiro Ienaga escaped with a yellow card after hauling down Mu Kanazaki in full flight in the 89th minute, but the home side held on to earn a point.

“We were aggressive from the start and we kept that up for the 90 minutes, so it’s a disappointing result,” said Kashima manager Masatada Ishii. “We’ve been making a lot of chances but we have to think about how to finish them off. We just have to work on it in training.

“The effort was there for the full 90 minutes so I’m disappointed that I couldn’t come up with the game plan to get us the win.”

Elsewhere in the J. League, Kashiwa continued its recovery from a poor start to the season with a fourth-straight win, 2-0 over Vissel Kobe.

A double from Yohei Toyoda gave Sagan Tosu a 2-0 victory over Vegalta Sendai, while Albirex Niigata and Ventforet Kofu played out a 2-2 draw.

In the day’s late game, Kaoru Takayama scored in the 48th minute to give bottom-of-the-table Shonan Bellmare a 1-0 win over Yokohama F. Marinos — their first victory of the season.