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.
Nagoya boast the league's top scorer, Josh Kennedy, and it's biggest wanker, Tulio, but an important out for them was holding midfielder Danilson, who had been an influential part of their title success. Still, this was a formidable challenge for The Gasmen, and, as we knew that Kobe kicked-off later in the evening in a very winnable game at Omiya, a point at the very least would be absolutely golden.
Our first chance arrived in the 7th minute, when Konno's long cross-field ball out of defence cut out the midfield and found Oguro on the right. The striker did well with no support, advancing into the box then cutting back onto his left foot, then, as he shaped to shoot, cleverly rolling the ball across the box for the on-rushing Kajiyama, but Casual allowed a defender to get across and scramble the ball away. Or so Grampus thought, but Rica and Casual cornered a defender, and after winning the ball back Rica had the chance to cross from the left but it rebounded out for a corner.
Nagoya's attacking strategy was fairly predictable, but still hard to stop: get balls in from the wings that Kennedy could attack, or lay-off for teammates; and it had netted the Aussie 16 goals on the year, while former Japan international Keiji Tamada, who scored the title-winning goal against Shonan, had bagged 12. Kennedy had a half-chance in the 13th minute, but, under pressure from Morishige he headed high and wide.
In the 22nd minute Konno started another attack with a long pass, this time for Mukuhara, who played in Ishikawa down the right, but after dribbling into the box then cutting back onto his left Nao's shot was deflected out. We won another corner in the 27th minute, but Nagoya looked to have escaped any damage after clearing the first ball, the second after Hokuto tried a piledriver from outside the box, and after Rica played a loose pass to Nao near the right touchline. Casual was roaming the area though, and he pounced on some hesitation from Magnum P.I. and won the ball back.
What happened next deserves a paragraph of its own. Casual dribbled from out wide to almost dead in front of goal, then, at speed from 30 yards, he flicked a brilliant pass with the outside of his right boot between defenders to Morishige (who had stayed up after the corner) standing on the edge of the box. Morishige touched it on to Oguro, who, after the briefest of glimpses up at the keeper - who had creeped out to the edge of the 6 yard box - one-timed a perfect chip that cleared the keeper and came down under the bar, giving Tokyo the lead. It was a brilliant bit of skill from Oguro, and his seventh league goal since arriving in the World Cup break.
We knew they'd hit back hard, and thankfully the master tosser Tulio blazed wide from 6 yards when Magnum's cross cleared Tokunaga and left him one-on-one with Shuichi Gonda. Still, we showed some positive signs that we weren't just going to sit on our lead, and Ishikawa and Casual tried their luck with shots from just outside the area, Nao's going wide but Casual's forcing Narazaki into a low save. Then in the 35th minute Casual had a golden chance to make it 2-0 when he dribbled through traffic in the box, but Narazaki instinctively stuck out a leg and saved when Casual seemed certain to score.
It had been a hugely entertaining first half, but there was still plenty of action left, Yonemoto headed brilliantly off the line after a Kennedy knock-down caused havoc in our box and Konno managed to squirt the ball over the bar after Kennedy had knocked-down again for Ogawa. Then it all went mental in stoppage time...Kennedy flicked on a ball for Tulio, who was crowded out by Tokunaga and Morishige as Gonda came to collect, but Tulio went down like a sack of shit, claiming that Morishige had elbowed him in the face. The Nagoya man chased down our number 3, and poked him in the face, frothing at the mouth all the while (you can't quite see the rabies-like phlegm on his lips, but trust me, it was hilarious)...
rather than getting involved in ruckus on the sidelines.
So a fiery end to the half then, and it was set up for a humdinger of a second, as we looked to hang on and hopefully nick a second goal. We were on the attack in the first minute, but Oguro was crowded out after Casual and headed down Ishikawa's cross. Nagoya introduced the league's third biggest wanker, but undoubtedly the worst haircut, Alex, on 51 minutes, and immediately after Hokuto tested Narazaki with a long free kick, then three minutes later Gonda got down well to a shot from the P.I.
We kept them at bay quite comfortably for the next 20 minutes, they definitely shaded the possession but never troubled Gonda, and Rica was impressive in his willingness to track back and win the ball back, although his passing was again a problem, he's good with the ball at his feet but his distribution is so often poor.
The first and only really nervy moment for us in the second half came in the 74th minute, when their little sub winger Sugimoto flew down the right and crossed for Tamada at the near post, but his cushioned left-foot shot was inches wide of the far stick with Gonda no chance. Tatsuya Suzuki then replaced Ishikawa, and Nagoya went to three at the back as Tulio joined Kennedy in attack, but there was no rhythm to Grampus' build-up play, and with Yonemoto and Tokunaga doing an excellent job of shielding our defence, chances were few and far between for the champions.
Kentaro Shigematsu replaced Rica in the 86th minute and then two minutes later Oguro departed to be replaced by Fatty Junior Maeda. Where on earth the ref got FIVE minutes of stoppage time from we'll never know, but we did an excellent job of keeping the ball for most of it, with the exception of Tatsuya, who gave it away three times. Still, who cares, we played out time without drama, slayed the orca, took down the champions, and, with Omiya doing us a favour and coming back to draw with Kobe, we moved three points clear of the Kansai side, with just two games left.
We've now claimed 10 points from the past 5 games, all against top-half teams, and while Kobe have fought on valiantly, a win in either of our last two games (preferably at home to Yamagata on Saturday, thank you) will keep us in J1 next season.