To Pass or Not to Pass

Recent discussion of FC Gifu’s tremendous rate of passing this season got me thinking about Machida Zelvia’s 2012 season under Ossie Ardiles. Back then Ardiles tried to introduce a Barcelona style tiki-taka passing game that worked defensively by retaining possession, but ultimately was, sadly, not enough to win enough games.

One of the recipients of training in that style was Yoshihiro Shoji. He often looked out of place after Ardiles left, as he tried to continue that passing style even when the rest of the team had moved on to different tactics after Naoki Soma took over in 2014. Perhaps Shoji and Zelvia were a match that was not to be… Zelvia have gone on to relative success in J2 and Shoji has now, by all accounts, found a home with the passing style of FC Gifu.

These are anecdotal thoughts, but another thing that has changed for Zelvia fans is that being in J2 we now have much more televisual and statistical coverage that we can access to check on our potentially false memories! Were Zelvia really a top passing team in 2012? Or was that the first instance of Fake J-League News?

I decided to investigate the passing strategy of the Zelvia 2012 team under Ardiles, and the apparently (according to me) more direct style under Soma in 2016.

Ardiles v Soma

Ossie

Soma


[And we will not be adopting a Japanese portmanteau to shorthand that title… ahem.]

First off, here’s the data on the number of passes attempted:

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Highly variable of course and no doubt depends on the opposition on each match day, but Zelvia under Ardiles were averaging more than 525 passing attempts per game. In contrast, Soma’s Zelvia in 2016 were averaging under 370.

Here’s the data on the completion percentage:

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Again, Zevia under Ardiles were completing almost 80% of passes on average. In fact, in almost half the games the completion percentage was higher than anything Soma’s Zelvia achieved in 2016.

When you crunch the numbers, it means that in 2012 Zelvia were completing 400 passes on average whereas in 2016 they were completing about 240.

I also spotted an interesting correlation in the data:

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It seems that the more passing attempts a team makes, the more often the passes are complete. The more you try to pass, the better you get at it… Practice makes perfect!

What else do we learn from this exercise? Well, as I’m sure we all knew, playing a passing game very well doesn’t mean you win games! [Take note FC Gifu].

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Only one more day to go…

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There were lines round the stadium from the backstand to the entrance of the main stand as Zelvia welcomed Yokohama F. Marinos to Nozuta for a friendly last Saturday. Sadly for us Zelvistas we were thoroughly trounced a painful 4-0 by the visitors but it was pleasant to be back at the stadium after an almost three-month absence.

Manager Naomi Soma appears to have settled on the top team, and there aren’t many changes from last year. In fact, only one new face, that of ex-Renofa Yamaguchi midfielder Masayuki Okuyama, made the starting line-up. Veteran defender Kota Fukatsu is back after two knee injuries last season. He was paired this time with Naoki Otani, whose loan from Sanfrecche Hiroshima was extended for 2017. Ri Han Jae returns for a third season as our captain, though his name has undergone some changes of late. Having had his surname rendered as ‘Ri’ for as long as I can remember, it was changed to Li on the website last month, then only this morning came up as Le. Akira Toshima’s inclusion in the starting eleven had heads shaking around the stadium as he again made minimal efforts to chase the ball. For one so tall (191cm, as I’m sure the match commentators will point out repeatedly over the season) he certainly is a slow mover. He looked good during the one pre-season game I saw just after he was signed in 2015, but then he broke his leg, and since he returned he has been somewhat cautious, to put it mildly, when it comes to the tackle. Rounding out the team were defender Ryuto Matsumoto, midfielders Kota Morimura and Tatsuya Yazawa (who has joined us as a full member after his one-year loan from JEF United Chiba was converted to a transfer), forwards Yuki Nakashima and Yuya Nakamura (another key player returning after a spell out injured), and goalkeeper Toshiyasu Takahara.

Soma played this friendly as a trial run for the real thing so, true to form, he only made three substitutions and made these way into the second half. Predictably, Kentaro Shigematsu replaced Yazawa. I didn’t check the time, but I’m betting it was around the 30 minute mark – you can set your watch by Soma’s substitutions. Two more new signings made their entrance; Ryohei Yoshihama from Thespa Kusatsu Gunma, came on for Nakamura and showed some nice shooting and free-kicks taking abilities, and Otani was replaced by Ex-Kamatamare Sanuki defender Kodai Fujii. Yokohama, on the other hand, rotated practically their entire roster. Clearly they were in practice match mode.

