Hiroaki Okuno and Takuma Nishimura both scored in the second half as Vegalta Sendai beat Kashiwa Reysol 2-0 on Saturday to claim their first J. League win in four games.

Vegalta went into the match at Sankyo Frontier Kashiwa Stadium having picked up only four points from their five games since the league resumed after the World Cup break — a period which included an 8-2 thrashing at the hands of Yokohama F. Marinos on July 18.

But Okuno gave Vegalta the lead against Reysol with a header in the 59th minute before substitute Nishimura doubled the advantage in the 80th minute, sending Susumu Watanabe’s men back to Sendai with all three points and lifting them from 12th to eighth in the table.

“We hadn’t been able to win any of our last three games, and we have conceded a lot of goals and there have been a lot of things to fix,” said Watanabe. “We prepared for this game with the intention of keeping things tight at the back, and that is how it turned out. But we have to tighten up even more in the games to come.

“If you look at the goals we’ve conceded, they haven’t come as a result of our opponents being too good for us. The problem has been with ourselves. So with that in mind, it’s comparatively easy to try to turn things around. It’s about us working hard in training to fix the problem.”

Reysol thought they had turned a corner of their own after stopping a run of four straight losses with a 2-1 win over Consadole Sapporo the previous weekend. But manager Nozomu Kato instead now finds his team 14th in the table — two points above the relegation zone — with 13 games remaining.

“It’s disappointing,” said Kato, who took over as manager in May when predecessor Takahiro Shimotaira was fired. “But we can’t afford to dwell on this defeat. We have to put it behind us and move on to the next game.

“We made chances but we weren’t able to finish them off. The final shot was lacking and that is something we have to keep working on in training. We also conceded on the counterattack and I think that shows we are still a little inexperienced. That goes for me as a manager too.”

Kashiwa threatened to take an early lead with efforts by Cristiano, Junya Ito and Ataru Esaka all going close in the opening 10 minutes, but Daniel Schmidt stood firm in the Vegalta goal.

Sendai began to establish a foothold as the first half wore on, and the visitors took the lead against the run of play 14 minutes into the second half. Takuma Abe delivered a cross into the Kashiwa box, and Okuno got his head on the end of it to send the ball past goalkeeper Kazushige Kirihata.

“We were having success getting down the wings and Abe was finding himself in a lot of space, so as much as possible I was trying to get in between the opposition defenders,” said Okuno. “I knew that if I could do that, a good ball would come my way. From there it was just instinct, and fortunately it went in.”

Kirihata denied Abe with a splendid double save just over five minutes later as Vegalta looked to press home their advantage.

But there was nothing the ‘keeper could do to keep out Nishimura with 10 minutes remaining, as the substitute rampaged forward before letting fly with a shot that crashed off the underside of the bar and bounced into the roof of the net.

“He has become much calmer in front of goal this season,” Watanabe said of the 21-year-old Nishimura, who took his tally to nine goals for the season. “And of course he is also very dynamic. His goal today was not an easy one to score and he deserves credit for the way he took it.”

Elsewhere in the J. League, Sanfrecce Hiroshima stretched their lead at the top of the table to eight points over second-place FC Tokyo after a 2-0 win over V-Varen Nagasaki. Kohei Shibasaki and Teerasil Dangda scored either side of halftime for Sanfrecce.

Defending champions Kawasaki Frontale moved one point behind Tokyo in third place after a 2-1 win over Shimizu S-Pulse, with midfielder Ryota Oshima bagging the winner in the 64th minute. Tokyo lost 2-1 to Gamba Osaka in Friday’s only game.

Superstars Andres Iniesta and Lukas Podolski started their first game together for Vissel Kobe and duly delivered a 2-1 win over Jubilo Iwata. Iniesta opened the scoring in the 15th minute after taking a pass from Podolski, before Kyogo Furuhashi added a second and Kengo Kawamata pulled one back for Jubilo.

Takashi Kanai scored twice as Nagoya Grampus downed Kashima Antlers 4-2, but Nagoya stayed bottom of the table after Sagan Tosu beat Urawa Reds 1-0 later in the evening.

Hugo Vieira scored early in the second half as Yokohama F. Marinos beat Shonan Bellmare 1-0, while in the day’s other game, Consadole and Cerezo Osaka drew 1-1.

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