KASHIMA, IBARAKI PREF. – Naoki Ishihara scored in the second minute to give Vegalta Sendai an early lead in a 2-1 win at Kashima Antlers in the J. League first division on Sunday.
Ishihara opened the scoring when he converted a cross from midfielder Kunimitsu Sekiguchi directly in front of goal at Kashima Stadium. Antlers had a chance to level two minutes later but Ryota Nagaki’s close-range shot just missed the post.
“I thought the goal came really early in the game, but having an early lead allowed us to find our rhythm,” Ishihara said. “We haven’t played well for some time. This is our last match for a while, so we talked about winning at any cost.”
Ko Itakura headed home in the 65th minute to double the lead for the visitors. Kashima keeper Kwon Sun-tae denied Hiroaki Okuno with a superb save but could not react in time to keep out Itakura.
“I’m really pleased. We won today because the players emphasized the basics, while playing with determination,” Sendai manager Susumu Watanabe said. “We had other scoring opportunities, so it would’ve been better if we were able to score again or keep our opponents scoreless.”
Kashima forward Yuma Suzuki scored with five minutes remaining, but it was not enough for the home side.
“Giving our opponents the first goal was the reason for our loss today. We allowed Sendai to score when we had to start up our engine,” Kashima manager Go Oiwa said.
Frustration mounted for the home team after midfielder Mitsuo Ogasawara received a yellow card with two minutes remaining of the first half for a dangerous charge. Amid booing from the crowd, Oiwa protested to the referee, but the decision stood.
The win lifted Vegalta up to seventh in the league on 22 points, 15 back of leaders Sanfrecce Hiroshima, who suffered their second loss of the season, 2-0 at home to Cerezo Osaka.
FC Tokyo is second, nine points back after holding Sagan Tosu to a scoreless draw in Tosu. Reigning champions Kawasaki Frontale are a point further back after Kengo Nakamura’s brace sparked them to a 3-0 home win over Shimizu S-Pulse.
Consadole Sapporo fell out of the top three to fifth after being thumped 4-0 at Vissel Kobe. Wellington and Kazuma Watanabe each scored twice for Vissel.
Vissel, who may announce the signing of Spanish star Andres Iniesta in the coming days, are without former Germany World Cup star Lukas Podolski until the end of June due to a calf muscle injury.
At Toyota Stadium, Ataru Esaka scored a brace in Kashiwa Reysol’s 3-2 win over last-place Nagoya Grampus, with new head coach Nozomu Kato claiming his first victory since taking the job earlier in the month.
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