Zlatan Ljubijankic’s strike for Urawa Reds was enough to defeat Gamba Osaka 1-0 and halt the champions’ six-game winning run in the MEIJI YASUDA J1 League 1st Stage.
The pair have been neck-and-neck at the top of the table this season, and the Reds ensured they extended their initial advantage over their main rivals to four points on Saturday.
Gamba had the better chances early in the clash through Takashi Usami and Patric while Yasuhito Endo hit the bar, but the Reds eventually took control on home soil.
Tomoya Ugajin’s pull-back across the face of goal in the 84th minute found Zlatan arriving to smash home his third league goal of the season, and his most crucial one so far.
Kenta Hasegawa’s side were unable to reply and end the weekend having lost second spot in the table to FC Tokyo, who beat Kawasaki Frontale 2-1.
It was the visitors who took the lead in a balanced tie via hotshot Yoshito Okubo, who nodded in his seventh goal of the season in the 21st minute.
But Tokyo were able to break Frontale’s resistance following Shintaro Kurumaya’s sending-off right after the hour mark, as Kosuko Ota soon rifled in a perfect free-kick to get his team level.
And with only several minutes left on the clock, Yoshinori Muto picked the perfect time to get back into scoring form with a precise headed winner to propel the capital side up in the table.
Sanfrecce Hiroshima likewise capitalised on Gamba Osaka’s slip to pull themselves level on 19 points, a 2-0 win over Vegalta Sendai meaning they consolidated fourth place.
On the other hand, Kashima Antlers find themselves eight points adrift of the final AFC Champions League qualifying spot after a woeful 1-0 home loss to bottom Ventforet Kofu.
Junya Ito struck for the guests right after the restart and Toninho Cerezo’s Antlers were never able to find their way back, leaving them overhauled in the standings by Nagoya Grampus.
Kensuke Nagai had gotten the scoring started as Grampus beat the plummeting Shonan Bellmare 3-0, goals from Kengo Kawamata and Marcus Tulio Tanaka finishing the job.
Sagan Tosu sit level on 14 points after being pegged back by Vissel Kobe for a 1-1 draw; Hitoshi Morishita’s outfit being unable to hold on to their third minute lead as Keijiro Ogawa struck a 77th minute equaliser.
In the relegation scrap, Albirex Niigata bagged what could turn out to be a crucial 2-1 win at Matsumoto Yamaga to prolong their stay outside of the bottom three.
Strikes from Leo Silva and Kosuke Yamamoto either side of Naoki Maeda’s temporary equaliser set the visitors on the road to victory.
Instead, it is Yamaga who are now threatened with being sucked deeper into the dogfight, with Montedio Yamagata rising level on points with them after beating Yokohama F.Marinos 1-0.
Hopes are fading for Shimizu S-Pulse meanwhile, as an attack led by Mitchell Duke and Peter Utaka were unable to find the breakthrough in a 0-0 draw with Kashiwa Reysol.
The stalemate takes S-Pulse’s winless streak in the J.League to eight games now.