They were also clearly the better team. Once again Zelvia’s tendency to play closely together left us painfully vulnerable on the wing, a vulnerability that was exploited by the visitors as their wide players on several occasions collected a long pass from midfield and took the ball up the field with no-one marking them to stop their progress.

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Anyway, Zelvia went on to draw with another J1 team, Omiya Ardija, the following day in a closed game, so I can’t complain too much. For the record, here are the full pre-season match results:

2 – 0 Honda Lock

4 – 0 FC Imabari

3 – 3 Zweigen Kanazawa

2 – 2 Fagiano Okayama

0 – 4 Yokohama F. Marinos

1 – 1 Omiya Ardija

So, what’s in store for The Blue Brazil this year? Well, this will be our second year since our return to J2 and we performed surprisingly well last season but we won’t have the same determination to avoid relegation that fueled such an impressive start to 2016. I don’t think we’ll finish as high as we did last year, and I definitely don’t think we’ll be topping the table at any point, but neither should we be battling relegation either. We have a decent squad, though I would like to see a full recovery for striker Koji Suzuki, who had to undergo a second operation on his Achilles’ tendon and won’t return to match fitness until at least June.

Of our new signings, I’m interested to see how MF Taiki Hirato and DF Boris Tatar perform. Hirato came up through current runaway-champions-of-practically-everything Kashima Antlers’ youth team and although he hardly played with the top team he has had training with them so he should be good. Plus he’s only nineteen! Tatar comes to us from Montenegro, in whose national team he has played, so he should be one to watch. However, surprise news came in yesterday morning that Zelvia have promoted one of their youth, FW Joseph Ryu Hashimura to the top team. He’s only sixteen, and this news has me wondering if Soma is concerned about Nakamura’s fitness. He was taken off during the training match and it looked to me and those around that he had been injured…

Anyway, the big day is just 24 hours away, when we welcome JEF United Chiba to Nozuta. Kick off is at 2pm. As it’s the season opener and JEF are relatively local expect long lines for the shuttle buses, so set off early if you want to get a decent seat and a bite to eat. Oh, and I fully expect a victory for Zelvia!

Matchday 32: Zweigen Kanazawa 1 – 2 FC Machida Zelvia

It’s been a while since I last wrote about Zelvia and, to be honest, the news from Nozuta has not been particularly good of late, what with a long winless streak of almost two months and defeat at the hands of Kanagawa University in the opening round of the Emperor’s Cup. In the interest of fairness, the Emps has never been regarded as being that important here in Machida – we are not likely to ever win it, after all – and Coach Soma has always fielded the second team, even as we faced J1’s Urawa Reds in the final 16 last year. But, still. Kanagawa University! I ask you.

The bad news continued with news of the hurried departures of DF Kai Miki and MF Takafumi Suzuki under mysterious circumstances on the very same day last month. The official word was that they had agreed to part ways with the club due to unspecified personal reasons, which is usually a euphemism for a rift with management, but nobody knows for sure what really happened. Normally when a favourite disappears from the starting eleven whilst apparently in full fitness or finds himself transferred to a J3 – or worse – team, the news is usually accompanied by rumours swirling around Nozuta (“He likes a drink!”, “He kept sleeping in and turning up late for practice!”). However, no-one has heard anything about Takafumi’s unceremonious exit and everyone I spoke to was just as surprised as me that not even the slightest tidbit of information has leaked from Front Office. Zelvia have gone into lockdown on this one, and the fans have been left bemused, confused, and not a little unhappy at this turn of events. Takafumi is one of our key players and a prolific goal-scorer as well as an expert with assists, and to ‘lose’ him right in the middle of a slump is madness.

It must have been one hell of a disagreement, and that’s all I’m saying.

And, as if things aren’t bad enough, our top scorer Koji Suzuki is out for the rest of the season following an operation to repair a damaged Achilles tendon. We had all just absorbed that information and a replacement scorer brought over from Yokohama F. Marinos in the form of Teruhito Nakagawa when news came in just before kick-off on Sunday that DF Kota Fukatsu will be out for the rest of the season, having injured his patella during the match against Yokohama FC last week. He already missed plenty of games earlier this year because of an injury to the same knee so I’m hoping this doesn’t turn out to be a chronic problem for him.

