A great performance and a bad result came out of yesterday's opening match, away at Ehime. Mito had more shots, better shots, more possession, more pressing, and great cohesion. But while the team had little in the area of mistakes, there was also little in the area of luck.
Mito took strong charge from the beginning and controlled the flow of the match. In particular, the defense and offensive ends really pulled through for quality play as Ehime struggled to keep possession of the ball outside of the infield. In 15 minutes Mito would have the lead thanks to a diving header from defender Nakamura for the team's first goal of the season.
Ehime continued to struggle until minute 40 and even then remained marginally competitive at best. The first goal was well deserved for Ehime, as keeper Harada knocked a hard shot away only for it to land at Ehime forward Uchimura's feet. 1 on 1 was won by him on a quick flick that popped past the keeper and charging defender Hosaki. Other goal scenes were very disappointing though. Ehime scored in controversial fashion to take the game. One goal was scored after a handball in the goal area was missed by the referee... A ball was blocked by the chest of a Mito defender standing just inside the goal, at a camera and pitch angle impossible to know if the goal awarded was deserved... And on the other end, forward Yoshihara was fouled in what seemed to be inside the penalty box but was ruled to be a free kick just outside instead of a penalty kick inside. The Ehime keeper as well fragrantly clipped forward Arata as he was about to knock in a goal, but the penalty was not awarded. However, you can't win every call and games go like this too often for any team, unfortunately.
Mito's linking and teamwork were very nice but some players could stand out a bit more. Arata and Endo were both outhustling defenders and doing fantastically getting to shooting position, but Arata kept just missing while Endo didn't take the initiative to shoot on his own. The tall defenders Nakamura and captain Owada showed that they will be dangerous on corner kicks this year. And Yoshihara was getting accolades from the announcers, fans and after the game, coach Kiyama. It was remarked that he's rediscovered youthful energy and went hard and fast the whole match. At one point an Ehime player was breaking away to go 1 on 1 with the keeper. Yoshihara, at least 10 meters back and standing still when that player broke away, dashed after him and reached him just before making it to the penalty area. He knocked the ball away, only drawing a minor foul, and then happened to be the one clearing the ball after Ehime's free kick. If he can apply his experience and still keep the speed and drive of a rookie, he'll be a major contribution. All players were aggressive though, and perhaps too much. Mito drew 4 yellow cards and midfielder Kim came dangerously close to being sent off against his former team. Mito fans may not have liked the outcome but it was a fast-paced and exciting match played by two sides putting forth every effort to win.
In this match even a draw would have been disappointing yet understandable, and compared to that to drop goals and points in the standings feels unfair. It also marks the first loss at Ehime's stadium and the first loss for keeper Harada in his second league start. His first was two years ago against Ehime, in a game won by Mito in similar weather conditions and at a similarly small crowd in Ashikaga. Starting keeper Honma was injured and missing his first match since late 2007, but well enough to be on the bench just in case. Harada showed enough prowess to perhaps be considered the full-time second stringer over Doi, and then Shuto when he heals up at Doi's rental completion.
Mito now lies second from last on the table, only ahead of Sagan Tosu who lost 4-1 against Osaka. Of course, this is the longest season ever and there are 50 more games to help build momentum. The next game is home vs. Tokushima on Saturday.