SAITAMA – Akimi Barada scored in the 63rd minute as rock-bottom Omiya Ardija stunned J. League-leading local rivals Urawa Reds with a 1-0 win on Sunday.
Ardija went into the match at Nack 5 Stadium having endured a dreadful start to the season, losing seven and drawing one of their eight league games and managing to score only two goals while conceding 17.
Omiya’s record stood in stark contrast to the imperious form of last season’s championship runner-up Urawa, which started the day four points clear at the top of the table after scoring 24 goals in eight games.
But that all went out the window when Barada received a pass from Ataru Esaka midway through the second half and hammered it past Urawa goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa, giving Ardija their first win of the season and their first Saitama derby victory in four years.
“We hadn’t won a single game in eight league games or in the League Cup this season,” said Omiya manager Hiroki Shibuya. “That’s two months, but the fans kept supporting us and I’m very grateful to them for that.
“We weren’t able to prepare for this game until yesterday, but the players were able to focus and their strength got us through it. The players all came together but it won’t mean anything if we don’t keep going and win our next games. We won today’s game but that’s all. Now let’s look forward to the next one and try to win that too.”
Urawa lost its opening game of the league season but has since climbed to the top of the table and also sealed its progress to the knockout round of the Asian Champions League with a 6-1 win over Australia’s Western Sydney Wanderers on Wednesday.
“Losing the derby is always more painful than any other defeat,” said Urawa manager Mihailo Petrovic.
“Maybe we were tired from our previous game or maybe it was the heat today, but physically we weren’t in our best condition.
“We conceded the goal and from there it was up to us to chase the game. We had chances but we couldn’t take them. Football is a dangerous game and if you are not 100 percent up for it right from the start, you won’t win anything.”
Reds found themselves enjoying almost total possession straight from the kickoff but seemed unsure how best to pick their way through the solid mass of orange shirts in front of them.
Ardija grew in confidence as the first half went on and almost took the lead from their first real attack. Striker Yusuke Segawa had only Nishikawa to beat in the 22nd minute, but the ‘keeper managed to charge down his shot and snuff out the danger.
Urawa finally began to build some attacking momentum as halftime approached, but efforts from Yuki Muto and Tomoya Ugajin failed to find their mark before Takuya Wada almost sneaked Omiya into the lead less than a minute before the interval.
Ardija came out for the second half with a more attacking attitude and got their reward when Esaka intercepted a loose pass deep in Urawa territory and released Barada on the right, and the 25-year-old unleashed a fierce shot that flew past Nishikawa.
“We knew we would have to defend for long periods and that’s the way it turned out,” said Barada, who joined Omiya from Kashiwa Reysol over the offseason. “Everyone was working so hard in defense, so I was determined that I wouldn’t waste any chance that came my way.
“Our fans were like a wall of orange and they were cheering for us right from the first whistle. The moment I scored will stay with me forever.”
Omiya defender Kohei Yamakoshi denied Rafael Silva with a crucial block goal minutes later as Urawa attempted to hit back, and that set the tone for the rest of the match as the home side shut down Reds’ attack to secure the three points.
“When we played Gamba Osaka, I was struck by how good their ball control was and I realized that we would have to be good enough to deal with that level of play,” Yamakoshi said of Omiya’s 6-0 loss to Gamba last week.
“I think we improved on that front in the next game, but today was a derby and the most important thing today was to play with heart. Today wasn’t about skill, it was about battling and scrapping. Maybe we were lacking that before but we managed to bring it out of ourselves today.”
Elsewhere in the J. League, Kohei Tezuka scored in the 10th minute to give Kashiwa Reysol their third straight win, 1-0 over Albirex Niigata, while Vegalta Sendai cruised to a 3-0 victory over Shimizu S-Pulse.
Kashima Antlers moved one point behind Urawa with a 2-1 win over Sagan Tosu, FC Tokyo also made up ground with a 1-0 victory over struggling Sanfrecce Hiroshima, and Jubilo Iwata fought back from two goals down to claim a 2-2 draw with Consadole Sapporo.
Yuki Horigome scored in the 38th minute to give Ventforet Kofu a 1-0 win over Vissel Kobe.
Ritsu Doan notched a 64th-minute winner as Gamba beat Yokohama F. Marinos 1-0, while in the late match, Hiroshi Kiyotake scored his first goal since returning to Cerezo Osaka in a 2-0 win over Kawasaki Frontale.