Well, I wasn’t in the most optimistic of mindsets at 6pm on Sunday because of this unrelenting tide of woe, so I was cheered immeasurably by the long-awaited victory for Zelvia. I had hoped that this would happen as Zweigen are anchored at the bottom of the league table and look increasingly likely to be relegated, but you never can tell. I’ve never been a fan of Kanazawa and was baffled when they finished at the the top of the J3 league table in 2014 as they simply did not impress whenever they came to Machida. Indeed, they have never beaten Zelvia in JFL, J3, or J2 and I doubt they ever will if they end up back in the third division and we stay up.

Apart from Zelvia’s goal it was not the most exciting of first halves. Captain Ri Han Jae took one of his Long Shots™ on goal just over ten minutes in, with the ball soaring over the crossbar, although I suspect I’m the only person who enjoys his efforts. However, the goal itself was wonderful, one of those that you just knew was going in. Nakagawa, collecting a through ball from Yuki Nakashima, powered up the midfield chased by Keisuke Ota (ex of Zelvia!) and sent the ball home past goalkeeper Naoki Harada, whose indecision on whether to close down the angles left the goal effectively open. Overall, Zweigen didn’t look at all threatening and I doubted we would see anything of note from them for the duration of the game, but I was pleasantly surprised to find them come into the game in the second half. I say ‘pleasantly’ as we all enjoy an exciting game of football, although I could have done without the additional ‘excitement’ of the hosts’ conversion of a penalty kick 66 minutes in following an ill-judged tackle by Ri on Kenta Yamafuji. However, Yuya Nakamura saved the day with a header home only minutes later and my equilibrium was restored.

Here are the highlights:

And the table:

table

Although we are in a respectable eighth place I’m not entirely happy with how things are going. We have taken only 21 points from the last 20 games with only five wins during that time, which is not too impressive. Indeed, we could have found ourselves languishing at the bottom of the table in the company of Kanazawa, Kitakyushu and Gifu had it not been for our strong start to the season, which saw us collect 25 points over the first twelve matches. Coach Soma seems to be at a loss as to how to deal with this situation and is doggedly sticking to the same formation even when it’s clear that things aren’t working as well as they could be. Still, our new FW Nakagawa is an impressive signing indeed and seems to be ably taking the place of Koji, so perhaps this could be a return to form for Zelvia after a disappointing couple of months.

Matchdays 27-29: A draw bookmarked by 2 defeats for Zelvia

It was dismal week or so for Zelvia as we salvaged a measly one point from three games.

Matchday 27: FC Machida Zelvia 2 – 3 Renofa Yamaguchi

The mood around me was buoyant as I took my seat for this game as the feeling was that we should beat Yamaguchi easily after our 2-0 victory earlier this season. Well, you can never discount Renofa, especially a Renofa that were coming to Nozuta looking for revenge.

Revenge was certainly theirs, and I’m sure it must have been sweet for them. Machida got the goals in early, with newly-prolific scorer Yuya Nakamura netting a brace before we were the full twenty five minutes in. Both of these were the result of set plays from corner kicks taken by our captain Ri Han Jae. I’ve been taken by surprise by the number of goals from this type of play this year as back in J3 there were corner kicks galore but very few results. For me that, and the less defensive play overall by the majority of our opponents this season, is the big difference between the two leagues – and very welcome differences these are too.

Of course, Renofa spoiled our party and, to add insult to injury, in additional time to boot! Their trademark speedy, decisive passing made the difference not once but twice, with goals coming from Yatsunori Shimaya three and four minutes into additional time. A brace to match our brace – ouch! Ex-Zelvia midfielder Yoshihiro Shoji didn’t help matters much by assisting with the first one. I’ve been somewhat critical of Shoji in the past as he had a tendency to pass the ball backwards rather than attack, but now that has been drummed out of him he has become a strong presence on the field. It’s a shame he didn’t make much of a mark when he was with us.

Although the visitors took a while to get going in the first half, they dominated the second. Their third and final goal came less than ten minutes before full time. As Renofa’s Masato Nakayama and Zelvia’s Ryota Matsumoto vied for possession (whilst both were downed!) Yuji Hoshi seized his chance and hit the ball past Toshiyasu Takahara, and that was that. Our parade was well and truly rained on.

