KAWASAKI – Yu Kobayashi scored for a fifth straight game to give Kawasaki Frontale a 1-0 win over FC Tokyo on Saturday and open up a five-point lead at the top of the overall J. League table.
Frontale — who narrowly missed out on the first-stage title to Kashima Antlers — looked to be heading toward a goalless draw at Todoroki Stadium until Japan striker Kobayashi headed home from Shintaro Kurumaya’s cross in the 81st minute.
The win, coupled with a 2-1 loss for Antlers at home to Urawa Reds, extended Frontale’s lead in the overall table, and also sent them top of the second-stage standings after previous leaders Yokohama F. Marinos could only manage a 1-1 draw with Jubilo Iwata.
“The way the team is playing is allowing me to score goals,” said Kobayashi, who has scored 11 goals in 21 appearances this season, including six in his last seven. “I should have scored more than one today, and I want to do even more for the team.
“Scoring goals is not something I’m paying too much attention to. When they go in, they go in, and when they don’t, they don’t. All I’m thinking about is helping the team win.”
Tokyo, meanwhile, has now lost three games in a row, and manager Hiroshi Jofuku is beginning to feel the heat after visiting fans booed his team from the pitch.
“The players were very determined and played as a team,” said Jofuku, who returned to the club for a second spell in charge at the start of this season.
“It’s disappointing not to come away from this game with anything because the players worked hard, and I’m sorry for the fans as well. We played to our strengths and the players kept going until the end and that pleased me. I hope we can all celebrate together soon.”
Shohei Otsuka almost got Frontale off to a dream start when he hit the post in the fourth minute, before teammate Koji Hashimoto crashed a shot against the Tokyo crossbar 10 minutes later.
But Tokyo rode out the storm and the visitors were incensed when Hiroki Kawano went down in the box after a challenge by Kurumaya and referee Ryuji Sato failed to award a penalty.
Clear-cut chances remained few and far between as the second half got under way, but Tokyo striker Muriqui missed a golden opportunity when he failed to beat Jung Sung-ryong when one-on-one with the goalkeeper in the 65th minute.
“I had a chance to score but they had more chances than we did,” said Brazilian striker Muriqui. “I feel the responsibility of missing that chance but we didn’t play well enough to win tonight.”
The woodwork denied Frontale for a third time when Kobayashi hit the bar two minutes later, before Yoshito Okubo stung Tokyo goalkeeper Yota Akimoto’s palms with a fierce shot.
But eventually Frontale broke through. The home side recovered the ball from a botched free kick and moved it out to Kurumaya on the left wing, and the defender swung over a cross that Kobayashi met with a firm header past Akimoto.
“Kobayashi is full of confidence, and you can see that from the way he shoots in training,” said Frontale manager Yahiro Kazama. “He’s scoring in every game at the moment and I hope he can keep that going.”
Elsewhere in the J. League, a double from Tadanari Lee saw Urawa come from behind to beat Kashima and move level with Antlers behind Frontale on 46 points.
Marinos lost their spot at the top of the second-stage table when Jubilo’s Hayao Kawabe canceled out Kayke’s 25th-minute opener with a goal in the 62nd minute.
Ventforet Kofu plunged struggling Nagoya Grampus into deeper trouble with a 3-1 win, a Wilson goal gave Vegalta Sendai a 1-0 victory over Shonan Bellmare, and Gakuto Notsuda scored the winner as Albirex Niigata came from behind to beat Omiya Ardija 2-1.
Brazilian striker Cristiano bagged a hat trick as Kashiwa Reysol beat Gamba Osaka 3-2, while champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima dispatched Vissel Kobe 2-0.
In the day’s other game, Sagan Tosu claimed Kyushu bragging rights with a 3-2 win over local rivals Avispa Fukuoka.