What started as a drunken idea in a bar has morphed into this - a fantasy football podcast from me and my mates. The goal: make an interesting and entertaining fantasy podcast that might help you do alright, but hopefully not as well as me. We've heard what's out there, and we reckon we might be able to do just as well as those other duffers, maybe even better.

There's also some FC Tokyo stuff on here, but I now blog on all things Gasmen at On the Gas (click on link below).

Monday, December 20, 2010

LMS Fantasy Podcast Episode 8

Better late than never, here's Episode 8 of the Fantasy Podcast. Technical issues almost derailed the whole thing, I was ready to give up on multiple ocassions, but luckily Kesh was on the case and fixed everything, so this is posted three days after it was recorded. As it turns out we didn't miss much, with seven games postponed over the weekend.

Marrakesh and The Monsieur joined me in the living room for a discussion on, amongst other things, how shite our three teams are, and we manged to blab on for just over an hour in a monster five-parter, covering: the last two Gameweeks; results from the LMS Cup Qualifying Round; Questions for Kesh (back by popular demand, you know); a preview of the XMas & New Year slate of games; and a look at the LMS League and Head-to-Head standings.

Highlights included:
  • Kesh launching two seperate tirades against Mario Balotelli.....
  • and then forgetting Wayne Rooney's name
  • Mathew recounting, in horrifying detail, watching a bloke knock one out on a train platform
  • while getting his arse kicked by a 7% Chu-Hi
Nothing from the dog this time, sorry.


Friday, December 17, 2010

FC Tokyo 2010 - Nine Months of Hell Part 2

FC Tokyo are relegated. They should all be lined up against a wall, and shot. I am disgusted. #weakc++ts #FCTokyo
5:24 PM Dec 4th via ÜberTwitter

*WARNING* This is an extremely long post. Feel free to come and go, read it in bits and pieces, if it's length, and negative tone, prove too much for one sitting.

This is Part 2 of the grieving/healing process I need to go through as I, and all Tokyo supporters, mourn the end of our 11 year run in J1. Part 1 was all about the numbers. Here, its time to vent hard at the 24 players who took the field in an FC Tokyo shirt in the 2010 J1 season. With very few exceptions, the squad vastly under-performed, and while injuries can be used as excuses in a few cases, to say they are even slightly to blame for our relegation is simply bollocks. That is because, even though we had quite a lot of player turnover, and failed, YET AGAIN, to fill our allowed quota of foreign players, we thought this was one of our best squads ever, loaded with homegrown talent.

At the end of 2009, we bade farewell to club legends Ryuji Fujiyama and Satoru Asari, legendary eater Yusuke Kondo - officially the fattest man ever to play in the J.League*, defenders Bruno Quadros, Teruyuki Moniwa and Hideki Sahara; and midfielder Jo Kanazawa. Of those seven, only Bruno (23 games) and possibly Fat Man (12 games, 6 starts) were important on-field members of the squad in '09 (the other 5 made 29 appearances between them), but would the veteran trio of Fujiyama, Asari and Moniwa be missed more behind the scenes, at training and in the clubhouse, than on the field?

Nah, we'll be fine, we thought, as we brought in (with descriptions from the club website): Masato Morishige - "Top-class defender. Strong in one-on-one situations, powerful header and able to build play;" Ricardinho (didn't come with much of a C.V., but hey, he's Brazilian!) - "Lightning fast striker with dazzling dribbling ability and thunderous shot with both feet;" Toshihiro Matsushita - "Dynamic attacking midfielder. A major threat with free kicks;" Kim Young Gwon (South Korean Under 21 international) - "Aerially dominant defender with accurate left-footed passing ability;" and our prolific youth team striker Kentaro Shigematsu - "Physically strong centre forward with sound technique under pressure. Clinical finisher." We weren't to know it at the time, but those descriptions would turn out to be utter bollocks.....

Right then, here we go. My opinions only, and if I've slated your favourite player then I'm sorry, but he deserved it. I decided to grade on the following scale based on how much was expected from individuals and how well they delivered:
  • A Excellent Season 
  • B Consistently Good, Perhaps Exceeded Expectations
  • C Acceptable Standard
  • D Below Acceptable Standard, Failed To Meet Expectations 
  • F Rubbish/Useless/Shite/Tatsuya
but unfortunately, because he didn't play a J1 game for us, after 10 appearances (2 starts) in '09, Sotan Tanabe's grade is - N/A, as is Hideto Takahashi's - 3 games (2 starts - hauled off both times) and Daishi Hiramatsu's - 1 game, 1 clean sheet, unused sub 7 times before achilles injury.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

FC Tokyo 2010 - Nine Months of Hell Part 1

Same XI for us to start 2nd half. This is like watching a train wreck in slow motion.... #FCTokyo
4:33 PM Dec 4th via ÜberTwitter

My tweet at the start of the second half of the final game of the season at Kyoto.... Sums up the season as a whole pretty well though.

This is the first of three parts I will post over the next week or two covering FC Tokyo's 2010 season, from the first game win over Yokohama through to the darkest day in our club's history, December 4th, 2010, the day we plummeted through the trapdoor into J2, our first ever relegation. Our eleven year run in J1 is over, we've gone from legitimate title contender in '08 & '09 (and Nabisco Cup Champions '09) to relegated laughing-stock in 2010, and we are a J2 team for the first time since our inaugural year as a J.League club, 1999.

Here I'll go through the season in numbers, including how we fared differently (ie. worse) than in '09, and in later installments I'll go through the squad player-by-player before finishing with a look at who'll still be around and how we'll fare in J2 in 2011. Some of you will no doubt want to draw a line under what went on this season, put it behind you and try to forget it, but I'm still processing it all so I'm attempting this as therapy, hoping that at the end of Part 3 I'll finally have "closure" as they say in psychology circles. A mixture of stats, analysis, ranting and foul language, here is my take on FC Tokyo's 2010 season:

I warned of the threat of relegation as far back as late-August, and, despite chastising those who thought we were "too good to go down," I guess in the back of my mind I thought we were, too. We kept making it so hard for ourselves though, and so many potentially pivotal moments in the run-in: Gonda's penalty save v Niigata; the gutsy win in the Shimizu typhoon; Hirayama's tour de force at Yokohama and Oguro's brilliant lob v Nagoya all ended up being for nought, as Kobe just wouldn't go away, and we shat our trousers in the last ten minutes of the home finale v Yamagata and all 90 minutes at Kyoto.

We finished 16th on 36 points with 8 wins, 12 draws and 14 losses. Tellingly, just half our points came in games against the other eight teams who finished in the bottom half, our record was W:4 D:6 L:6 against those teams, and W:4 D:6 L:8 against the top half. Our inability to do the business against the teams we were scrapping for survival with, like Omiya, Yamagata, Sendai and Kobe ultimately cost us, while we took only one point from a possible six against Kyoto.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Kyoto 2-0 FC Tokyo: J1 Week 34 (FC Tokyo Are Relegated)

I'm sat here, almost two full days after it happened, and I still can't get my head round the fact that we are now a J2 team. How the hell could we have lost to Kyoto, an absolute rabble who hadn't won for almost three months, and only three times all season until Saturday? And what the fuck was Okuma playing at, putting out the team he did, and persisting with it for so long?

We all knew the score going in. The biggest game in the history of FC Tokyo. Our eleven-year run in J1 on the line. We'd blown our chance to secure safety the previous weekend against Yamagata, but a point ahead of Kobe, we needed to win or simply match their result and we'd stay up. We could even afford to lose if they drew. Our fate was in our hands, we'd won our past three away games (against vastly superior teams to Kyoto), and Kobe had a "tough-looking" trip to Urawa to contend with. We weren't to know that the Red CubicZirconias would perform like an Under 13 girls team, but as long as we took care of business and didn't let the pressure get to us...

The first signs of concern came when the team was announced. Naohiro Ishikawa was missing through injury so Ricardinho came in for him (ho hum), but on the other flank Naotake Hanyu was dropped and replaced by Tatsuya Suzuki (what the FUCK??!!), making his first start since Urawa at home in early September, and first under Okuma's management. He must've trained the house down during the week, or maybe Hanyu nicked the last eclair from the dessert buffet right out from under the manager's fingertips or something, but that one was hard to fathom. Tatsuya is my favourite whipping boy (because he is shite), but even his staunchest supporter must've raised their eyebrows at his selection.