The mood in the cheap seats was not forgiving of Zelvia’s performance and the place was rapidly emptying out even before the final whistle came. When the team came to our section to make their customary bow, they were greeted by minimal clapping and many folded arms accompanied by pointed glares. That’s pretty strong stuff for our part of the world, and the players had the sense to look somewhat sheepish as they half-heartedly took their bows.

Apart from Renofa’s impressive comeback, the game was memorable for another unfortunate reason; our top goal scorer and fan favourite Koji Suzuki suddenly fell to the ground in agony during the first half and had to be taken off in a stretcher. Later it became known that he had injured his Achilles’ tendon and had to undergo an operation to repair it, so that will be him out for the rest of the season. It’s terrible news not just because he is an essential part of the team but because, in this supporter’s opinion, he more than anyone was key to our promotion to J2. He always seemed to take it harder than most when we failed to qualify other years, and now that we are finally back it’s sad that he will have to miss out on his full reward. Here’s to a complete and speedy recovery.

Here are the match highlights:

Matchday 28: Tokushima Vortis 1 – 1 FC Machida Zelvia

Zelvia’s inability of late to hold onto either an early lead or a clean sheet continued on Thursday. However, a couple of other recent developments, namely goals resulting from corner kicks and the rising star that is Yuya Nakamura, also made their mark.

Nakamura really is coming into his own these days. He was used sparingly last season and didn’t have much of an impact when played, but this year Naoki Soma has consistently put him in midfield on the wing, and this seems to suit him better than his previous position as forward. He started as a forward today, covering for the injured Koji Suzuki, and I was worried that this might cramp his style, but his confidence seems to have soared having scored 6 goals so far this year and all doubts were put to rest when he scored his seventh just over ten minutes into the match.

Like our two goals last week this one also came from a corner, this time taken by Takafumi Suzuki. Vortis initially blocked our attack but we collected the ball and restarted, with a cross from Takafuki to Nakamura resulting in a nice header into the net by way of a helpful deflection off the inside of the post.

Vortis seemed somewhat subdued by this turn of events, but after fifteen minutes or so they got back into the game, and from then on it was an exciting battle for supremacy between the two sides. They scored the equalizer just over thirty minutes in when a long shot from Alex to Rikuto Hirose was passed along to Daiki Watari, who sliced the ball over the back of a diving Toshiyasu Takahara. It was good, decisive play and reminiscent of that of Renofa Yamaguchi. Overall, Tokushima were challenging opponents, speedy on the counter attack but ultimately failing to breach Zelvia’s strong defence more than the once.

Although there were no more goals, it remained an enjoyable match, and one in which the goalposts featured not once but three times! I mentioned before that a deflection off the post assisted Nakamura’s goal, but it hampered what could have been a second one toward the end of the first half when a shot by Yudai Inoue hit the post. Then five minutes into the second half another one, a Ri Long Shot™ this time, also struck the woodwork!

Here are the highlights of this match:

Matchday 29: Kyoto Sanga 1 – 0 FC Machida Zelvia

I’ve been somewhat unlucky with the timing of business trips of late. I was sent to Osaka the week after we played away to Cerezo, and to Amagasaki – only an hour by train from Nishikyogoku – the week before this match.

On the aforementioned trip to Amagasaki I went to see Kyoto versus Cerezo just out of curiosity and was rewarded with a six goal clash, so I was hoping for some fireworks from this game. I wouldn’t like to say I was disappointed because although we did lose and there was only one goal, it could have easily been a 3-1 defeat.

The first (could-have-been) goal came seven minutes after kick-off when Kyoto were awarded a corner. The subsequent header deflected off our Yuki Nakashima and almost went in, but luckily the post played its part (again!) and the ball was deflected across the front of the goal to Takafumi Suzuki, who kicked it to safety.

The real goal was considerably longer in coming and again involved a deflection, this time off our own goalkeeper rather than the post. It was fifteen minutes before the end of the game, and Koki Arita, who had come on as a substitution less than ten minutes earlier, shot directly on target. Takahara tried a sliding save and was in position to succeed, but the ball hit his outstretched leg and bounced over it and into the net. A most unfortunate development indeed.

