KASHIMA, IBARAKI PREF. – Defender Naomichi Ueda scored a last-gasp winner as reigning champion Kashima Antlers edged Gamba Osaka 2-1 at home on Saturday to tighten their grip on top spot in the J. League first division.
Leandro canceled out Hwang Ui-jo’s early opener for Gamba and Ueda headed home the clincher in the 92nd minute as the Antlers won their fifth straight to move eight points clear of Kawasaki Frontale.
“We only had victory on our minds so it was great to win it like that at the end,” Ueda said.
Gamba took the lead in the seventh minute when Hwang controlled Masaaki Higashiguchi’s goal kick and muscled his way past Gen Shoji before firing just inside the near post.
But Kashima leveled deep into stoppage time at the end of the first half following a penalty awarded for Jin Izumisawa’s clumsy foul on Atsutaka Nakamura.
Mu Kanazaki stepped up to take the spot kick that was pushed onto the left post by Higashiguchi, but the rebound fell for Leandro to drive through the Gamba goalkeeper’s legs and into the back of the net.
Higashiguchi pulled off a key save in pushing behind Daigo Nishi’s effort in the closing stages but Kashima scored from the resulting corner, Ueda losing his marker to head home Ryota Nagaki’s cross.
“It was a corner right at the end and I went up for it thinking I had to put it away. It was a great ball and just a case of me getting on the end of it,” Ueda said.
“We don’t want to lose any more matches and want to win the league on our own strength,” added Ueda, whose team finished 15 points behind the Urawa Reds last season under the old two-stage system but won a record eighth title by beating Reds in the championship final.
With seven games left to play, Kashima has 61 points, while second-place Kawasaki is on 53 after it was held to a 0-0 draw at Vissel Kobe.
Kosuke Taketomi celebrated his 27th birthday with a brace, powering Kashiwa Reysol to a 4-1 win at home to FC Tokyo to keep the Sun Kings in third, also on 53 points.
At the other end of the table, fourth-from-bottom Sanfrecce Hiroshima scored a crucial win in their bid to escape the drop, Patric and Felipe Silva both scoring in second-half injury time in a 3-1 victory away to Shimizu S-Pulse.
Hiroshima stayed two points clear of Ventforet Kofu, who stunned Yokohama F. Marinos 3-2 at home, Dudu scoring twice before Lins grabbed the winner in the 81st minute.
A late double from Atsushi Kawata earned Albirex Niigata a 2-2 draw away to Consadole Sapporo, but the Swans remain rooted to the foot of the table, 14 points behind Hiroshima.
Elsewhere, the Urawa Reds were held 2-2 at home to Sagan Tosu, an 85th-minute equalizer from Yuki Muto rescuing a point for the Asian Champions League semifinalists.
Shunsuke Nakamura’s free kick put Jubilo Iwata on the way to a 2-1 win at home to second-from-bottom Omiya Ardija, while Takuya Nozawa capped a 4-1 win for Vegalta Sendai at Cerezo Osaka.