But wait, there's more....our joint top-scorer, Masashi Oguro - who had started EVERY LEAGUE GAME since he joined us during the World Cup break, that's TWENTY-ONE CONSECUTIVE GAMES - was dropped and replaced by a defender, Masato Morishige. Twenty-one starts, seven goals, five goals in the previous nine games, the best finisher we have, and he was left on the bench. Absolutely ludicrous from Okuma, and anyone who wants to try and defend that decision needs their head read. Tiredness? Absolute bollocks. Tactical? Some tactics, leaving your best striker on the bench.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

FC Tokyo 1-1 Yamagata: J1 Week 33

Two numbers sum up last Saturday evening at Ajinomoto Stadium - FC Tokyo's last home game of the season - for me. Two little numbers that added up to a pissed-off fan fuming at his wildly inconsistent team. How could we go from beating the newly-crowned champions, away, to failing to beat a team with absolutely NOTHING to play for, at home?

The first number is four, as in four minutes. Four bloody minutes. If we could've just hung on for another four minutes, we would be celebrating our brilliant end to the season, where our Gasmen proved they were "too good to go down," beating three top-half teams in our last seven games on the way to seeing off Kobe's valiant survival attempt. But we didn't hang on, and while we didn't lose, it sure felt like we did, as we blew our first chance to ensure we'll still be playing in the top flight in 2011. We are just a point ahead of Kobe going into the final game of the season next Saturday, but more on that later....

The other number is one. Now that could mean a few things from, or after, this game: we scored one goal; we are one point ahead of Kobe; there's one game left, Ricardinho's only scored one league goal all season etc etc, but the one "one" that really sums up the evening, and the season in a nutshell is this:


Monday, November 29, 2010

LMS Fantasy Podcast - Cup Draw Special

TGI Fridays in Machida was the place to be last Friday (funnily enough), as the qualifying round draw for the LMS Cup took place. The Monsieur suggested I bring along the recording device to capture all the shenanigans, and here's the result.

There were five LMS managers in attendance (a sixth came, drank Grolsch and left) and the banter was flowing thick and fast, just bear in mind it was done before the latest weekend of Premier League games, before my season went down the toilet like last night's vindaloo.

By the way, if you download this to an iPod or mp3 player, don't have the volume up too high, coz it was noisy as hell in the bar, and we might have had the recording device A LITTLE TOO CLOSE TO OUR MOUTHS at times.


Friday, November 26, 2010

Nagoya 0-1 FC Tokyo: J1 Week 32

We had failed to get the river under control on Saturday, but FC Tokyo had little time to mope and moan over a stupid river, having to front-up three days later against the newly-crowned J.League Champions, Nagoya. The perennial under-achievers from Aichi claimed their first league title away at Shonan on the weekend, and The Gasmen faced a daunting task, with Grampus having lost only twice at home all season and intent on putting on a show for the Toyota Stadium faithful in their first home game since their landmark triumph. Somewhat surprisingly, the crowd of 33,655 was not their highest home gate of the season, perhaps half the city was still drunk after the celebrations (and Tokyo were hoping half their players were too), but arguably, this was the ideal time to face them. We had it all to play for: just a point outside the relegation zone with three games left, they already had possession of the giant serving platter trophy.

There were two changes to the Tokyo XI that started against Kawasaki: Naotake Hanyu was rested/dropped (open to interpretation, I'll go with rested) and replaced by Ricardinho on the left of midfield; and Sota Hirayama was suspended, which had the potential to be a massive out considering his form and blossoming confidence  in recent games. His absence forced a tactical change from Okuma, with Mukuhara returning to the team at right back, Tokunaga moving from defence into a holding midfield role (in which he had done terribly all season), and Kajiyama moving forward into the "hole" behind the lone striker, hopefully playing the Steven Gerrard to Masashi Oguro's Fernando Torres.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

FC Tokyo 1 Kawasaki Frontale 2: J1 Week 31

The Tamagawa Classico. Get the river under control. Despite the worst efforts of the marketing departments of both teams, this has developed into a bit of a rivalry over the past few seasons. FC Tokyo have had terrible trouble keeping up with Frontale in the league, more often than not losing out in both home and away ties. One particular 7-0 home drubbing a few seasons ago is an especially painful memory. Despite the clash that really mattered, last year's triumph in the Nabisco Cup Final, going the Gasmen's way, once again we lost out to them narrowly (and probably unfairly) at Todoroki earlier this year.

Going in to this one though, confidence was high in the Tokyo camp. After last week's impressive win in Yokohama, we were able to see off Jeffery United in the last 16 of the Emperor's Cup midweek despite fielding a second string side. Kawasaki on the other hand had lost out after 120 minutes with largely their best team out. They were also missing their best player and the man with the most slappable face in Japanese football, Mr. Kengo Nakamura.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

LMS Fantasy Podcast Episode 7

The Monsieur and Kesh joined me in the living room for Episode 7 of the Fantasy Podcast. We had plenty to cover, and therefore blabbered on for just on an hour, but it's all good stuff and I'm sure you'll agree.

We covered the past three Fantasy Premier League Gameweeks, The Monsieur presented a quiz on the stats that matter in the fantasy game, we previewed Gameweeks 14 and 15 and give you five teams we think have the best pair of fixtures, and then did our usual run-down on the standings in the Last Man Standing, in both the League and the H2H.
Highlights included:
  • Impressive performances from two players on our Criminals and Philanderers Team noted,
  • Kesh and I doing horribly on the quiz,
  • Kesh getting two questions about Gary Cahill right,
  • Mathew getting to the bottom of those "motivation" questions

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Yokohama 1-2 FC Tokyo: J1 Week 30

Having taken five points from the past three games - all against top half opposition - FC Tokyo hoped to keep that decent little run going when we visited Nissan Stadium to face Yokohama on Sunday. We'd blown a lead the previous weekend against Gamba, but hung on for an important point that saw us stay ahead of Kobe on goal difference. Only five games remained before kickoff, and anything we could take away from this would be vital, as our relegation rivals also faced difficult away trips.

Morishige was the latest member of the squad to be suspended for too many yellows, so, with Kajiyama returning from a suspension of his own to partner Yonemoto in central midfield, Tokunaga moved back into central defence. Otherwise it was the same team that shared the spoils with Gamba the previous Saturday, and our front two of Oguro and Hirayama were looking to have a big day in the absence of Yokohama's Japan international centre-halves Nakazawa and Kurihara. Oguro had scored in four of the past five games, and Sota twice in the same period, so we had good reason to be optimistic they'd be able to break through against their makeshift (and under-sized) backline.

A slightly disappointing crowd of 29,670 was in - that would be an excellent number for us, but they are sixth and fighting for an Asian Champions League spot - and after Ronald McDonald led the teams out, we got things underway, and we were straight into gear. Just four minutes in, from a Gonda goal kick, Hirayama, Oguro and Casual combined to release Ishikawa down the right, but his cross was behind the latter two as they dashed into the box and was controlled by a Yokohama defender. The ball was passed out to Shunsuke Nakamura, but Yone, who has been so important in the two games since his return, was onto him like a flash, and poked the ball away about 30 yards from goal. Hirayama was in the right place at the right time, and after letting the ball roll across his body, he unleashed a thunderous left-footed daisy-cutter that scorched the turf as it flew past Iikura in the Yokohama goal, giving The Gasmen the lead.

An amazing strike from the big man, and the perfect start for us, and he almost made it two just four minutes later after a brilliant slaloming run down the left by Ishikawa, but after Nao's square ball found him inside the box and he took a touch, Sota shot a little too close to the keeper. It was all us in the first 10 minutes, but our seemingly natural self-defence mechanism kicked in, and Yokohama found things a lot easier as we sat back. Pretty much a carbon copy of the Gamba game, we'd just scored the first goal much earlier this time.

