Kashima Antlers continue to struggle in the MEIJI YASUDA J1 League Second Stage as they lost 2-0 at Kashiwa Reysol on Saturday.
Despite chances falling to both teams, it was the hosts who broke the deadlock through Diego Oliveira right before the hour mark.
Masatada Ishii’s First Stage winners responded by throwing more bodies forward and they were hit by a second Reysol goal as a result, Cristiano striking with nine minutes left on the clock.
Their latest setback leaves them trailing Second Stage leaders Kawasaki Frontale, who continued their relentless march at the top with a 3-1 win over Avispa Fukuoka.
Frontale’s quality proved too much for the strugglers, who had no answer to goals from Shogo Taniguchi, Kengo Nakamura and Yoshito Okubo before the hour was up.
Yahiro Kazama’s title contenders had to win given Urawa Reds are right on their tail following a routine 2-0 result over Sagan Tosu.
Sanfrecce Hiroshima were stunned, however, when they collapsed 1-0 to Omiya Ardija in all too familiar fashion of late, Ataru Esaka striking the killing blow in the 69th minute.
Gamba Osaka sit two points behind the Reds after their 2-1 win against Ventforet Kofu, though they were pushed closer than they would have liked at home.
It was the visitors who took the lead in the fifth minute through Yusuke Tanaka, and though Shun Nagasawa equalised just three minutes later, Gamba were made to wait till the 80th minute before Shu Kurata got the winner.
There was a nail-biting encounter played out at Yamaha Stadium as Vissel Kobe eventually triumphed 4-3 over Jubilo Iwata in a match that featured braces for Jay Bothroyd, Pedro Junior and Leandro.
FC Tokyo’s 3-0 win over Shonan Bellmare proved far more straightforward, while Yokohama F.Marinos and Nagoya Grampus sealed 1-0 results on the road to Vegalta Sendai and Albirex Niigata respectively.