The third (could-have-been) goal came 84 minutes in and came from another corner kick. What is it with corner kicks of late?! I suppose given that Kyoto were awarded a whopping 14 of them to our 3 I should count myself lucky that I’m not sitting here contemplating a 6-0 match report! Anyway, Zelvia’s defence cleared the ball, but Kyohei Uchida collected it and took a chance with a shot on goal. It wasn’t particularly powerful and initially didn’t look threatening to the extent that Machida’s players watched it trundle through their midst, right on target, without doing anything to stop its leisurely progress, save a slight deflection off Takafumi’s ankle, until Takahara, realizing he had a possible own-goal on his hands, had to hurriedly dive in to save it!

In all honesty, Zelvia looked the better team to me, but they were up against a twelfth man in the form of the brutal Kyoto humidity. Kyoto is surrounded by mountains so the hot summer air is trapped in the city, making playing conditions very challenging indeed. The Sanga players train in these conditions and are no doubt as used to it as they can be, but Zelvia looked wrecked. I’ve noticed in previous matches that our players don’t seem to cope as well with high temperatures as those from other teams do. The team was relatively fresh during the first half, with Ri Han Jae mustering up two of his Long Shots™, and attempts by Takafumi Suzuki and Tatsuya Yazawa looking threatening. But they were drenched in sweat during the second half and looked exhausted by the end of it. Thankfully, the next game is at home this coming Sunday and the heatwave in Tokyo seems to have broken, so they will no doubt be thanking their lucky stars that they likely won’t have to play in these conditions again this year.

Here are the highlights from this match:

Finally, here’s the latest table:

Table

 

Matchday 26: V. Varen Nagasaki 1 – 0 FC Machida Zelvia

Zelvia failed to wrestle any points from the long trip to Kyushu last Sunday when the hosts capitalized on an early goal.

The goal came from a set play and we really should have seen it coming. Only five minutes in Nagasaki were awarded a corner kick which was duly collected and headed home by Yusuke Murakami past a startled Toshiyasu Takahara, who barely had time to react. It was a fast and decisive play, one which looked like it had been rehearsed many times in practice, and I was reminded by the two goals scored by Gunma against us only a few weeks back that also came from the same set play.

After that the game settled down, so much so that I found it difficult to concentrate at times. It was the classic case of momentum fizzling out from both sides, punctuated by the odd attack that ultimately came to nothing – if there was ever a threat there at all. We are now in the height of the Japanese summer and the humidity was, by all accounts, crushing, and it certainly seemed that way from the look of the players, who seemed exhausted only halfway into the first half. It’s something I’ve noticed more and more these past few games, and the standard of play has dropped accordingly.

With no real threat coming from either side, the commentators settled on discussing the possibility of a late goal, with statistics showing that both sides were not ones to be discounted on that front. However, as the match wore on and this looked increasingly unlikely, they started to discuss Zelvia’s overall record of low-scoring games this season (the recent fixtures against Cerezo Osaka and Mito Hollyhock aside). How’s that for a vote of confidence!

There’s not much else I can say about this match that isn’t covered by the highlights. I’m still in Kansai on business, halfway between Kanto and Kyushu, and I was tempted to head west to see this game but I’m glad I didn’t. Instead I saw Kyoto host Cerezo which, despite the dull first half and the soaking I got in the sudden downpour before kick-off, proved to be a six-goal thriller and, ultimately, much more enjoyable.

Here are the highlights:

And the table:

Table

We’re still in seventh place, so no cause for alarm!

Next week we host Renofa Yamaguchi and, my goodness, am I looking forward to that one. According to some Zelvia supporters they are our arch-rivals in J2 (although I would have though the much-hated Verdy had that honour) having gone down to the wire in the battle for promotion last year. I can’t really see it that way as I have a fondness for fellow-third division sides who have made the move up based on our mutual struggles to escape the morass that is J3. I don’t want Zelvia to return there, and I wouldn’t wish it on any other team that has also made the break. Aside from that, Renofa are still a cracking side though their results are not as impressive as those of last year as they find that teams at this level are not as easily startled by their aggressive play. We beat them earlier this season and what ever happens, it should be a good game on Sunday.