Predictably, Shunsuke was at the centre of everything they did going forward, and they were able to sustain pressure as we couldn't keep the ball - Casual, in particular, was guilty of extreme Casual-ness (even for him) on several occasions- and the ex-Celtic hero (and Espanyol bust) twice fired past Gonda's left-hand post: in the 16th minute he blazed away from 30 yards; then in the 31st minute, with Mukuhara caught horribly out of position and Tokunaga failing to get over and cover, he strolled into the box and thumped a strike right across the face of goal, past Gonda and, thankfully, the onrushing Ono too.

We were on the ropes a bit, and they were using the full width of the pitch to keep us stretched, but we almost got a priceless second goal seven minutes before the break, following some proper pandemonium in the Yokohama box. Mukuhara launched a high cross from the right, Hirayama controlled on his chest in the D, then nodded down as he turned into the area. He was crowded out by three defenders but as he fell to the floor he flicked the ball into the path of Konno. Under pressure, and with the keeper bearing down, Konno shot straight at Iikura, Oguro was following up but was off-balance as he shot and the ball was cleared off the line by a sliding defender, BUT straight to Tokunaga, who shot left-footed from the left edge of the six-yard box, but too high and Yokohama could exhale again.

It stayed 1-0 until halftime, and although the Nissan Stadium beer girls need to go back to pouring school, spirits were high in the away end, as we had absorbed most of what they'd thrown at us, and shown an ability to still pose some danger at the other end, despite wanting to sit on our lead.

The second half opened very similarly to the Gamba game, however, as Yokohama really started to turn the screw. The little fella Ono had looked lively throughout, and had scored in two straight Marinos home games before this, and he made it three from three at home in the 59th minute, when the overlapping fullback Amano took a pass from Hanato and crossed low and hard across the six-yard box, Ono arriving to tap in at the far post. Questions had to be asked about Tokyo defensively on the goal, Hokuto got sucked-in to trying to win the ball off Hanato even though Konno and Yonemoto were in attendance, opening the door for Amano to get round the back and cross under no pressure.

Again, the similarities with the previous weekend's game continued, we'd held out for 50-odd minutes after scoring, but the opposition's pressure had finally told. The difference here was there was 30 minutes left rather than 10, and thus plenty of time for either team to find a winner. Ricardinho had replaced Oguro four minutes before Yokohama's goal, clearly to provide fresh legs and pace up front to make us more dangerous on the break, but after they drew level he spent most of his time on the left flank as part of a five-man midfield. Things had evened up, but we had not dropped our heads and went in search of that winner.

It came in some style, and was just reward for an excellent all-round performance from our big striker. We'd been having some joy down Rica's side, then in the 79th minute (with their right back well up the pitch following a botched attack) Hanyu led a break and played a superb 50 metre pass to Hirayama down the left. With Rica joining in, Sota held the ball up, waited for Rica's run across him and played him in on the left side of the box, continued his run and took Rica's excellent return pass at full tilt, lashing a fantastic first-time strike past Iikura and into the far corner. Absolutely brilliantly worked goal, great awareness and a great ball from Hanyu, then just a training ground one-two executed to perfection by Sota and Rica.

Some advice for Sota, though: work on a new goal celebration, son! You can't run fast enough to do the knee slide properly!!!

A minute later and it really should've been game, set and your shout at the bar, but Ishikawa somehow missed the target, wasting a gilt-edged chance created by Rica's ball and Hirayama's lay-off. Yokohama poured forward, but we dug in and, one or two sphincter-tightening moments aside, hung on through the last 10 minutes of the 90 and then another four in stoppage time. It had taken 41 matches in all competitions, but a Tokyo player had finally bagged a brace in 2010, and the big man gave the "Sha-sha-shaaaas" his best effort as the away end cheered the players back to the sheds.

A huge win and a massive boost for the final four games then, and it saw us go three points clear of Kobe, but in the late game they fought back from a goal down to draw at Niigata, and reduce it back to two, the same margin we now trail Omiya by, after they lost at Nagoya.

I looked at our run-in over the last five games last week, and all those games are obviously equally important as we scrap for points, but this coming Saturday we've got an absolute corker on our hands at Aji Sta as we look to "Get the River Under Control?" against Kawasaki in the Tamagawa Classico. They've won the last three league meetings, but WE WON THE CUP last November, and have built up plenty of confidence from our four game unbeaten run. Should be a big crowd in and a cracking atmosphere.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Five Games For Survival: FC Tokyo's Run-In

It's been a loooong and arduous season for FC Tokyo, and without doubt a massive disappointment as we've slid down the table from 5th last season to 15th, but with five games left, at least we have our fate in our own hands. We sit one spot outside the relegation zone, level on points with Kobe, but with a vastly superior goal difference.

Our ten game winless run in the league, which started in late July and finally ended with our 3-0 win against Shonan the first weekend of October, saw the spectre of relegation hover over the club for the first time in several seasons - in fact we had slipped into the relegation zone before the Shonan game - and since that afternoon at Kokuritsu we've pocketed just five of the 12 points on offer, one fewer than Kobe, who have suddenly caught fire, winning their last two games to pull level. There have been positive signs for The Gasmen though, the away win at Shimizu and the home draw with Gamba (where we dominated the first half) in our last two games have given us reason to be cautiously optimistic.

So here's a look at our run-in, and the next three games promise to be massive tests against top-six teams with plenty to play for. We finish with two very winnable games, but Kobe definitely have the better set of fixtures, so hopefully we'll still be alive when Yamagata visit Aji Sta in the second-to-last game. Omiya, Sendai and Yamagata are all potentially vulnerable to slipping back into the dogfight, but right now it looks a straight battle between us and Kobe, so I'm only listing both our games each Matchweek.

WEEK 30: Yokohama (6th) v FC TOKYO, 11/14, 2pm, Nissan Stadium
Kobe: away at Niigata (9th)
First meeting this season: FC Tokyo 1-0 Yokohama (Hirayama)
    Do you remember? I barely do. But yeah, it's coming back to me now...first game of the season...chilly afternoon...0-0 game heading into second half stoppage time...Ishikawa breaks down the right, leaps over a challenge and slides the ball across for Hirayama who knocks it in first-time...I thought we were going to win the league that day! Well, no I didn't, but I thought we'd do alright, and no-one who was at Aji Sta that day could've foreseen where we'd be now.
    Yokohama have done alright to be fair to them, they're only two points out of third and an Asian Champions League spot, and have a good core of young players coming through to support their big guns Nakazawa, Yamase and Nakamura.
    We won at Nissan Stadium last season, but if you offered me a point from this game right now I'd bite your hand off, even though they'll be weakened by the abscences of regular centre-halves Nakazawa and Kurihara. We have Morishige suspended, which means that Okuma doesn't have to make a tough decision with Kajiyama coming back from suspension. The past three games we've seen different combinations in central midfield: Casual and Tokunaga v.Niigata (Yonemoto wasn't ready), Casual and Yonemoto v.Shimizu (Tokunaga was suspended) and Yonemoto and Tokunaga v.G.Osaka (Casual was suspended), and, although the first half against Gamba was impressive, the game we clearly played the best in was against Shimizu, so with Kim away, Tokunaga can slot into Morishige's spot with Casual returning to partner Yone .

 WEEK 31FC TOKYO v Kawasaki (4th), 11/20, 2pm, Ajinomoto Stadium
Kobe: home v Kashima (2nd)
First meeting this season: Kawasaki 2-1 FC Tokyo (Konno)
    The Tamagawa Classico, Get the River Under Control, all that bollocks. Kawasaki are a point behind Gamba, who occupy that third ACL spot, and even after losing Chong Tese they've carried on banging in the goals: in fact they're the second highest scorers in the league. That's all well and good, but they can be got at defensively as well, they've let in five more goals than we have this season, and that doesn't count the "second" goal we scored against them that was wrongly chalked off for offside back in April.
    Juninho and Vitor Junior are the ones we'll have to keep quiet, but if our frontline can fire we'll be right in it, as the last few meetings have been close (unless you count the Nabisco Cup Final last November when we DESTROYED them!!!).

