As Verdy entered into another tight period of three matches with only three days rest in-between, they played two consecutive matches at home. In the previous encounter against Montedio Yamagata, Verdy were unable to convert clear chances on goal and ended with a scoreless draw, making this day’s match against Albirex Niigata a must-win. Despite the strain of playing with only three days’ rest, there were no changes to the squad that took the pitch.
In the early minutes, Verdy struggled to adjust to changes in the opposition’s squad and formation, leading to a series of mistakes that saw them pinned back in their half. As Niigata played with a compact shape and high press, it took the team more than 10 minutes to regain their poise. Gradually, the back line began to evade the press and use the width of the pitch to slowly push into Niigata territory. The first chance of the match came in the 12th minute, when Masashi Wakasa put in an early cross in front of goal. Hanato began to respond, but as he was in an offside position and could not be involved in the play, Shion Inoue made the run behind him and controlled the ball, beating his defender and firing it into the back of the net. However, Hanato was flagged for offside after all and it was ruled no goal. The Verdy front line continued pressing and won the ball again, leading to a decisive moment in the 16th minute. Kanya Fujimoto received the ball in a wide position on the right side and played it into space behind the defense, where Hanato made a run unmarked. Hanato slowed the play and looked up, choosing his spot to play a cross as Wakasa burst into the box unmarked to meet the ball, only to see his shot go wide of the left post. Finally, at the close of the first half, Haruya Ide pulled away a marker and played a lateral pass for Hanato, who shot with his right foot. However, the ball flew straight into the arms of the goalkeeper.
As the second half began, it was Verdy who took control of the play. After trying to move the ball with quick touches in the first half and enduring prominent counter attacks following their mistakes, the players now took their time and focused on maintaining possession, while still finding opportunities to speed up their moves when the ball reached the final third. Judging that the team was lacking in terms of breaking down the defense, the manager brought on the speedy Koike and Yamashita early in the second half. Now utilizing their wide strikers on both sides of the pitch, Verdy pinned Niigata in their own area. In the 63rd minute, Verdy lost the ball and suffered a dangerous moment in front of goal on the counter-attack. Matheus left his line to pressure the ball holder and threw his body onto the powerful shot, then further followed up with a sharp reaction to beat away another shot off the rebound. In the 78th minute, substitute Takayuki Fukumura split the defensive line with a through pass and Yamashita timed his run perfectly to latch onto the ball and play a cross into the box. Although his teammates just missed getting onto the end of the pass, the move did earn Verdy a corner kick. Yuhei Sato stepped up to take the corner on the right side and his sharply dipping cross was met at the near post by the charging Shohei Takahashi. With the slightest of touches with his head, Takahashi managed to change the flight of the ball and send it into the back of the net on the far side, giving Verdy there first goal from a corner kick this season.
Having scored a late winner, the question now turned to how they would close out the remainder of the match. The answer was provided in the form of play from Koki Morita and Rihito Yamamoto, both of whom had just entered the pitch, along with Sato. As Niigata poured forward to chase the equalizer, Verdy looked to exploit them by evading their pressure and carrying the ball into high positions. From there, they took advantage of the gaps opening up between the lines and slowly moved the ball to eat up time. When a chance did present itself, the team would increase the speed of their passing and play the ball into space, building up momentum for a second goal. The match proceeded into additional time with Verdy maintaining their lead until the 93rd minute, when the opposition elected to try a long throw into the box. Matheus left his line but was unable to reach the ball and it dropped into the penalty area, where Watanabe reacted and scored a dramatic equalizer, only seconds before the final whistle.
This was a match in which Verdy would have liked to make Shohei Takahashi the hero, as it was his first goal since returning to the club, but in the final gasp, a hole opened in their defense. Given that their approach to closing the match had not been mistaken, it was important to avoid giving the opposition opportunities from set pieces、even a long throw. In the final result, Verdy were unable to extend their winning streak, despite playing consecutive matches at home, and with two draws, it feels like they let four points slip away. There is no time for the players to put their heads down, however, and they must next use their frustration as motivation to take on undefeated V Varen Nagasaki.
Your thoughts on the match?
Honestly, it was a very frustrating match. The game developed exactly as I anticipated. Both teams play with a style where they like to have the ball and attack, so I was excited to see us go end to end and that’s what happened. We attacked very well and they did too. That’s exactly why it’s essential, when you play this kind of football, to improve the precision with which you carry out and finish moves. Shohei (Takahashi) scored for us from a set piece and we were extremely close to winning, but we have to learn how to manage the time that remains in those situations. Especially for the younger players, this was a match that showed them the importance of finishing off games. Still over the course of the 90 minutes, I think the players did a truly excellent job and the encouragement we received from our home supporters was a big boost. In the end, it was an extremely frustrating result that saw us one step away from our objective, but I believe it will also enable us to take the next step. We don’t have much time, but we will now begin preparations to shift mentally for the next match.
You mentioned the way the team plays after taking the lead as an issue. What do you think would be ideal?
It starts with us maintaining possession of the ball and naturally, going for a second goal is the best form of defense, but we’ve worked since the beginning of the season on game design, from how we begin matches to how we end them and I believe we need to work on different scenarios for the whole 90 minutes, whether that means having a one-goal lead, being tied 0-0. or being down 0-1. Today, we had a one-goal lead, so I think it was extremely important that we keep the ball and play in the opposition half.
This was the third time this year that you’ve taken the lead, only to have the other team equalize. What do you think needs to be improved?
Of course, I think physical exhaustion is an issue, but I think the most important thing is taking up positions and providing the support to your teammates that will enable us to keep hold of possession. One or two steps, or one or two meters for each person can make the difference, but we have been too lax in that element. As a result, the areas where the other teams are winning the ball or playing the ball make it difficult for us to be in the right positions to provide the basic things we work on, like urgent support. I fully understand that the players are tired at the end of matches, but that applies to the opposition as well. Once we had the lead at that period of the match, keeping possession of the ball and making our opponents run was vital for the way we want to play. That we didn’t do that today is what cost us.
How do you feel about going four matches without a loss?
I think the players are performing very well. We’ve had a lot of difficult matches, but if we look at the positives, I think the fact that we haven’t been defeated is a sign of growth for the players and the team.
You seemed to issue a lot of instructions for how to defend the final set piece.
I told them to not to let their concentration slip and that includes winning the second ball. I told them to anticipate the second ball and to keep taking steps, so that their brains would not switch off.
What improvements do you think the team can make during matches like this where they share possession? In addition, what were your impressions of Niigata?
I didn’t have much of a chance to speak with the Niigata manager, but when I did, he told me that this was an ideal game of football. It’s good to have teams that play with different styles, but for us, keeping the ball and attacking is an important element, so I was sincerely happy to hear him say that it was a good match. In terms of our game plan, it was difficult to predict how they would line up, be it five at the back, four at the back, or a rotation system. Since they played with four at the back today, I think the players should have tried more, in the first half, to pull them to one end of the pitch and then attack the space on the opposite lane. Everyone focuses on how we play in the square zone or how we break down defenses while keeping possession, but in the first half, there was space behind their back line that we should have exploited. Not doing so is something that we have to regret. If we had been more aware of how the opposition were making their approach, I think we could have done a little better. Even so, I think the players did a great job.