Mito's first home match of the year was a success, beating perennial bottom team Tokushima in the cold rain. I unfortunately couldn't make it due to rare Saturday work commitments, and I wasn't the only one to miss it as the harsh weather convinced all but the just over 2000 faithful to stay home.
The reports and highlights were more than glowing for Mito, however. The team constantly controlled the match and the win was never much in doubt once the goal was scored. Tokushima has improved a lot since finishing last three times running, but apparently only in the defense up until now. There was a lot of concern in that Mito lost to a weak Ehime team last week and Tokushima had held newly relegated Tokyo Verdy to a scoreless draw. It seems that the Tokushima defense is pulling its weight, but the offense may be incapable of scoring. If this continues expect that team to have a year of many losses and scoreless draws.
Mito's goal was taken by forward Endo in his last game as a teenager, and was his first goal in his 57th league match as a forward. He's made a lot of play mistakes and never been effective as a scorer but yet has been selected for the U-19 national team and given a lot of play time solely through his intense effort and stamina. Until now his specialty has been countering defenders and getting the ball further forward to a more established striker. On Saturday his shot was a juggle off the dominant right foot onto the weaker left, which popped it perfectly into an unreachable far corner. After the match his speech and comments were full of immense confidence, and hopefully he will be able to continue his scoring ways. It will be hard for him to take the striker position with the number of quality forwards at Mito's disposal, with Arata and Takasaki or Arata and Yoshihara as the standard two-top formation (and one of those on the bench ready to sub), but coach Kiyama has stated that Endo will now get more attention.
Mito's win has the team at tenth out of eighteen teams and the next two matches are against Fukuoka and Tokyo. Both of those teams are former J1 teams and promotion contenders, but they also happen to be lower on the standings at the moment. Wins or draws against them would mean not just more confidence and higher standing on the table, but a cushion over those teams as April starts up and positioning on the table starts making gaps between strong and weak.