WEEK 32: Nagoya (1st) v FC TOKYO, 11/23, 2pm, Toyota Stadium
Kobe: away at Omiya (14th)
First meeting this season: FC Tokyo 0-1 Nagoya
    The champions-elect, Nagoya sit eight points clear before Week 30 gets underway, and it would take a monumental implosion for them to cock it up from here. The best thing we can hope for is that Kashima drop points in Week 30 away at Kawasaki (but not, of course, at home to Kobe in Week 31!), and Nagoya win both their games - at home to Omiya and away at Shonan - which would see them crowned as champions with three games to spare. That would theoretically make things easier for us although the other side of that argument is that they'll be in party mode in front of their fans and will want to put on a show....
    The first meeting was an absolute heartbreaker for The Gasmen, as we'd played extremely well throughout, outshot them 20 to 10, Nagoya never got going, but they nicked a winner in the 94th minute. Their key players going forward, Jesus Kennedy, Kanazaki and Magnum P.I., all had quiet afternoons that August afternoon, but we'll do well to keep them under wraps again.

WEEK 33: FC TOKYO v Yamagata (12th), 11/27, 5.30pm, Ajinomoto Stadium
Kobe: home v Shimizu (7th)
First meeting this season: FC Tokyo 3-0 Yamagata (Shigematsu, Hanyu, Konno)
    You've got to give Yamagata credit, nobody thought they had a chance in hell of surviving in J1 when they came up last season, but survive they did, and they very likely will again this season, even though everytime you look they've just got battered again... We did a number on them up there in the second-last league game before the World Cup break, when we were both midtable, but even though they are far-and-away the league's lowest scorers, and have a goal difference even worse than Kobe's, they've eked out 10 wins and are six points clear of the relegation zone.
    This is an absolute must-win for Tokyo, and hopefully we can finish the season at home with the same sort of positive result as we started with.

WEEK 34: Kyoto (17th) v FC TOKYO, 12/4, 3.30pm, Nishikyogoku Athletic Stadium
Kobe: away at Urawa (10th)
First meeting this season: FC Tokyo 1-1 Kyoto (Shigematsu)
    One thing that's nailed-on is that Kyoto WILL already be relegated by the time this game comes around, in fact they'll probably be down after their game at Urawa that kicks-off the same time as we play Yokohama. They beat us in the away fixture last season, but that game was played in Kagoshima, and with the likelihood we'll still need something from this game to ensure survival, you'd have to fancy us to win this. We fear our old "friend" Diego, and obviously they won't have any fear and will want to exit J1 on a high, but this has to be a Tokyo win.

There you go then. A win in any of the next three would be priceless, and even three draws would keep us alive going into the last two, which are very winnable. There should be plenty of Red and Blue support at Nissan Stadium, and hopefully the boys can do the business and keep our recent unbeaten run going.

Come on The Gasmen!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

FC Tokyo 1-1 G.Osaka: J1 Week 29

After the win in the typhoon against Shimizu, FC Tokyo returned home to a beautiful sunny day at Aji Sta last Saturday to face Gamba Osaka. Almost 28,000 fans were in, our best crowd since early September (against the Red CubicZirconias), and with only three home games remaining the Gasmen knew a strong performance was needed as we sat just two points out of the relegation zone. Gamba had been stunned by a second half explosion by our relegation rivals Kobe last Saturday evening, losing 4-2 after leading 2-1 at halftime, but still sat third in the table.

 Casual was missing due to suspension, so Oh Captain, My Captain returned from his own suspension to partner Yonemoto in central midfield, Yone making his first start at home this season. The rest of the XI was unchanged from the win in Shimizu, but Ricardinho, who is going to struggle to get a start the rest of the season as long as Hanyu and Ishikawa stay fit, returned to the bench. It was also nice to welcome Mr. Nishimura, the World Cup ref, back to Aji Sta, he had a very good game when we hosted Kashima way back in early April, and earned positive reviews for his performances in South Africa. Not so nice to welcome Judas' Kaji and Lucas back, though.

 The Gasmen looked to set the tempo right from kickoff, and there were early chances for Oguro and Ishikawa, but Morishige was the first to test the keeper, firing straight into his arms from outside the box. Yonemoto was unsettling the Gamba midfield with his pressing, and the visitors were unable to get into any sort of a rhythm going forward. Ishikawa was looking lively, and had two chances well saved: in the 10th minute he hit a shot first-time from inside the box after he was played in delightfully by Hirayama; and then in the 17th minute he cut in from the right and launched a left-footed effort that was heading for the top corner before the keeper palmed it away. We were well on top, but needed to make our dominance count with a goal (god, how many times have I written that this season...).

 Hirayama has been looking more and more confident on the ball in previous weeks, and three minutes after Nao's shot, he was the catalyst for us going in front, dribbling through a crowd before Gamba cleared for a throw. Hanyu took, Sota played it back to him, and after showing inside but dinking back onto his right foot, Roswell crossed to the penalty spot, Oguro arrived under pressure and glanced a fantastic header across the keeper and inside the far post to give the Gasmen a deserved lead.

 He's had his knockers, and I'll hold my hand up as one of them, but Oguro's fourth goal in the last five games proved his qualities as a frontman, and was vital, as word had filtered through that Kobe had beaten Sendai 2-0 and had thusly gone above us. A second goal before halftime would've been priceless, and that man Oguro almost got it, when, from Nao's corner to the near post he got across his marker and volleyed low and hard, the ball took a slight deflection off their fullback Yasuda and could've gone anywhere, but unluckily for us the keeper had his body in the right place, and the ball cannoned off his shoulder and out for a corner.

 We had played them off the park, but there was a nervous moment before the break when Tokunaga fouled in roughly the same area near our box as he had against Niigata (which resulted in the Richardes goal), but Endo, a past master at taking set pieces, fired well over. An excellent first half from us, but a nagging feeling that we hadn't made our dominance count enough on the scoreboard was prevalent as the players returned to the sheds.

 I'd love to be able to say we made a bright start to the second half and looked to build on our lead, but Gamba were noticably better, and forced us right back onto the back foot. We sat much deeper and let them come at us, a tactic that Okuma should know by now hasn't worked particularly well (not at all, in fact) for us this season. Gamba simply have too much quality if invited to attack you, and they launched wave after wave of attacks as we couldn't keep the ball. Some important blocks by Yonemoto and Morishige had meant that Shuichi Gonda hadn't had that much to do though.

 The two men responsible for our goal were taken off by Okuma, Matsushita replaced Hanyu in the 71st minute, and then Rica came on for Oguro three minutes later, as we looked to hang on and possibly hit them on the counter. Gamba had dominated the ball second half, but hadn't had loads of chances, then with ten minutes remaining Usami slalomed through our box and shot low for the near post, forcing an excellent save with his left foot from Gonda, the ball going out for a corner. Endo had had an ordinary day at set pieces, but he made this one count as he fizzed over a ball that was met by Nakazawa, who had out-jumped Morishige, his header flying in to give Gamba their equalizer.

 We couldn't really complain, as we'd invited pressure on ourselves by sitting so deep for basically the entire second half, but we now had eight minutes plus stoppage time to turn things around and get a winner. Rica tried his luck on a couple of dribbles, one saw him charge into the box and square to Ishikawa, but the ball was behind Nao, and as he spun and shot Yasuda slid in and the danger was gone.

 Our final chance came in the 88th minute, when Matsushita's excellent cross from the left was mis-controlled by Endo and fell for Sota, the big man shot first time and the ball deflected out for a corner, but Mr. Nishimura missed it and awarded a goal kick. The final act of the match saw Gamba awarded a free kick just outside our box, and while obviously not as dramatic as Gonda's penalty save against Niigata, it wouldn't have surprised the way the season's gone if it had gone in. Surprisingly, Endo didn't take it, it sailed over the bar and the ref blew up for full time.

 A proper game of two halves then, we dominated the the first and then stopped playing in the second, but the point ensured we stayed above Kobe, on goal difference (-4 to -13). We fell back to 15th though, two points behind Omiya, after they won at home against Yamagata (and will most likely be five tonight after they play their game-in-hand against Shonan).

 Five games remain, and the next three are also against teams up near the top of the league, but our last two results have shown we are capable of mixing it with the better sides. Off to Yokohama on Sunday then!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

LMS Fantasy Podcast Episode 6

The Monsieur and Petrie, or should I say "Dave N'Zog Stanfield" joined me in the living room for Episode 6 of the Fantasy Podcast. With Gameweek 11 already underway this should be the episode that keeps on giving, as with midweek games on the slate for the first time this season, we previewed the next three Gameweeks.

