Kashiwa Reysol striker Cristiano scored an 88th-minute equalizer to salvage a 1-1 draw against Yokohama F. Marinos on Saturday in a result that did little for either side’s J. League title ambitions.

Reysol went into the match at Nissan Stadium in third place in the table, trailing leaders Kashima Antlers by six points, while Marinos sat two points further back with nine games remaining.

Manabu Saito looked to have secured the three points for Marinos with a sublime curling shot in the ninth minute, only for Cristiano to drill home a free kick with two minutes remaining to grab a share of the spoils for Reysol.

Antlers came back from a two-goal halftime deficit to beat bottom side Albirex Niigata 4-2, while second-place Kawasaki Frontale, who began the day level on points with Reysol, stayed six points behind the leaders after a 3-0 rout of Shimizu S-Pulse.

“It could have gone either way,” said Reysol manager Takahiro Shimotaira, after a game played in constant lashing rain. “It’s sad that we couldn’t get the three points but we could easily have conceded twice in the first half. We came out intending to play a high-possession game but we just couldn’t keep the ball at all.

“We wanted three points to keep up with the leaders. It was a shame that we couldn’t get them but I told my players that one point was a result and we have to be satisfied with that.”

Reysol stayed third in the table while Marinos moved level on points with fourth-place Cerezo Osaka, who lost 1-0 to Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

“We need to be smarter because we are playing against the biggest teams and every mistake is like a goal,” said Marinos forward Quenten Martinus. “You need to be careful what you do. You need to be very careful in that position for the free kick. Because of that it’s going to be very difficult and very tight until the end of the season.

“Kashima are quite far but second place is possible. We have everything in our hands but we can’t make stupid mistakes. It’s our mistakes. We need to look at ourselves in the mirror because it’s too easy.”

A scrappy game briefly burst into life when Saito fired the home side into the lead. Ryosuke Yamanaka attempted a through pass that deflected off a Reysol defender, but Saito scooped up the rebound and curled a perfectly placed shot past goalkeeper Kosuke Nakamura from just inside the box.

Yamanaka tried a spectacular effort of his own from a free kick less than 10 minutes later, before Saito thumped a header against the post with the last action of the first half.

Reysol had barely been involved in the opening period but Cristiano turned and let fly with a shot two minutes into the second half that Marinos goalkeeper Hiroki Iikura did well to cover.

The visitors struggled to create chances for the rest of the second half until a free kick on the edge of the area gave Cristiano his big opportunity. The Brazilian took it in style, lasering a low, flat shot into the back of the net.

“I always want to take free kicks from that area and tonight it went in exactly the way I imagined it would,” said Cristiano, who was locked in conversation with teammate Kim Bo-kyung before taking the free kick.

“I hit it with confidence. I talked to Bo-kyung about who would take it but I’ve been scoring lots of free kicks in training and I told him I was confident and I wanted to take it.”

Saito then had one final chance to win it for Marinos in injury time, but Nakamura snuffed out the danger to leave both sides further away from Kashima’s title pace.

“It was an intense game of high quality,” said Marinos manager Erick Mombaerts. “In the first half we played well but we only managed to score the one goal. I think we should have scored another, and then in the second half it was difficult for us to win the ball back from them.

“Both teams had chances and I think 1-1 was the logical result.”

Elsewhere in the J. League, FC Tokyo began life under caretaker manager Takayoshi Anma with a 1-0 win over Vegalta Sendai, Omiya Ardija and Gamba Osaka drew 2-2 in a game of twists and turns, and Vissel Kobe beat Consadole Sapporo 2-0.

In the only change of league positions after the day’s play, Sanfrecce moved out of the relegation zone with their win over Cerezo, with Ventforet Kofu replacing them after losing 2-1 to Sagan Tosu.

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