Sanfrecce Hiroshima laid down another marker by demolishing Vissel Kobe 4-0 on Wednesday to record their fifth MEIJI YASUDA J1 League victory in a row, taking them five points clear at the top of the second stage table.
Another brace by Douglas, flanking a poacher’s finish by Hisato Sato and Gakuto Notsuda’s penalty, were the rewards of another clinical Sanfrecce display in front of goal which Vissel failed to match, despite Jung Woo-young hitting the bar with a piledriver in the first half.
Urawa Reds, on the other hand, appear to have lost the momentum that drove their victorious first stage campaign, after they could only draw 1-1 at home to Ventforet Kofu.
Captain Yuki Abe cooly slotted home from the penalty spot, although the hosts’ failure to break down their plucky opponents meant Ventforet were kept in the tie.
And the latter’s response eventually came through Junya Ito’s fine drive from the edge of the box, leaving Mihailo Petrovic’s men in the rut of having not won in their last four matches.
The story was repeated for Gamba Osaka at Albirex Niigata, the Japanese champions only able to draw 2-2 after going down behind first following Daiki Niwa’s 10th-minute own-goal.
After withstanding an Albirex siege in the first half, Kenta Hasegawa’s side took advantage from a pair of set-pieces, equalising via Koki Yonekura’s header from a corner right after the restart, before Yasuhito Endo stroked home a penalty to give his team the lead.
But the home outfit refused to bow down and pegged their opponents back on the hour mark, with Ryohei Yamazaki combining perfectly with Hiroshi Ibusuki for the latter to peg Gamba back 2-2 and leave them six points off the pace at the top of the table.
Nagoya Grampus took advantage of their pair of rivals’ plights to rise second in the table with a 3-0 romp at Montedio Yamagata, Kengo Kawamata netting between a double from Ryota Isomura.
Kawasaki Frontale are right on their heels following their 3-1 victory at Matsumoto Yamaga, with the visitors roaring into a 3-0 lead by half time; Yoshito Okubo recording the pick of the goals with a right-footed drive just outside the area.
Despite dominating Sagan Tosu, Kashima Antlers’ late show in the final 10 minutes of their match ultimately saw them put three past their hosts for a very comfortable scoreline.
Antlers hero Gaku Shibasaki smashed in the opener from beyond the box in the 87th minute and produced another precise finish in the fifth minute of stoppage time to guarantee consecutive victories under new manager Masatada Ishii now.
Shonan Bellmare recorded an emphatic 3-0 victory over Kashiwa Reysol at BMW Stadium, while Ryoichi Maeda’s double helped FC Tokyo get back to winning ways by defeating bottom-dwellers Vegalta Sendai 3-1.
Shimizu S-Pulse will meanwhile be relieved to have come back to win 2-1 at Yokohama F.Marinos after going seven matches since their last victory, as Genki Omae’s pair of strikes in the second half cancelled out Manabu Saito’s opener from a tight angle.