Matchday 25: FC Machida Zelvia 3 Mito Hollyhock 3

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They say football is crazy(!), well, Sunday’s match at Nozuta certainly was on several levels…

Machida have only played Mito three times in the J league and the previous results were 0-0, 1-1, and 2-2. Who would bet their house on this match continuing the sequence and ending 3-3? Especially after Zelvia had run away with a 3-0 lead and Mito had not made a single shot on target before they scored in the 56th minute. Get your tickets for the next match; it looks set to be 4-4!

Zelvia were in complete control up to that point. A glancing header from Yuki Nakashima in the 25th minute, a very nice side footed goal by Yuya Nakamura in the 34th, and a powerful header from Calvin Jong-a-Pin (his first for the club) putting Zelvia well ahead at the start of the 2nd half.

Even after Kazuhiro Sato pulled the first goal back there was a sense that this game was done and dusted, but after Ryoji Fukui got the 2nd in the 78th minute we were set once again for some late match drama, and indeed Sato got his second of the game in the 90th minute. Zelvia thus blew a 3 goal lead for the first time since June 2011, when they were ultimately clawed back by the giants of Sagawa Shiga FC.

Recently Zelvia have seen more than their fair share of late goals: ten in the last ten minutes (4 for and 6 against) since the beginning of June. It’s all very exciting, but it also partly reflects the fact that our defence has been frail of late; we haven’t kept a clean sheet for 9 games! More goals conceded generally, means more desperate attempts to score near the end of the match, and more opportunities for our opponents to counter-attack. We could do with more stability in defence, but this has been hindered by the injuries to Kota Fukatsu, Satoru Hoshino, and Song Gi Kim, and the need to reshuffle the position of Kohei Tokita depending on who else is available.

One good development is that Nakamura has been coming into his own in his new position  on the right wing in midfield. He’s netted 4 goals in 5 games now, and, so far, appears to like this role better than being up front.

Here are the match highlights:

And here’s the table:

Table

Zelvia are sitting pretty in 7th position and have basically secured their J2 status for next season. The bottom of the table of course looks uncomfortable for some, but based on the statistics from previous years, everyone from Tokyo Verdy upwards is on course to survive; they just must avoid a complete collapse over the remainder of the season. FC Gifu fans must be a little worried. They were doing relatively well earlier in the season but have now lost 5 in a row and have been dragged into the relegation battle. Of the others, Gunma look strongest having seen off Kanazawa and Kitakyushu in the head to head games so far.

This Sunday we play away to V Varen Nagasaki. They didn’t impress me much when I saw them in April but they’ve been climbing up the table recently so this could be another tricky game. Despite out defensive lapses, however, we have been banging them in of late (12 goals in the last 5 games), so we may be in for another high scoring treat!

Matchdays 23 & 24

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Well, it was certainly a rollercoaster of emotions as we suffered an unexpected defeat at the hands of JEF United Chiba on Saturday, only to bounce back and score a memorable 3-1 victory over Cerezo Osaka four days later.

Matchday 23: FC Machida Zelvia 2 – 3 JEF United Chiba

“I heard that JEF supporters are planning a protest if their team doesn’t win today”, said Mr. U, who usually sits behind me. “They want the manager sacked”, agreed Mr. N, “and I heard some of them might climb over the barrier and onto the pitch”. And with those parting words they went off to buy more beer, leaving me wondering if I had heard correctly. A prospective pitch invasion?? At Nozuta?? Heaven help us!

Turns out we were spared the spectacle of maurauding Chiba-ites visiting destruction on our modest stadium as JEF managed to wrestle a winning goal from us in the last minute of additional time. I was expecting a victory for Zelvia on Saturday as JEF had lost their previous five matches, but clearly the players had also heard the rumours of impending dischord and went into the game determined to avert such unpleasantries. They scored almost immediately, with some decisive and speedy play leading up to a shot by Yamato Machida (!) slicing through the Zelvia defence and into the back of the net. However, Machida (the team) responded with a goal of their own with a well-worked and innovative free kick only a few minutes later. Kota Morimura bypassed the usual targets assembled in front of the goal and instead slid the ball directly to Yuya Nakamura, who was waiting to the side and duly tapped it home. This was his third goal of the season, and he had been included as a member of the starting line-up in this and the previous game thanks to his impressive performances of late. Not bad considering he didn’t even make the bench for much of the first half of the year.

