It was my birthday, and it was an absolutely great one.
Yesterday the people working the game arrived a bit earlier than usual, as the last home game meant events that needed preparation.
I worked the away gate for the first time all year, and checked the tickets and greeted all 298 Osaka fans who passed through. The hardcore Osaka supporters are an eclectic bunch and they do love to smoke.
The game was a scary one at first for Mito fans. Cerezo attacks are very strong and Mito played hard in the back half to shut out the charges. Mito proved successful but the amount of effort looked as if it would make the same strategy useless in the second half.
That was the case, as Mito changed gears and turned to an INCREDIBLY aggressive style and . This paid off in spades when forward Nishino took a well placed pass twelve minutes into the second half and dribbled past a defender to pop the ball over the keeper at an impossibly tight angle for the score. Two Cerezo defenders racing to clear the ball in only expedited the eventuality. Nishino immediately ran to the bench and embraced coach Maeda with several other players.
After this, the team pressed hard and continuously kept possession and occasionally pushed the ball upfield. At the same time the defenders held back near the goal more than usual and rested up. There is no doubt that Osaka played a much better game with more talent, linking passes and setting up plays, but Mito constantly put two men on one and cleared out of danger. The team showed incredible fusion and played the basics well, switching between catenaccio and total soccer strategies.
After the game, speeches from team representatives were hard to hear as the supporters called out "MAEDA!" over and over again, with banners unfurled sending the message to the president that the fans want the coach to stay. Reports tried to spin that the cheer was one of pure passion rather than compassion and hope that the longest serving Mito coach would continue through next year.
The win was cathartic for the fans with a decent crowd and a great send off to a bad year with the first win ever against Cerezo. The win brings Mito out of last place with only the last game at Sapporo remaining. Tokushima, currently in last place, has its last game at Sendai. Both are tough on paper but both teams have surprised their respective opponents earlier this year. If both teams pull off the same result, Mito will pull off a 12th place finish. Only if Tokushima's result is better than Mito's will Mito find itself on the bottom of the yearly rankings for the first time in history.