We reviewed Weeks 9 & 10 of the Fantasy Premier League season, suggested a very novel approach for your wildcard if you're thinking about using it soon, previewed Weeks 11 - 13 and ran the rule over the L.M.S. Standings, which, again, for those of you not in the League, you can find here: (League) and here: (Head-to-Head).

Highlights included:
  • an in-depth discussion about the Premier League's most-renowned sex pests
  • the dog's now usual return from his walk
  • live commentary on an earthquake
  • Petrie professing his undying love for the female gym teacher at his school (stick around for the outtakes)


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Shimizu 1-2 FC Tokyo: J1 Week 28

With typhoon no. 14 bearing down on the Kanto area on Saturday the living room was definitely the place to be, but 7,117 hardy souls (including a brilliant turn-out of travelling Tokyo fans) headed to Nihondaira for the early afternoon clash between Shimizu and FC Tokyo. Just seven games remained before kickoff, and the teams had vastly different ambitions heading in: S-Pulse were sitting sixth and pushing hard for an Asian Champions League spot; and the Gasmen were hanging on for dear life just two points outside the relegation zone, with our last league win against a team not named Shonan coming in early May, away at Yamagata.

Week 27 also provided vastly contrasting results for the teams: Shonan belted Yamagata 3-0 away (the same score we'd beaten them by there, coincidentally); and Tokyo needed a stoppage-time penalty save from Shuichi Gonda to earn us a point when we'd deserved all three at home against Niigata. Still, despite all our struggles and the nine places between us in the table, Tokyo had good reason to be optimistic and we only had to look at recent history to see why: we were unbeaten in our last nine games across all competitions against S-Pulse (P: 9 W: 5 D: 4), starting from our Emporer' Cup quarter-final win in December '08, and all of this season's three meetings so far had resulted in draws (although there was the small matter of them knocking us out of the Nabisco Cup on away goals....).

As well as our excellent recent record against Shimizu, we were boosted by the return of Takuji Yonemoto to central midfield for his first appearance of the season following knee surgery. The 19 year old replaced suspended captain Yuhei Tokunaga in the only change to the XI that started against Niigata, and his box-to-box qualities would be tested to the limit in his return by the horrendous conditions, and, presumably, a lack of match fitness, although the club handled things well and didn't rush him back, allowing our number 7 to build up his fitness in training.

And Yone was right into the thick of things from kickoff, although he gave us a bit of a scare in the 5th minute when he came up limping after sliding in on a 50-50 ball. Hanyu had the first chance of the game a minute later, taking Hokuto's neat pass and advancing into the box, but a defender slid in to cover and deflect the ball away.

There was little in the way of chances for the next 20-odd minutes: Ishikawa fired a free kick a couple of yards wide, and Mukuhara had to be alert at the other end to shepherd the ball out for a goal kick after Shimizu's towering Norwegian international Frode Johnsen had headed down in the box. Then, from Gonda's restart in the 26th minute, Tokyo had the ball in the net after a crisp passing move started by Hirayama and involving Ishikawa and Kajiyama, but Hanyu had strayed slightly offside before taking Casual's through ball and dinking over the keeper.

We'd had the better of things, but failed, again, to make our dominance count, until the 32nd minute when Big Sota came through in style. A sloppy S-Pulse pass was cut out by Hanyu, who dashed down the left and crossed for Oguro near post, though a defender got across and headed out for a corner. From Nao's delivery, Hirayama rose at the far post and his brilliant downward header found the net for his fourth league goal of the season.

Pleasingly, after the goal we continued to press forward in hopes of adding a second, whereas in other games this season we've tended to sit back and absorb pressure. S-Pulse had created next-to-nothing, and Gonda had not had to make a save until the 44th minute, when he was suddenly called into action twice in a minute, and thankfully he was alert and up to the task. The first came following a neat move started by Shinji Ono, whose square ball was played through Morishige's legs by Fujimoto and found Edamura, who shot low to Gonda's right. The big man stuck out a paw and produced a brilliant save, with Ishikawa scrambling the loose ball out for a corner. From that corner after a brief scramble the ball bounced up for Ota, whose hooked shot was heading for the top corner before Gonda leapt to his right to palm clear.

There was one more chance for Tokyo before the break, or at least there should've been, but as Ishikawa led a break and played the ball forward for Oguro, the striker had quite stupidly strayed offside, and then got himself booked as he played on and kicked the ball away.

A minute after the restart Hokuto's free kick struck the Shimizu wall and bounced narrowly wide with the keeper rooted to the spot, but for the next 15 minutes S-Pulse enjoyed more of the possession as they searched for an equaliser. Our defence held up well though and restricted them to one clear chance - Gonda needing to get down well to his left to save a Hyodo effort.

Then, in the 65th minute, Hanyu cut out a pass just outside our box, and that started a passing move that wasn't quite Argentina-in-the-2006-World-Cup-like, but was as close as we're ever going to get. Casual played it to Oguro, who laid it back to Morishige, who then chipped out to the left to Hanyu. Roswell moved it on to Yone, who sprayed a pass out to the right to Mukuhara, who then played it back to Morishige, near the halfway line. With Mukuhara then looking to overlap, Ishikawa's marker left him and Morishige knocked the ball up to Nao, who turned and squared to Kajiyama in the centre. Hirayama had snuck down the left and Casual found him in acres of space, he crossed first-time and the ball took a slight deflection off a defender and rolled to Oguro, who tapped in from two yards. Champagne football from the Gasmen and we were good value for our 2-0 lead.

Hirayama, with his tail well and truly up, almost added a third two minutes later, but his curled effort from outside the box didn't quite curl enough. Shimizu naturally committed more men forward as they searched for a way back into the game, and our defence continued to hold them out well, until the 78th minute when Genki Omae, who had only been on the pitch for a minute, gave them a lifeline. The ball was crossed from the left and bounced in the area, Hokuto overran it and Omae cut inside and fired through Gonda's legs.

It was now backs-to-the-wall time, and S-Pulse rained crosses in, and there was a heart-stopping moment in the 87th minute when Nagai chipped a shot over Gonda, but the ball hit the bar and rebounded safely away. Two minutes later though, the game was safe after an amazing 40 yard freekick from Shigematsu (on for Oguro) bounced and swerved in front of the S-Pulse keeper, who fumbled Robert Green-style and allowed the ball to bounce a good yard over the line before clawing it out....HANG ON! THE LINESMAN'S NAPPING AND HASN'T SEEN IT CROSS THE LINE! HE'S NOT GIVEN IT! WHAT THE F#CK!

Quite frankly, after that inept officiating, if Shimizu had then gone on to nick an equaliser my TV would've gone out the window, but, despite a scare when Fujimoto blazed over, we hung on for the five minutes of stoppage time and the joy of the players and travelling fans at the final whistle was brilliant to see. Hirayama had his best game of the season, Casual was excellent, and the back four was very steady for the entire game, but special mention has to be made of Yonemoto, who has a massive engine and ran out the game amazingly well considering it was his first competitive game in almost 11 months.

Three precious points took us up a spot to 14th, above Omiya on goal difference, and most importantly, five points clear of Kobe, ahead of the other games on the weekend. Shockingly, Kobe came back from 2-1 down to batter Gamba Osaka 4-2 that evening, so our buffer was back to two points (and Omiya have a game in hand after their game against Shonan was postponed due to the typhoon), but the positives from our performance should hold us in good stead for the final six games of the season, starting with Gamba at home on Saturday.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

FC Tokyo 1-1 Niigata: J1 Week 27

With games running out fast, and our position still very precarious, The Gasmen returned to Ajinomoto Stadium for the first time in almost a month to face Niigata in Week 27. We had moved out of the relegation zone following our 3-0 win over Shonan at Kokuritsu in Week 25, but the team was coming off the previous weekend's horrendous collapse away at Sendai, where we crashed to a 3-2 loss after leading 2-1 with four minutes remaining. Couple that with Niigata's stunning 4-1 win at home against leaders Nagoya last time out, and the signs were looking pretty grim for Tokyo...

