KAWASAKI - Kosuke Ota produced two free kick assists as FC Tokyo kept up its strong J. League form with a 2-0 win over defending champions Kawasaki Frontale on Saturday.
Tokyo, which went into the game at Todoroki Stadium in second place, took the lead when full-back Ota’s pinpoint delivery found Kento Hashimoto in the 14th minute and was helped on its way by a mistake by Frontale goalkeeper Shota Arai.
The capital city side then used the same supply line to double its advantage in the 69th minute, as Ota picked out Masato Morishige to help Tokyo claim its eighth win in 10 league games.
“The manager told us in the meeting before the game that set pieces would be the key today,” said the 30-year-old Ota, who almost scored himself from a free kick shortly after the second goal. “That was something I was personally very aware of going into the game.
“I knew we wouldn’t get many chances to score so I put everything into my free kicks when they came, all my concentration. The two goals we scored were ideal. I think we could have scored one more, but it was close to perfect as it was.”
Both teams were playing their fifth game in two weeks over the busy Golden Week period, and Tokyo manager Kenta Hasegawa admitted that the physical strain was beginning to show.
“This was the last game of a five-game stretch, and the players really gave it their all,” said Hasegawa, who is in his first season in charge of the team. “During the game, (forward) Kensuke (Nagai) said ‘my legs feel like they’re about to cramp up,’ and I told him, ‘well keep going until they do.’ ”
“We had set pieces in our game against Kobe (a 0-0 draw on May 2) but we couldn’t score from them. Today’s game was a derby so I knew that set pieces would be the point that the game would turn on. I told the players that and they gave it all their concentration and scored from them.”
Tokyo got a helping hand when Arai failed to keep out Hashimoto’s effort, after the midfielder had gotten the slightest of touches on Ota’s 14th-minute delivery.
“Around 80 percent is down to the accuracy of the kicker,” said Hasegawa. “In the last game, (Ota) wasn’t inaccurate, but he upped his level a notch today. We knew that of the nine goals that Kawasaki had conceded so far, six of them had come from set pieces.”
Frontale began the match with team talisman Kengo Nakamura and Yu Kobayashi, last season’s J. League player of the year and top scorer, on the bench.
Nakamura came on at halftime and Kobayashi joined him 12 minutes later, but Tokyo doubled its lead in the 69th minute when Ota again delivered an inviting free kick and Morishige applied the finishing touch.
“Kosuke takes a good free kick and we knew that,” said Morishige. “We also knew we had an advantage in terms of height, and we were able to use that today.”
Frontale slipped to their second straight defeat after losing 2-0 at home to Urawa Reds on Wednesday.
“We knew that our opponents would look to hit us with free kicks and on the counterattack, and they still did it,” said manager Toru Oniki. “That’s something we have to reflect on. We also found it difficult to break them down when we were attacking, and that’s another thing to work on.”
“I rotated the players to keep them fresh, but you need to be on the same page when you’re putting passing moves together and we weren’t able to do that today.”
In the day’s other games, Consadole Sapporo beat Gamba Osaka 2-0 to stay one point behind Tokyo in third place, Kengo Kawamata scored an 84th-minute winner to lift Jubilo Iwata past Kashiwa Reysol 2-1, and Cerezo Osaka beat V-Varen Nagasaki 3-1.
Mu Kanazaki scored in the 25th minute as Kashima Antlers beat Urawa Reds 1-0 to spoil Urawa manager Oswaldo Oliveira’s return to Kashima Stadium – where he won three league titles with the home team during a trophy-laden spell from 2007-12.
In the day’s late match, Yokohama F. Marinos and Nagoya Grampus drew 1-1.