KASHIMA, IBARAKI PREF. – The Kashima Antlers edged relegation-threatened Omiya Ardija 1-0 on Saturday to move six points clear at the top of the table as J. League first-division action resumed after the international break.
Mu Kanazaki fired Kashima in front with his 10th goal of the season in the 33rd minute, and the reigning champions survived a wave of pressure to secure a third straight win, moving six ahead of Kawasaki Frontale with nine games remaining in the season.
“Personal stats don’t really matter to me, I think we needed to play better in the second half,” Kanazaki said.
Omiya missed a great chance to take the lead after 12 minutes when Ataru Esaka sent a free header straight at the legs of Kashima goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata.
Sogahata’s counterpart Nobuhiro Kato then pulled off two key saves to deny Shoma Doi and Kanazaki, but the latter broke the deadlock, driving in at the near post after taking a return pass from Takeshi Kanamori on the left flank.
“It was a great ball that set me up for the goal and was just a case of me putting it away,” said Kanazaki.
Kanazaki nearly made it 2-0 with a speculative effort from just over the halfway line, but Kato quickly backpedaled to swat the ball away to safety.
Omiya pressed hard in the final stages but Sogahata saved from Akimi Barada as Kashima held on for the maximum points.
“It was a difficult game but we stayed focused right until the death. It was a good performance,” Antlers manager Go Oiwa said. “We pressed aggressively from the front, were solid at the back and played a compact game.”
Goals from Ryota Oshima, Yu Kobayashi and Akihiro Ienaga saw Kawasaki brush aside local rival Yokohama F. Marinos 3-0 to move into second place on 49 points.
Yokohama’s first defeat in 15 matches saw it drop from second to fifth on 47 points.
Kashiwa Reysol (49) are in third thanks to a 2-1 win at Urawa Reds, while Kenyu Sugimoto struck twice just days after making his Japan debut to lead fourth-place Cerezo Osaka (48) to a 4-1 win away to FC Tokyo.
Sugimoto now has 16 goals this season and is tied at the top of the scoring charts with Urawa’s Shinzo Koroki.
At the other end of the table, Brazilian striker Reis hit a late winner as Consadole Sapporo boosted their bid for survival by edging visiting Jubilo Iwata 2-1.
It was the first time Sapporo won two games in a row in the top flight in 16 years.
The victory moved fifth-from-bottom Sapporo six points clear of the relegation zone. Koya Kitagawa earned Shimizu S-Pulse a 1-0 win at 15th-place Ventforet Kofu.
Sanfrecce Hiroshima and bottom club Albirex Niigata shared a 0-0 draw. Kotaro Omori scored against his old club as mid-table Vissel Kobe claimed local bragging rights with a 2-1 win at Gamba Osaka, their first victory in six matches.