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, 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.