There was some good news at the selection table, however, with Yohei Kajiyama and Naotake Hanyu both fit to start, and more pleasingly, Takuji Yonemoto was named in the squad for the first time this season after completing his rehabilitation from pre-season knee surgery. Yone's return - even though he was named on the bench and didn't come on - was a welcome boost for the supporters, and meant that our squad was basically at full strength, as shown by some of the names on the bench: Otake, Kim (who was squeezed out after Morishige returned to centre-half following Casual's return), Ricardinho (replaced by Roswell) and Matsushita (who has been a disappointment but would hopefully be fired-up to face his former side). A decent crowd of 23,047 were in (bolstered by a good turn-up of visiting fans) as the visitors kicked things off.

Tokyo made a bright start and should have gone ahead in the third minute: Tokunaga played a nice ball over the top for Ishikawa, and Nao crossed from the byline for Oguro, who rose but powered his free header wide of the near post. Hokuto then forced a low save out of the keeper before a bullet header from Morishige from Nao's corner was kept out at full stretch by the East Exit. Ishikawa himself shot high and wide, and there was another chance for Hokuto cutting in from the left, but Tokyo couldn't make their chances count.

The visitors came more into the game as the half went on, enjoying plenty of possession but never really looking that threatening, until, as stoppage-time loomed, a Niigata throw-in was passed to Marcio Richardes, who surged forward and went down under Tokunaga's challenge at the top of the D. Great time to score, and all that, and the little Brazilian dusted himself off and curled the free kick through the top of Gonda's wall and past his despairing dive, giving Albirex a halftime lead.

The Gasmen could easily have been rocked by that late dagger, but we also started the second half on the front foot, and Ishikawa looked certain to level things up when Kajiyama's brilliant pass (after good link-up play from Hirayama) found him totally unmarked inside the area, but Nao was unable to hit the target and his shot flashed across the face of goal. Hanyu hadn't had much of an impact and was replaced by Rica just ten minutes after the restart, and then five minutes later, the course of the game changed for the better. Casual sent an innocuous-looking high ball up to Hirayama in the box, just as the big man was set to rise to head (with his back to goal) he was head-locked and pulled to the floor by a defender and the ref blew for a PENALTY TO TOKYO! Seen 'em given, seen 'em not, to be fair to Sota he didn't go down theatrically or anything, and by the letter of the law the ref got it right. Rare as hen's teeth, penaks in our favour, and, after a couple of minutes of Niigata players arguing their case, hopelessly of course, with the ref, Casual stepped up and drove the ball into the corner to the keeper's right. He guessed the right way, did the East Exit, but Tokyo were level and now had 30 minutes to find a winner.

And bugger me if we didn't waste about six chances to bag said winner. Hirayama had the first, and the best, after incisive play from Rica and Casual saw the ball break to him six yards out, but Higashiguchi flung out a hand and got lucky, as the ball went out for a corner. It was Oguro in particular, though, who was guilty of wasting two very good chances to atone for his first half miss, the second of those was eerily similar as he headed wide of the near post from Mukuhara's low cross.

Okuma sent on Matsushita for Ishikawa in the 84th minute, and then Otake for Oguro four minutes later as The Gasmen continued to push for the win, but our chances had dried up. In stoppage-time Mukuhara was booked for a clumsy challenge 25 yards out and Richardes tried another curler that Gonda held safely, and as he punted out of his box we thought it was our final chance to go forward. Unfortunately that little bugger Richardes latched onto the ball and, after eluding Hirayama and Kajiyama, played a long ball of his own forward to their fullback Sakai, who would never have touched the ball but for a misjudgement from Rica. Sakai dribbled into the box but his touch was heavy, and, with Morishige coming across to cover he went down like he'd been shot after a touch on the shoulder from Rica (not a push or a pullback), and this time the ref got it horribly wrong and gave a penalty to Niigata. He also gave Rica a second yellow, but that was academic as the pen was going to be the last kick of the game, and we were going to lose, and I was going to jump off the footbridge on my way back to the station....

And then GONDA SAVED IT! Gonda saved it! A poor pen from Richardes, but kudos to the big man for guessing the right way, and salvaging a point for us on a day we deserved all three but at the death looked like we'd get none. So it was a positive lap of honour for the players, and there were some good contributions worth cheering, especially from Casual, Hokuto, Konno and, to be fair, Tokunaga, who probably had his best game in central midfield all season (anything to do with Yone now breathing down his back for his spot?!). On another day Oguro could've had a hat-trick, and we'll definitely need some goals from him in the coming weeks, as we sit just two points ahead of Kobe (who are in the relegation zone), and our next five games are against top-half teams.

We can worry about what lies ahead on the weekend, but for now, praise Gonda, coz Gonda Saves!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

LMS Fantasy Podcast Episode 5

It was a pleasure to welcome L.M.S. legend Steve King into the lounge room to record Episode 5 of the Fantasy Pod. He's flying high so far this season, so he was more than happy to let me know where it's gone right for him after years and years of it going oh so horribly wrong. He also lets us in on an amazing secret that may go someway towards explaining his lack of success over the years.

It was the first two-man podcast we've attempted, but any worries about how it might go were put to rest as we blabbed on for about 55 minutes, covering the secrets to Steve's early-season success, all you need to know from Week 8 and an in-depth preview of Week 9, where we might have found a differential* or two for you. We finish up by covering the standings in the L.M.S. head-to-head and main league, which, for those of you listening who aren't in the league, you can find here (H2H) http://fantasy.premierleague.com/M/table.mc?id=13046 and here (Main League) http://fantasy.premierleague.com/M/table.mc?id=12534

Highlights of Episode 5 include:
  • the first Colchester United anecdote in a fantasy podcast, ever;
  • Steve's fondness for the term "showed up" (I think he's trying to make it the new "got up");
  • the dog returning from his evening walk;
  • the mrs rattling around in the background making dinner;
  • Steve's bombshell at the 53-or-so minute mark

* - Copyright FourFourTwo

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Special LMS Podcast - John W. Henry in Profile

On this, a momentous day for Liverpool fans following Justice Floyd's ruling in the High Court that the board was entitled to go against Dumb & Dumber's wishes in approving the club's sale to N.E.S.V., here is a profile of N.E.S.V. frontman John W. Henry by L.M.S. member Pete MacInnis. This was actually recorded on October 6th for our Fantasy Podcast, but didn't make the final cut as it wasn't fantasy-related. There were also lengthy profiles of H&G, but those numptys are history so that was cut as well and is not relevant now in this new era for all Reds fans.

Pete is a die-hard Red Sox and Reds fan, so was the perfect guy to ask about how this man has worked his way to the top in business, in U.S. sport, and now to the position of owner of The Greatest Football Club in the World (TM).

Things get a little controversial when Pete intimates that our two best players may be off either in January or next summer under Henry's watch, but he does back it up with relevant examples from the Red Sox, and the general mood of things is that Henry and N.E.S.V. worked wonders on the Red Sox, and all Reds everywhere should be optimistic for what the future holds.

A couple of quick corrections: NESN, the network that N.E.S.V. owns to broadcast Red Sox games (amongst other sports) does not show any New England Patriots (NFL) games, and Pete mentions that Henry owned the Florida Marlins in 1999; he actually owned them for four seasons, selling the season before the team won the 2003 World Series.

Easy to listen to below, this Podcast is also available at http://www.archive.org/details/JohnW.HenryForLfc Hope this proves insightful, and thanks again to Pete for his research.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

LMS Fantasy Podcast Episode 4

No need for Takeshi to nick the official Prem music anymore, coz the LMS Fantasy Podcast now has theme music! Pete strummed his guts out and we're quite pleased with the results here in the Ivory Tower.

Anyways, it felt a bit strange podding without the Monsieur, but Pete and Kesh both enjoyed triumphant returns to the living room on Episode 4. We covered Gameweeks 6 & 7, transfers that we've made so far and the LMS H2H and League standings.

No rapist jokes this time. Unfortunately.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

FC Tokyo 3 Shonan Bellmare 0

20,508 made it to the ageing but 'holy' (at least according to one FCT blogger) Kokuritsu stadium on a warm October afternoon for this one. There are few expressions more cliched that "must win game" in football, but that really was the general pre-match feeling of followers of the Gasmen prior to kick off. One banner in the home end read "We believe in you Tokyo", but such confidence seemed to be baseless when the last six games were taken into consideration (1 point), or indeed when pondering on the club's home form (1 win all season, in the dim and distant March). Nevertheless there was a determination amongst the fans to get right behind the team, and a realisation that against the weakest team in the division, it was now or never to find some form.

