The season’s third series of five consecutive matches has now begun. After last week losing to bottom of the table club Thespakusatsu Gunma, Verdy traveled this week to face Renofa Yamaguchi FC.
After a week’s interval following the previous match, changes were made to the squad in preparation for another busy period of games. Naoya Kondo replaced Shohei Takahashi at center back, while Haruya Ide was chosen to partner with Yuhei Sato at the front of central midfield. Lastly, Ryoya Yamashita started at right wide striker and Junki Koike was left as a wild card on the bench.
The first chance of the match would be created by the opposition. In the 7th minute, Gunma broke into Verdy territory on the counter, prompting a fine save from Matheus. Moments later, in the 8th minute, it was Verdy’s turn to create a chance on the short counter. Shion Inoue received the ball on the left side and switched play to the right, where Yamashita dummied as if to play a cross and instead hit a mid-range shot. The effort caught the goalkeeper by surprise and flew past his outstretched hand but ultimately went just wide of the right post. After that, a series of prominent mistakes saw the team lose possession several times high up the pitch and they found themselves unable to produce effective attacks. With the players unable to move the ball in their normal fashion, they would produce a final chance at the end of the first half. In the fifth minute of additional time, Okubo received the ball on the left and used the space created by Inoue to cut across the penalty area and fire a shot on goal, only to see it kept out by an impressive save from the goalkeeper.
As the second half began, Verdy brought on Koike for Ide and moved Yamashita to left wide striker, enabling them to pressure the opposition goal from both wings. In the 55th minute, Masashi Wakasa drew markers away on the right side and Koike ran with the ball at his feet. As Okubo created space with a run into the box, Koike provided a cross for Inoue, who had made the run behind him. Inoue’s first-time shot was blocked by the goalkeeper, but the move signaled that the game was coming to Verdy more naturally than in the first half and they continued to pressure the goal. On this day, however, they were unable to maintain the positive momentum for very long. In the 64th minute, a counterattack proceeded deep into Verdy territory and a cross reached the far post where it was met unmarked to give Gunma the lead. The manager responded to the setback by bringing on Rihito Yamamoto, but Verdy were still unable to shift the momentum. Then, in the 67th minute, the players were caught ball-watching after Gunma elected to play the ball short from a set piece and allowed a sharp early cross to reach the near post. Wakasa extended a foot to block the shot but Matheus had already responded to the direction of the ball and was left wrong-footed when it changed course and traveled into the back of the net.
Verdy were now two goals behind but they refused to hang their heads and continued pushing forward. In the 75th minute, Yamashita played a one-two with Fukumura and the latter’s near-perfect chipped through-pass fell into the space behind the back line as Yamashita made a free run and tried a looping effort that beat the keeper but went wide of the right post. To try for a final push, the manager made further changes in the 78th minute, bringing on Klebinho for Wakasa and Koki Morita for Joel Chima Fujita. With Morita providing a focal point for the passing game, the team began to reconstruct their attack and found success in the 82nd minute. Yamashita responded to a ball played into space on the left side and hit a cross into the box with his first touch. The ball struck a defender and changed course to drift past the goalkeeper, falling loose in front of goal as Koike burst forward to tap it home. Having pulled a goal back, the team upped the intensity of their attack and in the 44th minute of the second half, they would create their greatest chance for an equalizer. Yuan Matsuhashi, who had been brought on in the final minutes, received the ball on the left side and used the space created by Morita to run at goal with the ball at his feet. As he was closed down by the defense, Matsuhashi then played a return pass into space for the bursting Morita. Morita continued his run into the penalty area and played a cross toward the middle that struck the hand of a defender and earned Verdy a late penalty. It was Klebinho who set the ball at the spot. After trying to throw the goalkeeper off with a uniquely timed run, he aimed for the left corner but the keeper remained patient and read the shot, catching the ball and ending the danger. Finally, as the final whistle approached, Shion Inoue was sent off via a second yellow card for arguing with the referee. It was a bitter close to what had already been a difficult result.
This was the second match in a row that Verdy dropped points to a team at the bottom of the table. In each instance, they had chances from the penalty spot, leaving them with no end to their regret. To improve, they must now consider how they will deal with opponents who have researched their style and recall the manager’s emphasis on observing their opponents as they play. By being aware and making clever decisions on the pitch, they can recover their ability to dominate the ball and control the play. Their next chance will come in only three days as they travel to play the final match of the season’s first leg. It’s a must-win if they are to build momentum for the second half of their campaign.
Your thoughts on the match?
We didn’t know whether they would play with a back four or a back five, so we began the match with both plans in mind. It was a back four in the end and I think things went 70& according to plan, but we needed to do a slightly better job of observing our opponents and determining where we could create space or where we should attack. From that perspective, I think we could have done more in the first half and that’s something I regret. Even so, the players did a very good job in the second half and in terms of how much football we could achieve over the full 90 minutes, I think they played well. Our play at the end of attacking moves remains an issue, but in addition to the precision of our final ball, we also need to build solid momentum to take us to that point. There were just some minor gaps that opened up with that regard. We don’t have much time now, but we will do our best to make the necessary adjustments. Even so, the players did an excellent job over the 90 minutes as a whole. My role now is to work hard and improve the quality of our football even more, as well as the length of time that we impose our style on the game.
The opposition defense was persistent about marking Fujita as a way of stifling Verdy’s passing moves. Do you think that was one of the reasons that the team struggled to find their rhythm in the first half?
It was something that we anticipated and we had taken it into account when developing our game plan. I think things could have been smoother once we crossed into their half. But I consider it a bigger problem that we didn’t make good use of the space behind their back line.
Compared to when the team is in its best form, it seemed like you weren’t doing a good enough job of tracking back and playing with intensity in defense.
It wasn’t all bad. There were just some small mistakes in a few areas, such as the timing with which our first defender moved to close them down, the way we cut off their passing lanes or our line control. We will take another look at those things and make adjustments.
You’ve missed chances from the penalty spot two matches in a row. Do you plan to continue letting the players decide who will take the kick?
Yes. In general, I believe that having the courage to take the kick is the most important factor when choosing the kicker. Right now, I have no intention of changing that policy. Was Inoue sent off at the end for arguing for the referee? I haven’t confirmed yet, but I believe that to be the case.
Continuing with discussion of the defense, what do you think about the fact that the team is winning the ball in midfield less?
It’s not only the second line in midfield that needs to improve. We need to make sure the first defender closes down the opposition according to plan. I also think the biggest problem is our defense of their passing lanes. Lastly, I do think we need to improve the awareness of our second and third line of defense or at least bring it back to the level it was at previously.
There also seemed to be many times when they beat the first defender, even when closed down. Do you think that needs improvement?
Of course, it has to get better. However, I don’t think it was a total failure. I think it’s important that we maintain the positive elements and reassess the areas where we weren’t on the same page in terms of timing. Overall, I want us to revisit the areas, timing, and ways that we win the ball.