So Omiya Ardija have done it again. With one game to go in the J1 league for season 2012, away to Shimizu S-Pulse, Omiya have already guaranteed their status in J1 for next year. A 2-0 win over Jubilo Iwata, care of a superb strike from Kanazawa and a second goal neatly finished by Watanabe after good work from Zlatan in the 5.30pm kick off on Saturday November 24th was enough to keep Ardija out of the drama of the last day of the season relegation dogfight tomorrow.
Who could blame the Squirrels if they decided to put their feet up during the last game of the season at the Outsourcing stadium tomorrow. After all, for much of the season the Squirrels seemed favourite to go down. Unable to score, with a porous defence, and a hapless coach in Jun Suzuki, the future for Ardija seemed to have J2 written all over it. Instead a lot of hard work from new coach Verdenik, his staff, 3 astute purchases which at the time, like the choice of new coach, seemed rather less than inspiring, and commitment from all the players to Verdenik's system have produced such a great outcome for the Omiya fans.
Every holiday season that hoary old classic film, The Great Escape is rolled out across the TV screens in the UK for the viewing public's enjoyment. Without fail. And each time I watch it, Steve McQueen fails to jump the barbed wire on his bike, and only 2 prisoners of war make it to safety.
Likewise season after season in Japan it seems that Omiya Ardija's name and The Great Escape are inextricably linked together.
Yet this time the word "Great" should be the focus for how we played our way out of trouble, not merely the fact of another "Escape." This wasn't a last ditch, backs to the wall effort to get us the points we needed for safety. Similarly it wasn't a hoof it clear, bang it up front and hope we score type of performance either.
This victory, and the one the week before at Cerezo were well constructed performances. Komoto has made a huge impact in defence, playing well with Kikuchi and giving the back line a confidence that was previously missing. Up front, the foreign imports from Slovenia, Zlatan and Novakovic give the opposition defenders something to really worry about, and following on from this, the Ardija midfielders have the confidence that the forwards might score, but also that they will keep possession in dangerous positions. Earlier in the season we would lose the ball far too quickly and too often, and very soon we would be back in our own half and under pressure. In recent weeks, when playing, Watabe, Higashi, Cho Yong-Cheol and Watanabe have looked transformed players, capable of joining and maintaining the attack, even scoring.
In the first half of this game Cho and Shimohira continually linked up well down the left side and provided decent service for the two strikers. Under Jun Suzuki, Cho looked out of position and unable to do much with the ball. Against Iwata, he looked sharp, full of running and a danger to Iwata. This has surely come about because of the presence of Zlatan and Novakovic providing a real focus for the wide players to go for.
The team is looking in good shape, just as the season is about to end. I am very confident the Squirrels will not be putting their feet up at Nihondaira, but instead they will be looking to extend their unbeaten streak in the league to 12 games. A win for Ardija would be a third straight win. Impressive end of season form by anyone's standards. It could even secure us our best ever J1 league finishing position. Omiya as yet have never finished higher than twelfth. Unfortunately they will have to do it without Zlatan, who picked up a season ending injury in the second half of the Iwata game. This does give Verdenik the chance to experiment with the front two. I guess he will go with Novakovic and Hasegawa, however I'd rather see the lively looking Shintaro Shimizu start, with Hasegawa given a run in the second half.
What lies ahead for Omiya. Well, a run in the Emperor's cup would be good for the club and welcome for the fans. More importantly, is keeping the squad together, the belief and confidence, and building on it during the off-season, so that Ardija might not have to take the starring role in next season's version of The Great Escape.