OITA – FC Tokyo maintained its pursuit of a maiden J. League championship on Saturday, beating Oita Trinita 2-0 thanks to early goals from Kensuke Nagai and Tsuyoshi Watanabe.
The victory at Showa Denko Dome leaves second-place FC Tokyo equal on 59 points with the Kashima Antlers, who lead the first division on goal difference after beating Urawa Reds 1-0 on Friday.
Kenta Hasegawa’s men also protected their one-point buffer over third-place Yokohama F. Marinos, who kept their own title chase on track with an away victory over Sagan Tosu.
Nagai opened the scoring from a counterattack after just five minutes, beating out-of-position ‘keeper Shun Takagi to a long ball from Yojiro Takahagi and finishing into an empty net.
Watanabe doubled the advantage two minutes later on a set play, leaping above a pair of defenders to head home off Hirotaka Mita’s kick from the left corner.
“We went out there and moved with a real sense of purpose,” Nagai said. “We defended well, and I’m really happy we came away with the three points.”
Trinita had a chance to pull a goal back close to halftime when Yusuke Goto corralled a long ball and laid it off to Kazuki Kozuka at the edge of the box, but the forward shot high and wide.
Tomohiro Katanosaka’s side spent much of the second half in attacking territory, forcing FC Tokyo to look for its chances on the counter.
The visitors nevertheless looked dangerous on their forays into the opposing half, with Nagai and club top scorer Diego Oliveira leading the charge.
Oita avoided going three goals down midway through the half, with Takagi stopping a close-range shot from Keigo Higashi before Yuki Kobayashi cleared a follow-up attempt by Kotaro Omori.
The hosts kept applying the pressure and nearly had a breakthrough via Goto in the 71st minute, but his attempt from inside the area was headed off the line by Kento Hashimoto.
At Ekimae Real Estate Stadium, Keita Endo and Erik struck before halftime as Marinos stretched their unbeaten run in the league to seven matches. Ange Postecoglou’s men are chasing their first title since winning back-to-back titles in 2003 and 2004.
In other J1 action, two-time defending champion Kawasaki Frontale climbed to fourth place and kept alive their slim hopes of a third straight crown with a 2-1 win against Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
Last-place Jubilo Iwata helped their bid to stave off relegation by beating Shimizu S-Pulse 2-1 at IAI Stadium, with Adailton striking the winner in the 86th minute.
Cerezo Osaka drew 1-1 against visiting Matsumoto Yamaga after Taro Sugimoto struck in the second half to cancel out Souza’s opener.
Keijiro Ogawa scored a brace as Vissel Kobe beat visiting Vegalta Sendai 2-0, while Consadole Sapporo prevailed 3-0 at home against Nagoya Grampus thanks to goals from Kazuki Fukai, Musashi Suzuki and Lucas Fernandes.