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.
So we lined-up in a 4-5-1 as follows:
Mukuhara Konno Morishige Hokuto
Did Okuma simply brick it? Yes, he did. The biggest game in our club's history, and he completely shat his pants. This formation worked against Nagoya (when Hirayama was suspended), but we are a 4-4-2 team and going this defensive against a pub team like Kyoto reeked of panic. Two holding midfielders were totally unnecessary, and dropping Oguro and Hanyu meant that Sota Hirayama would have to do all the work up front, as Casual, despite being named in the hole, was prone to dropping too deep to receive the ball (and Rica and Tatsuya are shithouse).
Now I'm not going to do a play-by-play description of what went on, but we lacked cohesion from the start. There was no link from midfield to attack as the ball was lumped up to Hirayama, our wing play was ineffective, and Kyoto consistently won the ball back. Then, three minutes that changed everything started when Kobe scored at Urawa. Half an hour had passed and we were going down as things stood. We needed a goal and we'd be OK, but then in the 34th minute Dutra (who looks a right greasy tosspot) outjumped Hokuto at the far post and headed back across Shuichi Gonda in the Tokyo goal to put Kyoto ahead.
Shitsticks. Now we were looking right down the barrel, and needed two goals (as long as Kobe stayed ahead of Urawa). Our response after the goal was meek, nothing was working for us, our build-up play was poor and we never looked like scoring. Halftime came and went, and nothing from the manager. No changes to personnel or formation. Hirayama had a golden chance saved in the 51st minute. Then things went from grim to fucking horrific when Kobe scored twice within 14 minutes of the restart at Urawa. Half an hour to go and they were home-and-hosed, we still needed two goals and right about the time their third goal went in (59th min) Okuma finally made a change, Oguro coming on for Tatsuya. Alright, I've slated the player loads, but the blame has to fall on the manager, it was ridiculous to expect Tatsuya to have an impact in such an important game after so long out the team.
I was glad to see a second striker come on, but we needed two goals and were still playing with two holding midfielders! That was finally addressed in the 66th minute when Yohei Otake replaced Takuji Yonemoto, but still we were reduced to half-chances, and anything on target was easily saved by their keeper or blocked by a defender before it even got that far. Yasuyuki Konno had moved to centre-forward in a front three, Casual dropped right back to play as a sweeper, and we still had Shigematsu and Hanyu on the bench, but Okuma's final change was defender for defender as Kim Young Gwon replaced full back Kenta Mukuhara.
They had a man harshly sent off in the 87th minute, but we were never scoring on this day. This was right up there with the home loss to Hiroshima as far as rubbish performances are concerned (I didn't see the 4-1 loss to Cerezo), and considering how important the game was, it's clear we well and truly bottled it. The final nail was driven into our coffin at the end of normal time, when Kyoto caught us on the break following a corner, Gonda brought down Dutra in the area and the ref gave a penalty. Diego scored and that was that, a dreadful 2-0 loss, coupled with Kobe's eventual 4-0 win over Urawa, meant we were relegated as the 16th-best team in J1 in 2010.
Pressure, nerves, whatever it was, we just weren't able to break them down. I will not have anyone saying its down to tiredness, because Kobe sure weren't tired as they battered Urawa. I believe a large part of the blame for this result falls on Okuma, but it just continued the strange problem we had all season of breaking down and beating bottom-half teams. You have to give Kobe all the credit in the world, they went unbeaten in the last seven games (four wins, three draws), but we've only got ourselves to blame, we had our chance to finish it last week and didn't hang on (those four bloody minutes).
The away end was fantastic all day, they sang their hearts out before, during and after, but watching from afar I just felt disgusted as our astonishing fall from grace reached its conclusion with such a weak performance. From fifth and Nabisco Cup Champions to 16th and relegated - it's actually frighteningly similar to what happened to Oita in '08 & '09 (look out Iwata!) - and all the things that we had come to take for granted, the rivalries, the big crowds, the midweek Nabisco games, are all on hold for at least a season. All we have to look forward to are the derbies and trips to Godknowswhere FC and FC Daftitalianname.