Yokohama F. Marinos moved into the top half of the J. League table Saturday with a 1-0 win on the road against Shimizu S-Pulse.
In one of their most impressive performances since former Australian national coach Ange Postecoglou took the reins this season, Marinos maintained a disciplined defensive formation while looking to hit their opponents on the break.
A counterattack yielded the match-winning goal in the 12th minute, after defensive midfielder Takahiro Ogihara picked out Ryosuke Yamanaka making a run down the left wing.
Yamanaka dribbled into the box before threading a cross to Hugo Viera, with the Portuguese forward tapping in from the right of goal.
Postecoglou, who resigned from his Australia post after the Socceroos qualified for the 2018 World Cup, said Marinos were prepared for a tough contest against Shimizu, which came into the match with a league-best eight goals from four previous starts.
“It was a difficult game, coming here,” Postecoglou said. “We knew they were a hard team to break down but, for the most part, I think we played some good football. We scored a good goal and when we needed to be strong defensively, we were.”
Shimizu had a chance to score in the sixth minute, when Ko Matsubara curled a free kick into the box from the left side, finding Mitchell Duke in the box, but the Australian forward headed wide of the upright.
The visitors nearly doubled the lead from a 28th-minute counterattack, when Matsubara put the ball onto his own woodwork while trying to cut off a cross from Marinos attacking midfielder Yuki Otsu.
Shimizu missed a golden opportunity to equalize in first-half injury time when Matsubara found Duke directly in front of goal with an aerial ball, which the target man headed tamely toward Marinos goakeeper Hiroki Iikura.
Otsu struck wide of the mark in the 71st minute with a spectacular bicycle kick in a crowded goalmouth following a corner.
Marinos continued to apply pressure on counters, with Kaina Yoshio striking just wide of the upright after receiving a Keita Endo cross from the right.
Endo was in the thick of the action again in the 77th minute when he outran his marker to a through ball but was unable to beat ‘keeper Iikura with a diving header from directly in front of goal.
Brazilian striker Crislan was denied an equalizer in the third minute of injury time when a diving Iikura batted away his attempt from in front of goal in the aftermath of a free kick.
With a busy schedule in the coming weeks, including their next two league matches against the reigning champion Kawasaki Frontale and third-place Sanfrecce Hiroshima, respectively, Marinos are moving in the right direction, Postecoglou said.
“We’ve worked hard to be ready for this series of games and, you know, we have a strong squad, we’re looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s a lot of games, but with another win it gives the players confidence and belief.”
In other games, the Patric’s 85th-minute strike sent Sanfrecce Hiroshima top of the table with a 1-0 win at Kawasaki Frontale, whose unbeaten run was snapped at 19 games.
Sanfrecce are on 13 points, two ahead of Vegalta Sendai, 1-0 winners at home over winless V-Varen Nagasaki on Takuma Nishimura’s 31st-minute goal. Frontale are another one point further back in third place.
The Kashima Antlers were held 0-0 at home by Consadole Sapporo, while Cerezo Osaka won 2-1 at home over Shonan Bellmare. Teenager Kyosuke Tagawa’s last-minute goal completed a 3-2 win for Sagan Tosu, who trailed Nagoya Grampus 2-0 after Gabriel Xavier’s second goal on 69 minutes.
Goals from Keigo Higashi, Masato Morishige and Diego Oliveira helped FC Tokyo to a 3-2 victory over Gamba Osaka at Ajinomoto Stadium, where Hwang Ui-jo scored twice.
The round will conclude on Sunday, when longtime J1 powerhouse Urawa Reds go to struggling Jubilo Iwata in search of their first win.