Reds pass test with flying colors

The top two in J1 clashed at the weekend, and leader Urawa Reds stamped its authority on its game with FC Tokyo from the outset. Here’s my report for The Japan News…

The Japan News, Sunday 17th May, 2015

Urawa Reds tightened their grip on the top spot in the J.League on Saturday, downing second-placed FC Tokyo 4-1 in a dominant display at Saitama Stadium.

Tadanari Lee and Takahiro Sekine both struck in the first half to put Reds in a commanding position before Yuki Muto added the gloss with a third early in the second half.

Ryoichi Maeda pulled one back for Tokyo with 16 minutes to play, but Tsukasa Umesaki swiftly re-established Reds’ three-goal advantage to ensure the leader maintained its 100 percent home record in league play. Urawa is now unbeaten in its past 11 home games against Tokyo in J1, although the visitor was expected to present a significant hurdle here.

Urawa Reds coach Mihailo Petrovic was pleased with the result but wants his team to stamp out its lapses.

“We attacked through the middle and from wide with plenty of variation, and I think we absolutely deserved the victory,” he said.

“Of course I’m satisfied with the game, and think we scored some fantastic goals, but there are also aspects we can reflect on.”

Massimo Ficcadenti’s side came into the match just a point behind Reds — albeit having played a game more — and with the best away record in the top flight, with five wins and a draw from its opening road games.

Previous form counted for little in this contest, however, with the host tearing out of the traps and moving ahead after just five minutes.

Tomoya Ugajin sent a wicked cross in from the left, and Lee — who developed in the youth system at Tokyo and spent six months on loan there from Southampton in 2013 — beat former teammate Shuichi Gonda to the ball and prodded in with his left boot from just inside the six-yard box.

One of many happy Urawa Reds fans at Saitama Stadium, Saturday May 16th, 2015

Sekine then doubled Reds’ lead before halftime, with Ugajin again providing the assist.

Shinzo Koroki received the ball midway inside the Tokyo half and swiftly played it into Ugajin’s path on the left. The 27-year-old kept a cool head and dinked a ball across the box for Sekine to steer home after 42 minutes.

Ahead of the game, all eyes had been on young Tokyo striker Yoshinori Muto, who is widely expected to snub Premier League champion Chelsea in favor of a move to Bundesliga outfit Mainz 05 in the summer, but it was his namesake in red who put the result beyond doubt in the 47th minute.

Sekine made space for himself on the right wing and drove a low ball across the box for Yuki Muto to flick beyond Gonda and into the net.

Tokyo had offered very little by way of its own attacking threat, but did register in the 74th minute as substitute Maeda found space in the penalty area and arced home a wonderful header after a sensational Kosuke Ota cross from the left.

Umesaki instantly nipped any comeback in the bud, though, bending a delightful effort beyond Gonda’s despairing dive and into the bottom left corner in the 76th minute to leave Reds sitting pretty at the summit.

Elsewhere, bottom-placed Ventforet Kofu — under new manager Satoru Sakuma, who replaced Yasuhiro Higuchi in the week — picked up a rare victory as it downed fellow struggler Montedio Yamagata 2-0 thanks to strikes from Takuma Abe and Bare.

Meanwhile, Kashima Antlers and Sanfrecce Hiroshima had to settle for a share of the spoils as they contested a 2-2 seesaw battle in Ibaraki.

Sanfrecce took the lead through Hisato Sato, but a Mitsuo Ogasawara penalty and strike by debutant Dinei saw Antlers move ahead. Kosei Shibasaki had the last word for the visitors, though, pulling them level in the 69th minute.


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