Only 13 rounds have been played at the break in J1 but the clock is already ticking on Oita Trinita…
“Where do I catch the shuttle bus from?” I asked the man in the uniform with the red stick.
“They’re finished,” he replied in that no-nonsense manner not uncommon in Kyushu. “You can still catch a taxi though.”
Sod that. A taxi from Oita Bank Dome to my hotel was likely to cost more than my four-hour train ride from Kumamoto the previous day so along with a friend I opted to try and hitchhike.
People in the south may be a little brusquer than their Tokyo counterparts but they aren’t any less considerate and I was soon accompanying some Trinita supporters in their Prius on the way to the station.
I’d lucked out when it seemed time was up but for Oita Trinita the clock has not been on their side in 2013. In fact, it is probably fair to say that they are back in J1 ahead of time and may just be counting down to a return to the second tier.
The speediness of their ascension back to the first division was replicated in their opening three games, in each of which they scored first but were unable to secure all three points. Affronting their opponents in such a manner didn’t seem to do the trick but opting for a less aggressive approach proved equally as ineffective as Trinita conceded late on in their next three games and lost to Kashiwa Reysol (Masato Kudo striking the killer final goal to make it 3-1 in the 93rd minute), Ventforet Kofu (1-0, Yukio Tsuchiya, 83’), and Kashima Antlers (3-2, Yuya Osako, 90’).
It took them until Round 12 to record their first victory in the league and even then they, like me, needed some additional minutes to get what they wanted. Having conceded an equalizer in the 90th minute they required fully seven minutes of injury time to secure the winner in their 3-2 triumph over Albirex Niigata.
The day I’d received my hybrid-assisted lift also produced a strange quirk on the clock, with Oita’s two goals coming one minute before the end of each half. Sadly for them their opponents, Sagan Tosu, weren’t overly troubled as they netted twice as many themselves.
The number of goals scored and conceded are what really matter when it comes to determining who is celebrating or not come the end of the season, but for the time being head coach Kazuaki Tasaka is more concerned with another digit: one.
The former Japan international and long-time assistant to Kenta Hasegawa at Shimizu S-Pulse is in his first job as the top man and feels that togetherness is the key if Oita are to stand any chance of avoiding the drop.
“We showed the opponent our weak point and were well beaten today,” he said after the loss to Tosu. “At the moment what we are lacking is unity – we need to become one.
“The team was trying to make that happen and I can give them credit for that. Of course we didn’t win but watching them on the pitch I really felt that they were trying to play as a team. To fight as one and win as one. I want them to keep doing that.”
It has proved as hard as expected since Trinita became the first team to earn promotion via the J2 Play-offs last year, and Tasaka confessed that he has struggled to settle on a new best eleven to cope back in J1.
“I understand that we’ve moved up a level and everyday I’m watching the players and feel they are fighting well on this stage. Before we started back in J1 we had the strength to compete at this level but I was also aware of the current condition of the club. At the moment we aren’t able to stabilize the starting eleven. Within that we aren’t able to win games, which makes it harder to settle the team. Because of that each player is playing for themselves, not for the team.”
If some consistency and a collective purpose can be achieved the club may be able to give itself a fighting chance of staying up, but not as things stand. Time is very much of the essence.