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Okubo scores twice as Frontale moves atop J. League

Kyodo

In-form striker Yoshito Okubo scored twice to help fire Kawasaki Frontale back to the top of the J. League first division with a 3-1 come-from-behind win at home against 10-man Vissel Kobe on Saturday.

Okubo, the all-time leading scorer in the Japanese top flight with 165 goals, converted from the penalty spot to cancel out Kazuma Watanabe’s opener for Kobe and then scored a well-taken second six minutes later.

Kobe’s Masatoshi Mihara got sent off for a second yellow card, and Frontale’s Elsinho wrapped up victory with a late third goal.

The result moved Frontale on to 27 points from 12 games and above Urawa Reds, who were held 0-0 at home to Albirex Niigata in an earlier kick off. Reds have 26 points and a game in hand on Frontale.

“It was a good game but I wish we had scored a bit earlier,” said Kawasaki manager Yahiro Kazama. “It was a pity to concede that way from a set piece but the players did everything that was expected of them in the second half. It was a good win in the end.”

Kawasaki fashioned a great chance after just four minutes and Yu Kobayashi shot inches wide after taking a return pass from Ryota Oshima inside the box.

That was one of only two clear opportunities for Kawasaki in the first half at a sunbathed Todoroki Stadium, the other also falling to Kobayashi, who will feel he ought to have done better after firing Elsinho’s cross wide in the 39th minute.

That miss cost Frontale dearly as Kobe went in front against the run of play with the last kick of the first period.

Tatsuki Nara fouled Asahi Masuyama but ended up getting stretchered off and replaced by Shogo Taniguchi, and Watanabe’s free kick took a deflection off the head of Kengo Nakamura in the Kawasaki wall and nestled in the right-hand corner of the net.

But 11 minutes into the second half, Frontale pulled level. Mihara brought Kobayashi down in the box and Okubo stepped up to send Kobe goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu the wrong way from the spot.

Okubo, who also scored in Frontale’s last match against Kashiwa Reysol, then put the home side in front in the 63rd minute, taking a short pass from Kyohei Noborizato and lofting his shot over the advancing Kim for his ninth goal of the season.

“It’s a big deal that I am scoring even though I am not 100 percent condition-wise,” said Okubo. “I am thinking one step ahead and making the right decisions. It’s not going to be easy (to win the first stage) and we have to slug it out one game at a time.”

Kobayashi blew two more chances to score after having the ball put on a plate for him by Okubo and then Nakamura, but Elsinho sealed victory in the 90th minute, trapping a cross from Yusuke Tasaka before clipping past Kim.

“Overall we could not attack today,” said Kobe boss Nelsinho. “The plan was to defend and counter but we never got the counterattacks past Nakamura and their defensive midfielders.”

“In the second half I put Mihara on to man-mark Nakamura but then he got an unlucky red card (for a foul on Kobayashi in the 70th minute) and that plan fell to pieces.”

In other games, Hisashi Jogo scored a late winner as Avispa Fukuoka edged fellow strugglers Shonan Bellmare 1-0 at home, while Omiya Ardija won by the same scoreline away to Vegalta Sendai, Akihiro Ienaga securing victory for the visitors midway through the second half.

Shota Kobayashi’s 92nd-minute equalizer salvaged a 2-2 draw for Nagoya Grampus away to Ventforet Kofu, while Mu Kanazaki’s ninth-minute effort proved decisive as third-placed Kashima Antlers edged Yokohama F. Marinos 1-0 at home to move within two points of Reds.