It was however, largely the same old story for the larger part of the first half, i.e. the lion's share of possession for Tokyo, but a mysterious force field around the opposition's 18-yard box which our out of form attack rarely seemed like having the ability to penetrate. Indeed, it was the lime greens from Hiratsuka who created the clearest-cut opportunities in the first third of the match, forcing a fine left handed save from Gonda and rattling the crossbar in just two of these occasions. The feeling then, when Oguro hooked in Konno's header down from a corner in the 38th minute, was one of unexpected relief. Indeed it seemed to take the home fans at the other end of the ground a few moments to register that we had actually scored. That feeling, though, soon gave way to something more joyous as a dispirited Shonan defence failed to keep up with Ricardinho's sprint down the left, and from his cross Hirayama laid it off for Ishikawa to smash it high into the onion bag. Suddenly a two goal lead in a matter of minutes and a much happier National Stadium.

The second half kicked of with Tokyo trying to extend the lead, but when that spurt of pressure tailed off Bellmare came right back into it, forcing at least 3 quality saves from the newly selected Japanese international Gonda, in front of a doubtless impressed Zaccheroni. Frustration was settling in amongst the home support, with Ricardinho having opportunities to get behind the Bellmare defence but looking horribly ineffectual. It was, then, another nice surprise to see him find a burst of pace from somewhere, followed by a lovely curling shot from outside the area that nestled in the net behind the keeper's outstretched left arm. At last, 84 minutes in we could all relax and down the Malts Premium a bit quicker.

In the aftermath, we should be able to take a lot of positives from this despite the fact that the opposition was clearly the worst in the league and our goalkeeper was MOTM. Confidence, confidence, confidence. It is an over-used word in football, and I have just used it three times. But hopefully our previously misfiring attack will take heart from the goals and the defence will be able to build on a scrambled clean sheet. The next two matches are absolute monsters; away to Sendai and home to Albirex, before a tough-looking set of games against the higher echelons of the league.

Mon' the Gas!

Tokyo Bairn

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Ten Games Left..... Will FC Tokyo Sink or Swim?

When I wrote The Sorry State of FC Tokyo back in late August, following the insipid home loss to Hiroshima, things looked bleak, but not hopeless, for the Gasmen. We sat in 14th after 20 games, three points out of the drop zone, with a winnable game coming up away at Kobe. I raised the "R" word, but mainly to put the wind up those Tokyo fans who felt we were too good to go down.

Now, just five weeks later, the Ajinomoto Stadium faithful are facing an out-and-out crisis, as the point we eeked out at Kobe is the only one we have to show for the four games since my post (and the last six league games in total). The almost-unthinkable is now a very real prospect for Tokyo fans, as in those four games we slid two spots and now occupy the third relegation spot, with ten games to go.

I can't recall a case of a J League club's fans clamoring for a manager's head, and there certainly wasn't one in the home end of Aji Sta (it's just not part of fan culture here), but something had to be done and the club finally acted after our away loss to Iwata on the 18th of September (Matchday 23), ending the Jofuku era with a whimper rather than a bang. Whether he'd lost the dressingroom, run out of ideas or was just tactically naive is up for debate, but despite calling for his head on my twitter account after the Iwata loss, I still felt sorry for the man who led us to 5th and a Cup last season. I'm usually against getting shot of managers mid-season (or at all really - I still wish Rafa Benitez had survived the chaos and media character-assassinations he/we suffered through at Liverpool last season), but Jofuku had run his race and had shown no signs of getting his head round how to stop our decline. So Kiyoshi Okuma, the man who took Tokyo Gas FC into J2, got us promoted in our first season and then guided us to two mid-table J1 finishes, was brought back to the fold with a simple mission: keep us up.

Despite our hopes that the new-manager-leads-to-improved-performance myth might actually turn out to be true in our case, "Okuma Tokyo II" began with another poor performance, and a 1-0 loss to our usual whipping boys, Omiya, a result that took Ardija six points clear of us. Perhaps it was down to the short amount of time the new boss had to work with the players, but there was very little difference in tactics to how we'd set-up and played under Jofuku, and with Kajiyama and Hanyu both out injured, there was zero creativity in central midfield, where Tokunaga (a converted fullback) and Morishige (a centre-half) both played in holding roles (yes, Liverpool fans, think Poulsen and Lucas creativity-wise).

With Sendai stunning Yokohama and also going six points clear of us, thanks to a goal from a player we stupidly (in hindsight) loaned to them, Shingo Akamine, our only target for the time being has to be Kobe, in 15th, who we trail by two points. Sure, it's hard to see where wins (or even goals) are going to come in the run-in, but the next four games have to be where we turn things around, starting on Sunday (Oct. 3) at home against cellar-dwellers Shonan. I say the next four games, because have a look at who Kobe have got coming up: home v Kawasaki (6th), away at Yokohama (7th), home v Nagoya (top), away at Gamba Osaka (3rd). Contrast that horror run with our next four fixtures: home v Shonan (bottom), away at Sendai (13th), home v Niigata (9th), away at Shimizu (5th), and on paper at least we have a better shot at a couple of wins that could get us out of the drop zone and breathing a little easier.

So to Sunday then, and the XI that will firstly score our first home league goal in five games, and then, beat Shonan. Obviously Gonda will be in goal, and hopefully buoyed by his selection in the Japan squad for two friendlies later this month, Konno and Kim will be the centre backs, and Mukuhara and Hokuto will be the full backs. In midfield, I'm praying Hanyu will be fit, and even an hour from him would be miles better than anything Tokunaga or Morishige could provide going forward. If we have Roswell back then I'd keep Morishige and dump Tokunaga out the team, he's been an absolute disaster in central midfield. Morishige hasn't been much better, but he provides more energy and takes better care of the ball than Tokunaga, and is always a chance to get his head on set-pieces. Speaking of disasters, Ricardinho has been a massive flop, he's yet to score a league goal for us and hasn't really ever looked like getting one, and he may be better off coming on as a sub in the last half-hour of games when the opposition have started to tire. With that in mind, I'd dump Rica for Otake on the left. Ironically Otake has always seemed to have a bigger impact on games when he's used as a sub, but I think we need his creativity and set-piece delivery from the start. Ishikawa will be on the right and I suppose it'll be Hirayama and Oguro up-front, although there are no J League defences shuddering at the thought of facing that pairing anymore.

We need someone to spark us back into life, and I feel that Hanyu and Otake can both provide the touch of brilliance that we'll need to unlock the Shonan defence. Again, fingers crossed that Hanyu will be fit. A win is an absolute necessity, and once we've got one, confidence should return and safety will look more likely.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

LMS Fantasy Podcast Episode 3

I was honoured to welcome the past two Last Man Standing Champions, The Monsieur and Graham into my living room for Episode 3 of the Podcast.

Unfortunately the Corona and Sapporo went straight to my head, and I forgot to ask Graham about the strategy he uses in putting his team together, and then to mention the L.M.S. standings at the end. Had nothing to do with not wanting to give Chairboys any credit - honest.

Highlights include:
  • Graham not getting Mathew's rapist joke.
  • The dog whimpering in the background a couple of times.
  • The ample use of "carnage" throughout.
We review Weeks 4 and 5, Mathew talks us through an article on fantasy, and the terminology of it, from FourFourTwo, and we look ahead to Gameweek 6.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Higashi Rinkan FC Week 3

Ah, the Fantasy Premier League wildcard. Such a confusing, exciting, perplexing thing. So many questions: When to do it? How many players to change? Do you keep under-performing stars you already have in your team? Why do I always feel sick two seconds after I press the "Play Wildcard" button?

Well, if you haven't already guessed, I pulled the trigger for Week 3. I usually like to keep it up my sleeve as long as I can, but in this season of trying to do things differently, an early wildcard was something that went along with that strategy, and the decision was made a little easier by the fact that starting this season we have a second one available in January.

