For the second time this week, Yoshito Okubo scored against his former club.
But just like on Wednesday, it wasn’t his current squad, Cerezo Osaka, celebrating after 90 minutes.
The former Japan international netted his fourth of the year — and 189th overall in the J. League’s first division — only to watch from the bench as defender Masato Morishige lifted FC Tokyo to a 3-2 win on Saturday at Ajinomoto Stadium.
“It’s a tough loss to take,” Okubo, who wore Tokyo’s blue and red in 2017, said after the match. “But if we look for positives, we’re already finding issues we have to work on and I’m glad we’ve found them early with so many games ahead of us.”
Morishige’s header off a superbly aimed Leandro free kick capped off a nightmare day for Cerezo goalkeeper Kim Jin-hyeon, who deserved at least part of the responsibility for each of Tokyo’s three goals in the second half.
“In the first half we didn’t play so well but we re-centered ahead of the second half, and the new players who came on did well,” said Morishige. “Everyone helped us get this win.”
The game was slow to develop at the outset, with Tokyo’s forward players pressuring from the front line but failing to build up their own attack.
Eventually Okubo managed to punish Tokyo’s young defenders, sneaking past them just in time to head in a deep cross from Tatsuhiro Sakamoto.
“I feel like I’m overperforming (with four goals from three games),” Okubo said. “But each game is a do-or-die situation. That’s the mindset I have to keep.”
Down 1-0 at the half, Tokyo came out of the locker room rejuvenated and with a key tactical change as Morishige shifted up to central midfield and Joan Oumari came on for Arthur Silva to fill the resulting hole at center back.
“With Morishige entering the anchor position, we were able to move the ball around as you saw us do last year,” Tokyo manager Kenta Hasegawa said. “We weren’t able to play our style at the start of the game. But as time went on we found our shape.”
It wasn’t long until a stunning goalkeeping lapse allowed Tokyo back into the game. As they prepared to mount another attack on goal in the 54th minute, Kim misplayed a back pass inside the six-yard box and Tokyo forward Kyosuke Tagawa rushed up to stuff the ball home.
“That he’s been able to involve himself with our results is a sign of how much he’s improved,” Hasegawa said of the 22-year-old, who joined Tokyo from Sagan Tosu in 2019.
The home fans’ joy was short-lived as Cerezo’s Riki Harakawa blasted in Okubo’s cross from outside the penalty area in the 57th minute to make it 2-1. But they needn’t have worried long, as Leandro caught Kim flat-footed with a free kick from 21 meters out that rocketed around the Cerezo wall and into the back of the net.
“It’s always hard to get a result against Cerezo,” Leandro said. “Today we were playing from behind, but we were always in a position to come back and it’s good that we did.”
With neither side seemingly willing to settle for a draw, it was no surprise the game came down to the final play, and Morishige’s subtle touch on Leandro’s free kick from near the sideline gave Kim no chance to redeem himself for his earlier blunders.
“Leandro sent a good ball, I just changed the course slightly,” Morishige said. “I’m glad I was able to help us win.”
A second straight loss from ahead — following Wednesday’s 3-2 defeat away at Kawasaki Frontale — left Cerezo manager Levir Culpi defending his players, who have managed just one win from their first three games.
“We’re changing the players in each game, we’ve got new players. There’s going to be instability,” said Culpi, who arrived at Cerezo this winter for his fourth stint at the club. “But as we play more games the communication between players will improve and things will stabilize.”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.