04
May
17

S-Pulse struggling for regular rhythm

Away from home Shimizu S-Pulse’s counter-attacking style has reaped rewards so far on their return to J1, but they are struggling to adapt their approach when playing in front of their own fans… (日本語版はこちらです)

Football Channel, 4th May, 2017

Shimizu S-Pulse have been something of a Jekyll and Hyde team so far in 2017, showing impressive resilience on occasion – as in the recent comebacks against Omiya Ardija and Kawasaki Frontale – but as yet failing to win a single match at home.

The Frontale game on 21 April appeared to demonstrate that this year’s S-Pulse are a far tougher side to beat than that which slumped to the club’s first ever relegation in 2015, with Shinji Kobayashi’s men not losing heart despite surrendering the lead given to them by Shota Kaneko’s 14th minute strike to find themselves 2-1 down with full time approaching.

Recent signing Thiago Alves was once again the hero at Todoroki, following up on his assist for Ryohei Shirasaki’s late strike in the 1-1 against Omiya the previous week with a dramatic 95th minute goal of his own to make it 2-2 with the very last kick of the game.

“It was the same in the last match too, we came from a losing position to get a draw,” Alves said of the team’s efforts. “It only looks like one point right now, but I think considering it over the longer term those points will be very important.”

His fellow striker Chong Tese was of a similar opinion.

“I think this point is important – very important,” the 33-year-old said. “If we’d dropped this game then you lose confidence looking ahead, but it means a lot that we weren’t defeated.

“Teams that were winning but lose go down [the table]; teams that are losing but draw move up; teams that are drawing but win go even higher. With that in mind I think we really gained something here.

“Our strength is in sticking together as a unit and defending solidly then breaking out, as we have a lot of good attacking players,” he said. “Today we scored two goals and we’ve done that fairly regularly this season.”

His striker partner Kaneko further explained the manner in which the Shizuoka side are approaching games back in the first tier.

“Initially as a team and individually we come into the games with a focus on defence,” the 21-year-old said. “From there we then want to build up to scoring more goals. Today we went for the second goal and got it, but before that it was a difficult game.”

The contributions of substitutes are often vital in deciding a game one way or another, and while Alves’ late finish was the most obvious example against Kawasaki his fellow subs Kazuya Murata and Mitchell Duke also added extra energy to the side going forwards as the final whistle drew near.

Chong Tese, Football Channel:Getty

“It’s a lot tighter (in J1) and when it is those tight contests, 1-1s, even at 1-0 down, you look to your subs to come on and try and change the game, which I think all three of us did and luckily enough we got the point,” Duke observed post match.

“I feel like we’ve had a pretty strong start to our campaign this year. We’re aiming high, we want to finish in the top half of the table, that’s our main aim, and anything extra is a bonus.”

Tese, meanwhile, is taking things one step at a time.

“For me personally [the aim is] to avoid relegation,” he said. “Of course we’ll see how things go, and I actually think we are capable of going higher than that, but today I really felt the difference in strength between the teams.”

It was clear to see why he was cautious to get carried away in the side’s next game, as they slumped to defeat against Vegalta to leave S-Pulse with just one point from their four games at Nihondaira so far, compared with 10 on the road.

“It was the same last year,” Tese said of the early season struggles in front of their own fans.

“If we win once at home then I think we’ll be fine. I feel like we’re a little stiff at home. Playing away we’ve made a promise within the team to do what we can to keep a clean sheet, but at home we have to come out and attack more and maybe that disrupts our ability to play the football we want to.”

Duke has also sensed a difficulty in that respect.

“I don’t know if the players mentally feel a bit more pressure at home – feel like they definitely need to get the points and put pressure on themselves,” he said.

“To be fair, I think it’s really good that we’re getting the points away, it’s usually the harder thing to do. Hopefully we can add the home games and get the three points there too, I think that will be really important for us.”

Last weekend’s game against Vegalta – who had conceded 16 goals in their previous four league matches – looked like being the ideal opportunity to do just that, but Shimizu froze once again and went down 3-0.

They will need to put things right sooner rather than later as, as Duke pointed out, it is not easy to keep picking up points on the road and home form could be the difference between survival and being drawn into the relegation scrap.

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