So I'm writing this over a week after the conclusion of Fantasy Premier League Week 3, mainly because it has taken that long for my frustration over a few of the decisions I made to die down. I ended-up with 60 points on the week, 2nd-most in the Last Man Standing, but right now I wish I had another wildcard, because poor choices and bad luck has me wanting to make another 4 changes for Gameweek 4!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

LMS Fantasy Podcast Episode 2

It took a few weeks to round people up, but we're back with Episode 2 of the L.M.S. Fantasy Podcast. Once again the Monsieur distinguished himself with his wealth of fantasy advice, and Marrakesh made a barnstorming debut, managing to swear more than the Monsieur and myself put together.

We cover Fantasy Premier League Weeks 1 ~ 3, players that might catch the eye following the closure of the transfer window, and Questions for Kesh, a section of the show that is sure to return due to popular demand in the future.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Sorry State of FC Tokyo

Four days, that's long enough isn't it? Surely it is. Surely it's enough time for the rage and contempt I felt towards the players, and manager, of FC Tokyo as I left Ajinomoto Stadium on Saturday night to have died down enough to consider our position rationally? Well, my throat has calmed down after a hearty booing session, but it doesn't change the situation, that, whichever way you look at it, we are up shit creek without a paddle in a world of trouble, and the way we are going, the dreaded "r" word will rear it's ugly head very soon.

There have been worse results this season than the 2-0 home loss to Hiroshima last Saturday (the previous Wednesday's dismantling by Cerezo Osaka, for example), but the complete lack of system, of ideas, of any awareness of an opponent's tactics and a plan to counter them, made that evening at Aji Sta the most frustrating and infuriating of the four years I have been regularly attending home games. The hostility of the home end as the players plodded around on their lap of "honour" will hopefully still be ringing in the players' and manager's ears, because something needs to change, and sharpish.

The simple reality of our situation is that, after 20 games, we sit 14th, winless in our last nine league games, having been in the bottom half of the table since the eighth week of the season. Another loss this Saturday night in Kobe, coupled with a Sendai win over Shonan (likely, considering how utterly shite poor Shonan are), will see us drop to 16th, and that, my friends, is in the RELEGATION ZONE - there you go, didn't take that long at all for the "r" word to appear....

So where did it all go wrong? We were the team on the up, coming off 6th ('08)and 5th-placed ('09) finishes the past two seasons, and basking in the glory of that sunny Tuesday last November when we played Kawasuckisaki off the park in the Nabisco Cup Final. Well, our home form is one massive reason we are where we are - we've not won at Aji Sta (or Kokuritsu) in the league since the first weekend of March, when everything was rosy after our opening day 1-0 win over Yokohama. Seven consecutive home draws followed, before the gutting 93rd minute loss to Nagoya, and the abject display last weekend against Hiroshima. Ironically, the two heroes of the week one victory over Yokohama, Naohiro Ishikawa and Sota Hirayama, have been two of our biggest under-performers since, but there are plenty more in the same boat.

The home draws, even though there have been some decent-to-good performances amongst them (the 1-1 against the champions, Kashima, and the 2-2 with Shimizu in the last game before the World Cup), I believe, show the lack of tactical awareness of the manager, Hiroshi Jofuku, who has simply failed to come up with a system to counter the defensive approach of teams who come to our place and set up to stifle us. Quite simply, teams have worked us out, and know that if we are denied space, there's little invention or creativity in our midfield and forward line. Last season, it was just give it to Ishikawa and watch him go, but he's not the same player since his injury, and now all Jofuku seems to be able to come up with is having the wingers switch sides every now and then (he even tried it with the full backs on Saturday!). Don't get me started on players out of position, but how about adapting formation to whats put out in front of us - case in point: why not counter Hiroshima's 4-5-1 from Saturday with wingbacks in a 3-5-2 (since he's trying to turn Hokuto Nakamura and Toshihiro Matsushita, who both came to us as wingers, into full-backs anyway)?

I'm sure most (almost all?) Tokyo fans believe we're too good to go down, and that our squad has too much quality to see us relegated, but its up to the manager now to pick players in their right positions and think on his feet more during games. I don't believe it's a stubborness in Jofuku, and there have definitely been mitigating circumstances: Takuji Yonemoto's serious knee injury in pre-season, and Yuto Nagatomo leaving on loan after the World Cup; but he needs to show more adaptability and raise his players for what lies ahead, or we'll be off to Gifu and Kita-Kyushu, amongst other J2 stops next year.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Higashi Rinkan FC Week 2

It's half time of the late Saturday game, and here's the look inside my team selection for this, the second week of the fantasy season...
Well I got very lucky last weekend with Drog's hat-trick, which helped me sit in third spot after Week 1, on 62 points, after I had gone to bed on the Saturday night thinking I would be lucky to break 30 points for the week. Those 62 came despite an assist rudely (but correctly) being taken off Essien, and nothing to speak of from my Stoke keeper and defender combo, Stevie, Arteta, Petrov, Defoe and Boselli. So basically, without Drog I would've been royally fecked.

For Week 2, I did give some consideration to bringing in Stephen Ireland, as he could fit in very nicely at Villa, and obviously I would've loved to have either Fibreglass or my personal role-model Robin the *%&$#> in, with the Arse home to Blackpool, but with doubts over their fitness I stuck with Stevie ahead of The Future of Barcelona(TM), and turned to Darren Bent (who ended up doing sweet f#ck all tonight) to replace the injured Defoe.

There was also a formation change, as I fancied Brum to get a clean sheet at home to Blackburn (didn't happen) so put Dann in ahead of Boselli, who dropped in value this week for some daft reason - can't imagine there would've been that many people who had him in in the first place for transfers out to make much of a difference.

I did think hard about using one or both of my Newcastle subs in the XI, but I'm not quite ready to put my trust in them just yet.

Higashi Rinkan FC (4-4-2)
                                           1: Sorensen
2: Evans J                3: Dann                 4: Alex                  5: Shawcross
6: Arteta                  7: Essien                8: Gerrard            9: Petrov
                            10: Bent                        11: Drogba (C)

12: Mignolet
13: Routledge
14: Perch
15: Boselli

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Higashi Rinkan FC Week 1

Well here I am starting this at halftime of the 3pm (UK time) games on the opening day of the new Fantasy Premier League season. Just thought I'd go through my team and explain some of the reasons for selecting the players I did - even though so far things couldn't have gone much worse!

I decided the way I've done things in the past couple of seasons had to change, finishing god-knows-where in 08/09 and seventh last season meant that it WAS broke, so I had to fix it. So as much as I love Pepe Reina, I plumped for Sorensen as my keeper, and had to have a Stoke DF in, so that naturally is/was Shawcross (they're 2-0 down at Wolves at HT, and I've just been sick in my mouth). The other big call in defence, and this was the hardest of all the decisions I made, was putting a Scumchester United player in, after a FULL SEASON of none of that shite. With Wio crocked that had to be Evans. Alex is an injury doubt for Chel$ki, but with Carvalho out of the picture, I was happy to take the risk.

In midfield the dilemma was Fat Frank. I don't like him one bit, but he's one of the top three players of the modern fantasy era without question (sure, I'll tell you, the other two are Henry and Gayboy), and he was in my team for most of the pre-season. All it took was Stevie G's two goals for England in midweek, though, and the fat man was kicked to the kerb, and S.G. MBE was in. I wanted a Chel$ki MF to replace fatty, and for the price Essien is (as noted by L.M.S. Champion The Monsieur in Podcast Episode 1) he could be the value buy of the season. Arteta is Arteta and picks himself when fit (still gets no respect - 8.5 mil?!), and Martin Petrov is my out-of-left-field choice, hoping he will be rejuvenated by his move to Bolton.

Up-front, Drogba is in and my Captain for Week 1, Defoe got the nod over Bent (who of course scored in the first half) and Boselli from Wigan is my bolter.

Higashi Rinkan FC (3-4-3)
                                        Sorensen 5.0
           Evans J 5.5            Alex 6.0               Shawcross 5.0
Arteta 8.5               Essien 7.0           Gerrard 11.5             Petrov 6.0
           Defoe 9.0               Drogba (C) 12.5         Boselli 6.0

Subs: Mignolet 4.0
Dann 4.5
Perch 4.0
Routledge 4.5