The first Tamagawa Classico of the season saw Tokyo and Kawasucki battle to “Get the River Under Control” on Sunday before 22,199 hardy souls, who braved the drizzly elements and the sight of Frontale's two ridiculous mascots (the new one resembling a spring onion with the stalk severed off) with bragging rights on the line in this burgeoning rivalry.
It was also the first visit to Todoroki for myself and tokyobairn, and while the terracing in the away end brought back happy memories of standing for hours in the freezing rain watching Falkirk for my Scottish friend, I just thought the place was a dump. But I digress….
Quite frankly, there could never have been a better time to play Kawasaki (fair enough, one Kawasucki was enough), missing their two best players (the other Nakamura, and Juninho) and having returned from a midweek trip to Melbourne where they lost 1-0 to the Victory in an ACL Group Stage game.
True, jet lag is not an issue when you travel from Japan to Australia and back, but contrast their trek with our pitstop to Kokuritsu on Wednesday and it was clear the advantage was with us. However, details like that go out the window in derby games, so “respected” football pundits like to tell us on a regular basis, and thusly Tokyo gaffer Jofuku reinforced his defence from midweek, recalling Morishige for Hiramatsu in the centre, and Nagatomo for Kim at full back. There were a couple of surprises elsewhere in selection, though, Tatsuya again preferred to Akamine upfront (Why? What has he done thus far to justify that?), and Ricardinho not even making the bench.
The first ten to fifteen minutes were mostly a case of the two teams feeling themselves out, Chong Tese headed straight at Shuichi Gonda, then Hokuto slashed wide after Ishikawa's initial effort was blocked.
To be fair to Frontale (not easy for me to do), they had had the better of the possession to this stage, and made the breakthrough in the 21st minute, when Chong blasted home from inside the area after Morishige failed to head clear from a cross.
Tokyo responded to that setback by dominating the remaining 25 minutes of the first half, Hirayama had the ball in the net after Hanyu hit the post just three minutes after Chong's goal but the big fella was ruled offside when the rebound came to him, Hokuto fired just over from a free kick in a dangerous area, Hirayama looped a header onto the crossbar and then forced a fine save from Kawashima (to be honest I didnt see the last chance, side note: about the only good thing Todoroki has going for it is the large number of urinals).
Despite all those chances and near misses the Gasmen couldn't find a way past Kawashima in the Frontale net and went back to the sheds a goal down.
Frontale had been fairly content to sit on their lead and try and hit us on the break, and after Tokyo continued to press for an equaliser, that tactic worked to a T 16 minutes into the second half when that man Chong doubled Kawasucki's advantage (sorry, couldn't help throwing another one in there).
Kim had replaced Hokuto two minutes before the goal (with Konno moving into centre mid for the third game in a row), and then two minutes after new sensation Shigematsu replaced the mostly anonymous Tatsuya, but still Tokyo lacked a real cutting edge, and Otake was introduced (for Hanyu) with 20-odd minutes remaining.
Hirayama forced a decent save from Kawashima, but despite more possession Tokyo found it hard to create clear-cut chances, with Inamoto doing a good job of protecting his back four.
The Gasmen had continued to press, and Konno got his second of the season two minutes into stoppage time after Shigematsu's shot was saved (pretty sure it was Shigematsu…I was five beers in by that time), but it was all too little too late. Tokyo probably deserved at least a point on the run of play, but were undone by a very professional performance by the home team.
The fixture man hasn't done us many favours, with the next game against Kashima (Aji Sta, 7pm, Saturday), and Jofuku has a lot to ponder at the selection table. If Kajiyama is fit to start (unlikely, I presume) does he replace Hanyu or Tokunaga? If he isn't, START KONNO IN THE CENTRE OF MIDFIELD! He's moved him in there three games in a row, so he has to start there if Casual isn't fit. Is Tatsuya out of chances to prove himself? Akamine or Shigematsu to start in his place if he is? Are we ever going to see Ricardinho start? Should I nickname him Aquilani? And so on and so forth.
Despite all those questions, Tokyo have another opportunity to really get the season going by taking one of the “big” teams down, and they don't come any bigger than the three-time defending league champions.