Just one home win in the league all season has left Omiya in the relegation scrap as per-usual. Very few of their players have shone this season but the majority of the blame lies with their coach…
Back in February I was asked to provide this magazine with my predictions for the 2011 J.League season. We are not quite at the end of the campaign but I decided to revisit them recently and although some are still possible (Avispa, Ventforet, Montedio to get relegated; Grampus to win the league) others were not so successful.
The most glaring mistake was my tip for top-scorer (Antlers’ Carlao (19 goals) – oops), but I was also misguided in my suggestion that Omiya Ardija would be the dark horse.
In the six seasons since Ardija joined J1 they have always ended up in the bottom half, only once finishing more than six points above the relegation zone.
They looked to have settled last year though, and having kept hold of Rafael and also made some smart signings in Kim Young-gwon, Kota Ueda and Keigo Higashi it seemed as if they were in a position to start pushing on and establishing themselves as a steady top-flight team.
And, in a way, they have.
Their victory over Kashiwa Reysol in Round 27 meant they had the joint second-best away record in the division, taking 22 points from their games on the road and losing just four times.
Things have not gone quite so well at home, however. In fact, they have the worst record of any club in front of their own fans, winning just once at NACK5 in the league all season.
This discrepancy was pointed out to striker Rafael after his brace had secured their latest away victory in Kashiwa, and he was at a loss to account for the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the side.
“It’s difficult to explain,” the Brazilian said. “I think a lot of teams play better away this season. We play to win away and at home but we have been playing badly at home, I don’t know why.”
I have my theory, and it rests with the coach Jun Suzuki.
While not as depressing a tactician as Toshiya Miura, Suzuki is far from ambitious and seemingly sends his team out not with the aim of winning games, but of not losing them.
This is a fairly standard tactic used by many coaches for away games, when the onus is usually on the home side to attack and go for the win. As players grow tired and the pressure mounts there is always the opportunity to capitalise on a mistake or sneak one on the counter-attack – something Omiya have perfected this season.
At home, though, teams usually take control a little more, and are expected to seize the initiative. Unfortunately, instead of trusting in their talented attacking players and throwing a little caution to the wind Omiya adopt the same stance on their own patch as they do on their travels.
Suzuki’s refusal to start Naoki Ishihara sums up this conservative approach, and after Omiya’s maiden home win against Jubilo Iwata he attempted to justify the tactic as follows.
“I want to use him from the start but we have no other supersub. I tried to use [Rodrigo] Pimpao from the second half but he is not that type of player.”
So, essentially, it seems that Ishihara doesn’t start because he’s good, whereas a less adaptable player, Pimpao, gets a starting shirt because he’s a crap sub. Hmmm…
Quite why they can’t all be incorporated into the starting line-up isn’t clear.
Rafael and Ishihara would form a formidable front two, and with Keigo Higashi on the right and one of Pimpao or Lee Chun-soo on the left the side would have more than enough attacking potential to secure the ten or so wins needed to avoid relegation.
As the likes of Reysol, Sanfrecce and Cerezo have demonstrated, such a gung-ho approach does lead to a fair few defeats, but it also enables teams to turn enough draws into victories to keep them well away from the drop-zone.
Indeed, Reysol, who are challenging at the other end of the table, have not drawn at home all season; Omiya have tied seven times.
Something that is always worth bearing in mind is the fact that you get more points by winning one game and losing the next than you do for drawing both.