The game settled down after that, although it was Zelvia who re-initiated most of the attacking toward the end of the half, albeit without any success. However, Kentaro Shigematsu gave us hope of a victory almost 70 minutes into the game when he scored our second goal of the match. This was his third this season too, and he has certainly come a long way from his unreliable performances of 2015. Our hopes were short-lived, though, as Chiba equalised just over ten minutes later when, after multiple attempts to penetrate our defences, they finally broke through with a goal by  Ryuhei Niwa. He had come to Chiba on loan from Sagan Tosu only a month ago, so recently, in fact, that the club’s official webpage has yet to upload a photo of him to the team data!

Although the statistics for possession showed it to be 50/50, the majority of the match was played out in Zelvia’s end of the pitch, so Niwa’s goal had an air of inevitability to it. So did the third and final JEF goal. This one was the result of a header from Ado Onaiwu and again JEF had been pressing hard throughout the five minutes of injury time so they deserved their victory.

Obviously I had been hoping for a win for Zelvia so left the ground somewhat disappointed. I have to admit that I was also intrigued to see what would have happened if the visitors had lost, and was, in a way, quite looking forward to scenes of mayhem at the other end of the pitch. What would have ensued if JEF had suffered another defeat, I wonder? Would the supporters have invaded the pitch, as threatened, or would they have contented themselves with throwing abuse at the players through their megaphones? We will never know.

Actually, we did have a pitch invasion of sorts by a curiously small Godzilla:

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Here are the highlights:

There was no Ri Long Shot™ last week because there was no Ri Han Jae on the pitch. He was out on a one-week suspension after collecting several yellow cards over the course of the last few matches. Here he is in Zelvyland chatting to supporters instead:

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And the table after Saturday’s game:

Table

Still in eighth position. Never mind, things were just about to get better…

Matchday 24: Cerezo Osaka 1 – 3 FC Machida Zelvia

I went into the Cerezo game braced for a defeat but, talking of braces, was more than pleasantly surprised with one from Koji Suzuki, topped off with an additional goal by Yuki Nakashima as the icing on the cake!

Cerezo scored with a glancing header within the first ten minutes but then their attack tailed off and the game settled down for most of the first half, with both sides looking more as if they were testing the waters rather than contemplating anything serious. However, things all changed in the second half courtesy of an early goal by Koji Suzuki – two minutes in, no less! Undeterred by the presence of Souza and Tatsuya Yamashita, he stroked the ball past goalkeeper Kim Jin Hyeon from outside the penalty area and into the net, and Zelvia were back in the game.

Cerezo woke up to the new threat on their turf and began to increase the pressure in our half of the pitch, but luck was not on their side on Wednesday evening as Koji struck again just over twenty minutes later, heading home a cross from Kota Morimura. While Osaka continued to press for a second goal, it was Nakashima who scored the final one of the match, thanks to a neat pass from Takafumi Suzuki after Zelvia passed the ball through midfield. Cerezo were well and truly done for at that point and, try as hard as they did, there would be no more goals that evening.

There could have been one earlier, though. Riku Matsuda missed a real sitter when Zelvia’s goalkeeper Toshiyasu Takahara left the door wide open when he was lured to the side to block a shot by Kenyu Sugimoto. The ball was collected by Matsuda, unmarked and with an open goal ahead, but he blasted the ball wide even though there was time enough to set up a good shot. He really should have scored that one.

This was a very satisfying victory for Zelvia as it was against the team that has been touted for straight promotion to J1 even before the season began, and one which beat us in the season opener back in February. However, Cerezo are currently in third position and they don’t, to this supporter’s eye at least, look as if they are as threatening as some have maintained. Yes, they are a talented group of players but they took their time getting into the game despite their early goal, and when they finally woke up to the threat beneath their noses it was too late.

It was also a notable evening for Zelvia as this was the first match in the season in which we have finally, FINALLY scored more than two goals. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that no Zelvia match has seen more that two goals by either side and was immediately rewarded with three goals…from the wrong team. Shall we aim for four against Mito Hollyhock on Sunday, or would that be too greedy?

Here are the highlights:

And the table:

Table

We’re back in sixth place!

On Sunday we host Mito Hollyhock. We drew against them a few weeks ago on a very, very humid afternoon but, if I have to be honest, I think Hollyhock had the edge that day and should have won. Not that I want them to win this time! I won’t be going to this match as I’ll be in Osaka, so the next post will be courtesy of @FellowZelvista, who promises some statistics on the relegation situation….