SAPPORO - Kento Misao opened his J. League account as leaders Kashima Antlers took a major stride toward a record-extending ninth league championship trophy with a 2-1 win at Consadole Sapporo on Sunday.
Kashima’s victory, coupled with a 2-2 draw for second-placed Kawasaki Frontale at Kashiwa Reysol, moved the defending champions onto 67 points, four clear with three games of the campaign remaining.
Antlers were badly in need of a tonic after they had their lead cut to two points following last week’s 3-2 loss away to Yokohama F. Marinos and then saw their hopes of a repeat league-and-cup double end on Wednesday with a 5-4 penalty shootout defeat to Vissel Kobe in the quarterfinals of the Emperor’s Cup.
And they got the lift they needed as Misao rifled home the first goal and Mu Kanazaki grabbed his 12th of the season to secure victory after substitute Shingo Hyodo had equalized for Consadole with a screamer on the hour mark.
“The players played really aggressively for me,” said Kashima manager Go Oiwa. “We went into this match having suffered two consecutive defeats but we didn’t play badly in either of those games and I was able to send the players out onto the pitch with confidence.
“We just have to try and win each of our remaining three games now. We are at home (next against Urawa Reds on Nov. 5) and have our fans behind us. Hopefully they can give us a lift.”
Kashima had a number of chances to break the deadlock in the first half but found Gu Sung-yun in top form, the Sapporo goalkeeper producing a string of fine saves. The best one came on 41 minutes to turn away a long-range effort from Misao.
But Misao got a second bite at the cherry two minutes into the second half and the 21-year-old made no mistake to score the first J. League goal of his young 27-match career.
Surrounded by four defenders, Kanazaki was dispossessed by Akito Fukumori in the box, but the loose ball fell to Misao, who drove it through Naoya Kikuchi’s legs and past Gu into the back of the net.
“I have missed chances to score it (my first league goal) until now so it was nice to do it in a game like this,” said Misao. “We did well over the 90 minutes, and taking three points was the most important thing. It’s great that we won.”
Kashima’s lead lasted only 13 minutes as Hyodo leveled just seconds after coming onto the pitch to replace Takuma Arano. Kanazaki headed Fukumori’s corner clear but Hyodo caught the ball on the half-volley to fire in off the post from the edge of the area.
But the pendulum swung back in Kashima’s favor for good in the 70th minute as Kanazaki made it 2-1, running onto Shuto Yamamoto’s pass and toe-poking the ball past Gu from a tight angle.
Kawasaki, the only other team capable of pipping Kashima to the title, looked to be heading for defeat in a match played on swampy surface at rain-lashed Kashiwa, but captain Yu Kobayashi kept its title hopes alive with a 90th-minute equalizer.
In other games, all-but-relegated Albirex Niigata delayed the inevitable again, stretching their unbeaten run to three matches thanks to Kei Koizumi’s goal in a 1-0 win at home to Sagan Tosu.
Kengo Kawamata’s double strike earned Jubilo Iwata a come-from-behind 2-1 win at home to Yokohama, and Mike Havenaar also scored twice in Kobe’s 3-2 win at Ventforet Kofu.
Yoichiro Kakitani hit the winner in third-place Cerezo Osaka’s 2-1 win at home to second-from-bottom Omiya Ardija, and Kazuki Nagasawa gave Asian Champions League finalist Urawa a 1-0 win at third-from-bottom Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
Gamba Osaka and Vegalta Sendai played out a 1-1 draw, while FC Tokyo against Shimizu S-Pulse finished goalless.