HIRATSUKA, KANAGAWA PREF. – Shonan Bellmare’s bid to stay in the top flight remains on shaky ground following a 0-0 draw against the visiting Shimizu S-Pulse on Friday night.
Less than a week after claiming their first league cup title, Bellmare came into the match just two points above the relegation zone and desperately seeking a win.
The S-Pulse, meanwhile, were hoping for a victory that would move them three points from the top three and a potential Asian Champions League berth.
With Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu watching from the stands, Bellmare controlled 60 percent of possession and took 20 shots to S-Pulse’s eight, but were unable to find a breakthrough.
Midfielder Daiki Sugioka, whose goal clinched a 1-0 win over Yokohama F. Marinos in the Levain Cup final last Saturday, said Bellmare needed to be more ruthless in front of goal after putting just four of their shots on target.
“It was a game we absolutely needed to win, but we couldn’t get the points,” Sugioka, a 61st-minute substitute, said. “We needed to be more accurate but wasted chances.”
Bellmare manager Cho Kwi-jea made four changes to the lineup that started Tuesday’s 1-0 loss to Jubilo Iwata in a match that had been rescheduled because of a typhoon.
The visitors were lucky to avoid conceding a goal and a possible penalty in the 24th minute after Takuya Okamoto miscued a strike from point-blank range following a corner.
Replays appeared to show S-Pulse midfielder Shota Kaneko pulling Okamoto to the ground and stopping him from getting his boot to the ball at his feet.
Bellmare came close following another corner on the stroke of 35 minutes when Keisuke Saka hit the top right of the woodwork with a shot from the opposite side of the area.
S-Pulse manager Jan Jonsson was banished from the technical area in the 65th minute after stepping onto the pitch and angrily kicking a ball bound for the touchline following a foul on substitute Kazuya Murata that earned Bellmare midfielder Daiki Kaneko a yellow card.
Bellmare ‘keeper Yota Akimoto produced an excellent save in the 71st minute to deny Ryohei Shirasaki’s volleyed shot from inside the box following a quick counterattack.
With just three league games left, Bellmare remains locked in a wild relegation battle that could potentially see any of the teams in the bottom half of the table sent down to the second division.