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Kawasaki loses grip on top spot

Kyodo

Kawasaki Frontale surrendered the top spot in the J. League to Kashima Antlers after being held to a surprise 2-2 draw away to rock-bottom Avispa Fukuoka in the penultimate round of first-stage matches on Saturday.

Fukuoka raced into a 2-0 lead thanks to a double from Takeshi Kanamori. Goals from Yu Kobayashi and Yoshito Okubo (penalty) pulled Kawasaki level, but the visitors could not find a winner and dropped to second after Kashima came from behind to win 2-1 at Vissel Kobe.

Kashima has 36 points, two ahead of Frontale and, with a home meeting with Fukuoka next weekend, will be favored to win the first stage. Kawasaki entertains Omiya Ardija.

Fukuoka drew first blood via route one with less than 10 minutes gone to spark delirious scenes among the home crowd at Level-5 Stadium.

Brazilian striker Wellington headed on goalkeeper Lee Bum-young’s long kick and Takahiro Kunimoto touched the ball on for Kanamori, who took the ball on his chest before beating Jung Sung-ryong with a crisp finish.

With Kawasaki still reeling from that early blow, the home side went further ahead as Kanamori took a deflected pass from Kunimoto and drilled low into the right-hand corner.

Kawasaki went close and nearly hit back in the 23rd minute, Lee gathering Ryota Oshima’s shot at the second attempt before Kobayashi leveled three minutes before the break.

Oshima picked out Kobayashi’s run in the box and the Japan international took one touch before clipping over Lee and in off the underside of the crossbar.

Kawasaki threw everything at Fukuoka after the break and Lee pulled off a good save to deny Shintaro Kurumaya on 62 minutes before Okubo converted the equalizer from the spot after Kim Hyun-hun conceded the penalty with a foul on Oshima.

At Noevir Stadium, Kunie Kitamoto’s header put Kobe in front but Shoma Doi leveled before Yasushi Endo hit the winner five minutes into the second half.

Urawa Reds’ slim hopes ended with a third straight defeat, Mihailo Petrovic’s men going down 4-2 away to his former club Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Hisato Sato sealed the win seven minutes from time.

In other games, Vegalta Sendai rallied to beat Ventforet Kofu 2-1, Sagan Tosu edged Gamba Osaka by the same score and Shonan Bellmare beat Jubilo Iwata 1-0.

The games between Nagoya Grampus and Kashiwa Reysol, FC Tokyo and Albirex Niigata and Omiya against Yokohama F Marinos all finished 1-1.