KASHIWA, CHIBA PREF. – Kashiwa Reysol heaped further pressure on Kashima Antlers and beleaguered manager Masatada Ishii with a 2-0 win over the first-stage champions on Saturday.
Ishii returned to the Antlers bench at Hitachi Stadium for his first J. League match since missing Kashima’s 2-2 draw with Yokohama F. Marinos on Aug. 27 due to anxiety issues, having begun his rehabilitation in a 3-0 Emperor’s Cup win over Kataller Toyama on Sept. 3.
But second-half goals from Kashiwa’s Diego Oliveira and Cristiano ensured Ishii’s renewed acquaintance with league action would not end happily, casting Antlers 10 points adrift of leaders Kawasaki Frontale in the overall league table.
“A lot of our fans traveled to watch us, and although we fought until the end, we couldn’t present them with a win,” said Ishii, who saw his team lose three league games in a row in July and August and was also on the receiving end of a barrage of abuse from star forward Mu Kanazaki when he substituted him against Shonan Bellmare on Aug. 20.
“Reysol played with a very high line and that pinned us back, but we didn’t panic and we got to halftime without conceding. We tried to put a bit more pressure on them in the second half, win the ball and pass it about, but we couldn’t manage it. We made mistakes when we had the ball and we just couldn’t attack as much as we would have liked.”
Kanazaki played the full 90 minutes — as he had when coach Go Oiwa took charge of the team for last month’s draw with Marinos — but forward Yuma Suzuki played down suggestions of unrest behind the scenes.
“Everything has been sorted out and it isn’t having a big effect on the team,” said Suzuki. “The atmosphere in the team is not bad at all. Make no mistake about that.
“The reality is that we’re not winning at the moment. If we can start winning again like we did in the first stage, we can win the title. The difference between dropping games like this and winning is huge.”
Frontale beat Avispa Fukuoka 3-1 to stay five points clear at the top of the overall table ahead of Urawa Reds, who beat Sagan Tosu 2-0. Frontale also lead Reds on goals scored at the top of the second-stage table.
Reysol, meanwhile, moved up to fifth in the second-stage table and stayed sixth overall, and manager Takahiro Shimotaira was satisfied despite watching Cristiano miss a second-half penalty.
“If we had scored earlier in the first half, it would have been a much more comfortable game,” said Shimotaira. “Then (Junya) Ito came on in the second half and it was his cross that led to the opening goal.
“As the game went on, Kashima became more and more of a threat on the counterattack, and it would have helped us to score our second goal quicker, and that includes the penalty. But the players battled until the end and all in all this was a very productive evening for us.”
A fast and furious first half produced plenty of effort but few clear-cut chances, with Reysol goalkeeper Kosuke Nakamura foiling Shuhei Akasaki at one end before Cristiano launched himself at a ball into the Antlers box at the other.
Kashima defender Gen Shoji landed his team in trouble immediately after the restart when he gave the ball away on the edge of his own penalty area, and it needed a timely intervention from teammate Bueno to prevent Oliveira from taking advantage.
But Reysol took the lead in the 58th minute when substitute Ito sent in a cross that Oliveira — completely unmarked in the Antlers box — nodded easily past goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata.
Sogahata came to his side’s rescue just over five minutes later, brilliantly diving low to his left to deny Cristiano from the penalty spot after Bueno had brought the Reysol forward down.
Cristiano passed up another opportunity to double Kashiwa’s lead when he ballooned an Ito cross over the bar, but the Brazilian made no mistake in the 81st minute, racing down the right before burying the ball past Sogahata at his near post.
“We conceded the first goal from a cross, and for the second their player got into the box and showed what he is capable of doing,” said Ishii. “Individually our defenders couldn’t deal with it, and we have to learn the lessons and improve for the next match.”
Elsewhere in the J. League, Shingo Hyodo scored in the 83rd minute to lead Marinos past Vegalta Sendai 1-0, while Pedro Junior and Leandro bagged two goals apiece as Vissel Kobe beat Jubilo Iwata 4-3.
FC Tokyo hammered Bellmare 3-0, Kengo Kawamata scored to give struggling Nagoya Grampus a rare win — 1-0 over Albirex Niigata — and Gamba Osaka moved up to fourth in the overall table after beating Ventforet Kofu 2-1.
In the day’s other game, Ataru Esaka scored to give Omiya Ardija a 1-0 win over Sanfrecce Hiroshima.