25 June 2009

Mito 1 - 0 Okayama

Although weaker teams on the table and accomplished narrowly, Mito has a winning streak again for the first time in months. Mito is now edged out as 5th and leader of the group of chasers, still 4 full wins and immense numbers of goals behind the top four teams which are also neck and neck in the promotion race.

Okayama, like in the first meeting of the year, played very strongly and the match was close to the very end. They were forced to play with 10 on the field after a second yellow card in the second half, and their sole forward Nishino (who played with Mito for three years through 2008) was slightly injured in the face in a fall which seemed to nag at him for the rest of the game. Despite this, if Mito's keeper Honma hadn't been on the ball in the final minutes, it would have ended up a draw.

Mito's goal was early on from Kota Yoshihara, his fourth of the year, who now has a two-game scoring streak. Takasaki fired a shot that should have gone in but Okayama's keeper defended well... right into a Mito cross toward Yoshihara. It was a blazing fast sequence and he instinctually swung his weak foot to toe-kick the ball through a line of defenders and into the center of the net. It's the kind of shot that most players tend to overthink and send wide or high, but whether experience came in or he was just lucky, it was perfectly played and won the game.

Despite the loss of Arata and several other players for so long now Mito is still in the upper range of teams. With almost half the season over it's hard to think of anyone making the top three outside of Shonan, Osaka, Sendai, or Kofu. But if at least two of those teams slip up, Mito is just as likely as any other candidate to take that third spot, especially if Arata heals up and plays like the beginning of the season. That's how it happened in Kofu in 2005, Kobe in 2006, Tokyo in 2007, and Yamagata in 2008. A sudden charge from September could be Mito's ticket to being the weakest, poorest, and most devastated team in J1 history this time next year.

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