A largely uneventful first half led to fireworks in the second at Ajinomoto Stadium on Saturday, with Junior Santos scoring twice in quick succession to break open the floodgates in Yokohama F. Marinos’ 4-0 win over FC Tokyo.

Just over one month before the two sides were scheduled to resume their postponed Asian Champions League campaigns, both teams fielded strong lineups in a desperate effort to secure top-four finishes in the J. League’s first division and a return to continental soccer next year.

While Tokyo arrived with relatively fresh legs having last played on Sunday, Marinos manager Ange Postecoglou rued a tight schedule that has seen his players embark on a brutal stretch of midweek fixtures in order to allow the team to travel to Doha in November while still completing its J1 schedule.

“It was difficult because I made seven changes to the team today, and eight changes on Wednesday (a 2-1 win against Nagoya Grampus),” Postecoglou said. “That’s not normal. That’s not how football is supposed to work. Even though I’m making so many changes, the players are adapting and trying to stick to our game plan.

“These players are doing unbelievable things. We haven’t had one matchday off… There’s nothing to improve. The players have a strong mentality, and we’ll become a stronger team for this.”

Tokyo was arguably unlucky in a scoreless first half, with Kyosuke Tagawa forcing a punch-out save by Park Il-gyu in the 17th minute and Hirotaka Mita going wide of the post less than 10 minutes later. The hosts had the lion’s share of chances but neither did Marinos slack defensively, coping well against one of the league’s top counterattacks.

“We knew Tokyo had a week off and were playing to win, so we prepared to deal with them,” said Marinos defender Shinnosuke Hatanaka. “We had some tough situations but we held them off, and then by scoring we seized momentum so overall the game developed well for us.”

The second half began with Tokyo continuing to lay on pressure, but the fate of the game changed quickly in the 54th minute when Erick crossed from the right side to to Junior Santos, who left Tokyo captain Tsuyoshi Watanabe sprawled on the grass before slotting past Akihiro Hayashi from close range.

Two minutes later Santos pounced again, quickly unleashing a shot from three meters inside the box after the ball bounced in front of his feed on a failed clearance.

“I wanted to contribute to the team,” said Santos. “When I didn’t have the ball I put everything into defending. Our manager is always talking about playing for the team and that’s what I thought about. I wanted to use any chances I had.”

With the game firmly in Yokohama’s hands the mood soured on the pitch, and Tokyo midfielder Arthur Silva was shown a red card in the 63rd minute after he punched Marinos defender Ken Matsubara in the face during an off-the-ball encounter.

Things went from bad to worse for Watanabe in stoppage time after he deflected Kota Mizunuma’s shot into the net for an own goal to give Marinos a 3-0 lead, and Erick threaded the needle from the edge of the box to make it 4-0 shortly before the final whistle.

“Until we allowed the first goal we had lots of chances, and for us to not score really kept us from building momentum,” said Tokyo forward Kensuke Nagai. “After I missed my big chance they scored, so I feel very responsible.”

Having compiled its first losing streak of the season following a 1-0 defeat at Yokohama FC last weekend, Tokyo will be looking to rebound quickly with a midweek game against Kashiwa Reysol, a Halloween match away at Tamagawa Clasico rival Kawasaki Frontale and the Nov. 7 Levain Cup Final against Reysol awaiting Hasegawa’s men.

“It’s important to move on for this,” Nagai said. “We have a game in three days and as a team we have to get ourselves together and be ready to fight.”

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