It was a great atmosphere yesterday at Nishigaoka. Mito supporters held the "Otoko Matsuri" (漢祭) festival and in the stands most wore kimono and yutaka, gifts were exchanged, and good will and pudding was freely given out. The weather was also perfect, and while small, the venue is fantastic for soccer. The experience was actually very similar to the last meeting between the teams at Hitachinaka, except there were about a thousand more fans at Hitachinaka, and it was only slightly less tiring to commute to Tokyo than to work at the Mito home game.
The game itself was well played on both sides, although with plenty for Mito to feel bad about. Diego's first goal came off of a Hulk cross, right after Hulk shoulder tackled defender Hiramatsu with whom he had been racing for the ball, who fell flat on his face and slid forward several feet, within reach of the Mito supporters. The fans felt some relief seeing this as the dangerous advance would surely be stopped for the called foul and perhaps a card. The officials were well out of position though, and while it seemed that the main official was mulling over whether to call the foul, Diego placed the header for the day's first point. Mito fans were shocked into silence while Biju, goalkeeper Honma, and other players leading a strong argument with the official. The official, clearly intimidated, stepped back and gave a yellow card to Honma. The argument continued until the official warned that he would pull a red card on the issue.
The second point taken was a well set play from Diego to Funakoshi. No complaints there; Tokyo took the point from good tactics.
Late in the game though, Shiozawa was bowled over in the penalty area while attempting to convert a pass into a goal, and it seemed to be well deserving of a foul and a PK. This time, as well, no call came.
About the same time, forward Takaaki Suzuki was clipped in a foul and injured. He was replaced and at games end, he could not even limp off the field... With a trainer's help, he hopped out on one foot.
Even with all of this, Hulk and Diego were in full form and even if it would have been closer, it seemed clear that Tokyo would have won the match. Perhaps with this in mind and the festival spirit, the Mito fans were reserved in criticism and at the end of the match, continued to sing a Mito fight song over and over again, for perhaps 10 minutes straight and with many Tokyo fans heading out. The respect and comraderie was well understood and strongly felt. My own throat still hurts more than 12 hours later. :)
A good game with plenty to feel good about as well as a lot of anguish, but a great experience. Surely, a much harder contest looms on Thursday at home, and the strong support needs to continue to give the team a chance against Fukuoka.