TOSU, SAGA PREF. – Sagan Tosu avoided falling into the relegation zone with a 1-0 home win over Matsumoto Yamaga, a fellow straggler in the J. League first division, on Sunday.
Takashi Kanai scored the game’s only goal on a 13th-minute free-kick at Ekimae Real Estate Stadium, and the hosts held on to win a tense defensive struggle to move up to 14th in the league, four points clear of the last relegation spot. Had the visitors come away with three points, they would have moved out of 17th place ahead of Sagan.
Yamaga, one of the first division’s better defensive clubs, was caught out on a free kick when two defenders hesitated and gave Kanai a free header from the middle of the penalty area. With his markers having opted to move between Kanai and the goal, the Sagan back rose unchallenged and headed Yuji Ono’s free-kick just past the defenders and inside the left post.
Sagan keeper Yohei Takaoka prevented a 50th-minute equalizer off a Yamaga corner. Takaoka dove to stop a shot and had the composure to kick it away when it was deflected. He then scrambled to gather up the rebound before Brazilian striker Paulinho could put it into the empty net.
Yamaga, which entered its 31st game of the season last in the J1 with 19 goals, was prevented from poaching a goal on the counter with the hosts having parked the bus in their penalty area.
But Sagan were likewise unable to get a shot past Yamaga ‘keeper Tatsuya Morita, who made a string of strong saves to keep his team in the hunt for a point.
The game devolved into a series of shoving matches as substitute Hiroyuki Takasaki theatrically fell in the penalty area while he and a defender vied for an 88th-minute long ball. He then went after Takaoka, who was apparently mocking his performance.
In Sunday’s other games, Vegalta Sendai beat Shimizu S-Pulse 2-0 at home in a fight between two clubs trying to move further clear of relegation, while Oita Trinita beat Gamba Osaka 2-1 in a mid-table clash.