Before a disappointing crowd of 18,350, FC Tokyo continued their distinctly ordinary start to the season with a 1-1 draw against Kyoto last Saturday evening.
The manager handed Ricardinho his first league start following his match-winning performance in the Nabisco Cup away at Omiya in midweek, but apart from that change (Shigematsu returned to the bench) it was the same team that had shown encouraging signs in the previous league match at home against the champions Kashima. The starting XI was: Gonda; Nagatomo, Morishige, Konno, Kim; Ishikawa, Hanyu, Tokunaga, Matsushita; Hirayama, Ricardinho.
I won't mention the first 10 minutes because absolutely nothing happened. In the 11th minute, Tokyo were behind, in unusual and unfortunate circumstances. A Kyoto throw-in 40 yards from goal was nodded past Konno and into the box by Yanagisawa, Konno scampered back but couldn't prevent Nishino from getting a cross in. All sounds pretty regulation so far, but events soon conspired against the Gasmen. Nishino's cross reached Nakayama, who shot under pressure from Nagatomo, the ball was going well wide but instead clattered into Morishige's head, past Gonda, who was wrong-footed, and along the goal line. Gonda made good ground and seemed to have his post covered, but Kakuda slotted home through his legs to give Sanga the lead.
Tokyo never got going at all in the first half, the only decent chances were a free kick fizzed in by Matsushita in the 14th minute, comfortably claimed by the keeper, and a shot in the 27th minute from Ishikawa that was well saved after good build-up play involving Morishige, Tokunaga and Matsushita. In general there was no rhythm to our attacking play, the ball was moved too slowly out of defence, passes were missed and there was little link-up play between midfield and attack.
Jofuku's “response” was to have Matsushita and Nagatomo switch positions at the start of the second half, a somewhat puzzling decision as, if he was again unimpressed with Matsu's attacking play (as the rest of us in the stadium were), he shouldve just replaced him at the break.
The Gasmen enjoyed a spell of pressure eight minutes into the second half that culminated in Ishikawa's shot being saved, but the game was going exactly to plan for Kyoto and Jofuku had to act. On 60 minutes Ricardinho's day was done as he was replaced by Shigematsu, and three minutes later Matsushita made way for Hokuto. Then on 69 minutes Hirayama was replaced by Akamine.
On the three players who were replaced – Ricky was starved of opportunities and never posed a threat to the Kyoto goal, a victim of the slow build-up play I alluded to earlier; Matsushita actually DID try and take his man on a few times but has yet to have a real impact in any game he's featured in; and Hirayama didn't have a sniff at all, he was mostly anonymous and didn't even have a shot on goal.
After the three changes Tokyo had just 20 minutes to salvage something from the game. In the 71st minute Nagatomo (back to right-back after Hokuto's introduction) crossed from the right, but the ball went over Hokuto's head and was cleared for a corner. Nothing came of that corner, but just two minutes later, we were back on level terms, and as with Kyoto's goal, there was a fair bit of luck involved. On our next attack an attempted clearance from inside the box by a Kyoto defender hit another Sanga and fell kindly for Shigematsu, who turned sharply and was brought down for a penalty. The youngster then showed admirable composure to step up and fire the spot kick high into the net past the keeper.
We clearly had the momentum after the goal, and on 76 minutes Akamine had a great chance when he met Tokunaga's excellent cross, but he headed straight at the keeper. Hokuto then fired a free kick into the keeper's bread-basket, and then in stoppage time the little fella got up well to knock a header down for Akamine, who forced a good save. The final whistle sounded soon after and the points were shared, and in truth we were hardly deserving of ours.
That's three straight home draws in the league, then, and while the result against Kashima was deserved, the ones either side of that, versus Cerezo and here versus Kyoto, are simply not good enough if we want to finish in the top four this season. Its also four games without a win in the league, and, because our petition to play Omiya every week has failed, its off to Osaka on the weekend to face Gamba and our old friend Lucas.