It’s a league where anyone can beat anyone. Unless you’re Consadole Sapporo, it seems…
Regular readers may remember that around this time last year I travelled to Sapporo in the hope of watching a game at the Dome.
The schedule changes brought about by the earthquake sadly meant that wasn’t possible, but a trip to Miyanosawa (and a couple of bars in the city) left a positive impression so a couple of weeks ago I headed north to pay Consadole another visit.
This time I was able to see a game at the World Cup venue, but even though the visitors FC Tokyo won 1-0 I am still yet to see a goal there.
After taking plenty of pictures around the venue (including one, of course, from behind the goal where David Beckham scored that awful (yet brilliant) penalty against Argentina in 2002) I had to hurry up to the press seats and missed the kick-off.
By the time I got there Kajiyama had already put Tokyo ahead (in the goal I’d just been crouched behind), and some great saves by Shuichi Gonda and awful misses by the Consadole front-line meant that was to be it as far as the scoring went.
That summed up the home side’s season so far, and as many predicted they have struggled to pick up points back in the top-flight.
When I spoke to their manager, Nobuhiro Ishizaki, ahead of the season he anticipated such difficulty, and stated that his aim was purely to keep the club in J1.
“The target is not to be relegated in the first season, which happens often,” he said.
“If a team manages to stay up, the players gain experience and it all gets much easier. The most important thing is to manage to stay in J1.”
In recent seasons unfancied sides promoted from J2 have caused a few surprises, and I had a sneaking suspicion that Consadole may have been the one to do so in 2012.
Of course we know how reliable my predictions are, and it turns out to have been Sagan Tosu who have carried their strong form up with them.
All is not lost yet, but things are not looking too good for the side and it’s vital they improve quickly if they want to stand any chance of avoiding an instant return to the second division.
Defender Jade North was understandably downbeat after the defeat to his former side, although he pointed out that, up to and including that game, Consadole had yet to be truly taken apart.
“It comes to a point where you think “what do we have to do to pick up points?” It’s not as if we’ve been losing by big scores, we fight right to the death, but…”
I suggested that, in a strange way, it may actually be better to get hammered 4- or 5-0, as that makes it easier to identify the things that need improving, and he could well have been paying attention as the team’s next game was the horrendous 7-0 reverse at Kashima Antlers.
That result will produce one of two outcomes: either it strips the players of any remaining confidence they may have had and they will slide inevitably to their doom, or, alternatively – and, admittedly, less likely – it will shock them into action.
“I think anyone can beat anyone on the day,” North told me after the Tokyo game. “It’s all about who turns up.
“For us now it’s battling to stay up. We’re just over a third of the way through.
“I think it becomes a mental thing after a while. With us at the moment it’s just hard to find that win. When you’re losing you forget how to win sometimes.”
The psychological drain of consecutive defeats is undoubtedly the largest hurdle to overcome, but North is not feeling sorry for himself and is well aware of what he and his teammates need to do to change their luck.
“We’ve got to find that winning mentality. Just pick ourselves up and roll our sleeves up.”
If they can do that and start to rack up some points soon you never know what effect that may have on the teams just above them.
They’ll have to be quick about it though, as they’ve given their rivals a hell of a headstart.