Verdy have now arrived at the final game of their autumn streak of five consecutive matches. Having so far compiled a record of 2 wins, 1 loss, and 1 draw, the match was played at home against Thespakusatsu Gunma.
There were three changes to the squad that last week defeated Fagiano Okayama. Joel Chima Fujita returned to the libero position and Rihito Yamamoto began the match on the bench. Meanwhile, Junki Koike started at wide right striker in place of the previous game’s goal-scorer, Ryoya Yamashita, and Haruya Ide was left out of the squad, replaced in midfield by Koki Morita.
The match would have its first talking point in the early minutes, before either team had a chance to grasp control of the play. It was the 5th minute and the team built on Koki Morita’s switch of the play from a wide position to penetrate deep into the opposition’s right side. The ball was worked back across the shallow face of goal, moving through Koike, Yuhei Sato, and Koike again before finally reaching Fujita. Fujita then played an early cross that was met by Okubo with a header at the far post. Traveling on target, the shot was initially kept out by the goalkeeper, but the loose ball fell to the feet of Wakasa, who tapped home to give Verdy the early lead. With a goal in hand, Verdy would continue to take the initiative, but a lapse in concentration would hurt them in the 17th minute. The opposition broke deep down the Verdy right side on the counter and when the final cross was blocked by the shoulder of Fujita, the latter was judged to have committed a hand ball and Gunma were given a free kick. The place kick was taken by Omae, whose looping effort dropped into the box and was met point-blank by the head of Tanaka to bring the teams level. Afterward, the Verdy players would try to reclaim the momentum by moving the ball and pinning their opponents in their own half, but they were unable to create opportunities to finish. In the 33rd minute, Verdy reached the final third after a series of short passes, setting up a powerful right-footed shot by Fujita. The ball changed course after striking a defender and looked on target to reach the left corner, only to be kept out by the hand of the goalkeeper. On the other end, Verdy seemed to be managing the risks of counter attacks without concern, but another lapse would occur in the 42nd minute. Omae breached the Verdy line with a run and though the defense closed him down as he controlled the pass, they were unable to track the overlapping run of Tanaka and the latter met a floated pass first-time, placing the ball in the right corner of the net.
After finishing the half by conceding a disheartening goal, Verdy would quickly change personnel as they attempted to secure the majority of possession first after the break. Koike was brought off for Yamashita and Morita was replaced by Yamamoto.
Verdy began the second half with their attack in a higher gear. In the 53rd minute, they broke down the center of the defense and Okubo was in on goal after a lateral pass from Inoue, but his shot was deflected by a defender and veered wide of the left post. Three minutes later, a series of one-touch passes led the team through a tight space in the middle and Yamamoto was brought down in the penalty area as he looked to receive the ball, giving Verdy a penalty and a golden opportunity to equalize. The kicker was Okubo and as silence filled the stadium, he aimed down the middle, looking to send the ball into the roof of the net. However, the goalkeeper remained patient and didn’t move, thus allowing himself to get a hand on the ball and send it cannoning off the crossbar with a dry thud. The second ball fell straight to Inoue and he reacted with a header but was unable to keep it down and the shot sailed over the bar. Having blown their big chance, Verdy now had to face an increasingly conservative opposition who left numbers at the back. The minutes ticked away as the team kept possession, moved the ball in the final third, and searched for avenues to finish. In the 73rd minute, a counterattack brought the opposition deep into Verdy territory and the ball was met as it was played across the face of goal. However, Matheus was on hand to make a fine save and avert the danger. Verdy now began to avoid the tight spaces in the center of the pitch and build by working the ball out wide, while Gunma packed numbers in front of goal, preventing the attack from finding angles to shoot, even after moving the ball with first-time passes. Then, in the 82nd minute, Verdy were once again hit on the counter and faced a numerical disadvantage. The opposition stretched the defense out wide and created space for an unmarked shot that found the net and put the match out of reach.
In the final minutes, Verdy tried their best to change the circumstances by bringing on Hiroki Kawano for his first appearance since returning from injury, but they were unable to draw out the defense and the match came to an end. The team had begun play hoping to decorate the last of their consecutive matches with a win, but after spending several matches managing to survive and defend against dangerous counterattacks, they were ultimately undone by those same counterattacks today. In attack, meanwhile, the pattern was similar to several other games this season when the players were unable to break down an opponent who parked the bus in front of goal. As the team will now have a one-week interval before their next match, it will be a welcome opportunity to look over their recent play and make corrections before their final match of the season’s first half against Renofa Yamaguchi FC.
Your thoughts on the match?
As the final match of our streak of five consecutive matches, I demanded both good play and a result from the players and to be honest, I am very frustrated. I think the biggest regret I have is that we didn’t play according our plan in the first half. In the second half, we pushed our opponents back for long periods and half-succeeded, as I often say, but what we do from there has been a recurring issue for us this season. It’s a matter of breaking them down, setting up the finish, and scoring goals, so I will look on this as an opportunity to make improvements before next time. Overall, I think the players performed very well over the streak of five matches and with regard to today, as well, all the players worked wonderfully hard until the end, including the substitutes, and I am grateful to them for their preparation levels. Now we just have to shift our mindset to the next match and prepare well for what I consider the fifth stage of the season. I feel regret toward the fans and supporters who came out to the game today believing that we would play Verdy football and deliver a win. They gave us power until the very end and we will work hard to bring them the thrill of victory next time.
Can you give us more detail on why you think things didn’t go according to plan in the first half?
When we crossed the halfway line during our buildup, we had a few too many players at the back. That’s something we need to review.
The second goal you conceded seemed to be a pretty basic one. What was your outlook as the manager?
We didn’t put pressure on the ball holder. On top of that, the players at the back were slow to react and no one tried to win the second ball. There are a lot of things for us to look at as a team, as far as that goal is concerned.
What do you think about the fact that you lost to the team at the bottom of the table and have now had consecutive losses at home?
That’s exactly what we talked about in the pre-match meeting. I told the players that rather than achieving our game plan, our biggest hurdle today would be complacency. I do think the players began the match without being complacent and it’s not that I think they let up at some point during the 90 minutes, but we do have to reflect on what happened and determine what happened. We will reorganize as a team and if there was a problem, we will address it on a fundamental level.
You made two changes at half time, bringing on Yamashita and Yamamoto. Was that to done as part of your adjustments from the first half?
Yes. We made changes in personnel but we also made changes to the way we lined up in midfield, so that we could move the ball with greater efficiency, and I think things did improve in the second half. However, the end of moves is the most important point and that’s an area where I feel we still need to elevate our quality.
In the first half, Morita seemed to line up next to Fujita at the libero position, rather than in front of him at central midfield. Was that part of the team’s strategy?
We began with that shape, but in terms of observing our opponents, I feel like we should have had Koki (Morita)’occupy the space in front of him a bit more. He did as he was instructed to do by the bench and worked hard at it, but it didn’t go that well.
The front line was fairly fluid in their positioning in the second half. Did you ask them to keep moving, rather than give them specific positions to take?
Sometimes those changes occur from my instructions, but for the most part, it’s the players on the pitch who decide. Naturally, if we’re not fluid in our positioning at the end of moves, we won’t score, so I’m fine with the players making their own decisions and I hope they do that more in the future.