SAITAMA – Second-half goals from Yuki Abe and Rafael Silva eased the pressure on their manager Mihailo Petrovic as the Urawa Reds came from behind to beat bottom club Albirex Niigata 2-1 in the J. League first-division on Sunday night.
Kei Koizumi gave Niigata a shock lead late in the first half at Saitama Stadium, but Yuki Abe lashed home the equalizer on 74 minutes and former Niigata striker Silva poked in the winner moments later to spare Reds blushes.
“We conceded and I think probably everyone thought, ‘Oh no here we go again,’ but we showed strong spirit and everyone ran for the team and each other and we won through in the end,” Abe said.
The result moved the Reds onto 29 points, nine behind leaders Cerezo Osaka, while Niigata’s sixth consecutive defeat keeps it rooted to the foot of the table with eight points, six adrift of the safety zone.
The Reds came into the match having won only once in their last six league outings and Petrovic reportedly told a group of angry fans after Wednesday’s 4-1 hammering at Kawasaki Frontale he would “be the first to leave” if the club did not get back to winning ways against the Albirex.
“The truth is I survived,” Petrovic joked at the post-match news conference before addressing the matter with a more serious tone.
“The supporters didn’t summon me. I was having a cigarette before getting on the team bus and I could hear them having a real go at the players so I went over to them,” he explained.
“I said what I said to them to try and defend the people who I have worked at this club for five-and-a-half years,” he said. “Arsene Wenger has been Arsenal manager for 21 years and I do my work with the intention of being here for 10 years.
“It is not the media or the man on the street that can remove me from my job, it is only the club that can do that and I respect all the people here and will respect their decisions 100 percent.”
The Reds dominated from the outset but Silva missed a golden chance to open the scoring on 13 minutes against his former club when he sent a free header over the bar from six yards out.
He then stung Tatsuya Morita’s palms with a rasping dive from just outside the box, but Niigata took the lead following a rare raid in the 35th minute.
The counterattack was broken up in the final third, but former Japan striker Kisho Yano picked up the loose ball and sent it into the danger zone. Reds goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa dived to push the ball clear but it hit Niigata striker Ryohei Yamazaki and fell to Koizumi to tap into an empty net at the far post.
Teruki Hara nearly doubled the lead on the stroke of halftime with a long-range effort that fizzed over the crossbar and Yamazaki tried his luck in the 55th minute with a deflected effort that was well held by Nishikawa.
The Reds hit back when Abe smashed home after Ryota Moriwaki’s shot had come back off the right-hand post before Silva hit the winner.
Morita could only parry Silva’s header following a corner from Yosuke Kashiwagi and the Brazilian reacted quickest to bundle home the loose ball.
“Our balance wasn’t very good at the start but we settled after the goal and also started the second half well,” said Niigata manager Wagner Lopes. “We created chances that we could not finish and they just edged us twice to get the goals.
“It’s a bit hard to accept with such a long run of defeats but as manager I am responsible. It was an unfortunate result but we have to fight on and stay positive.”