FC Tokyo’s Hiroki Kawano condemned Sanfrecce Hiroshima to a 1-0 home defeat by netting the only goal on Saturday as things tighten at the top of the MEIJI YASUDA J1 League.
Hajime Moriyasu’s men failed to bury their chances in an even game and did not heed warning signs from the capital outfit as Kento Hashimoto crashed his header off the post right after half time.
Kawano then put Sanfrecce into the lead with what eventually turned out to be the winner, but Hashimoto had his name written all over the goal after his volleyed attempt took a fierce deflection off his team-mate and past Takuto Hayashi.
Douglas thought he had pulled the hosts level with seven minutes remaining on the clock, but the Brazilian’s goal was disallowed after he was judged to have fouled in the build-up, leaving Sanfrecce to suffer a massive setback from the match.
The 2013 Japanese champions had been looking to defend their three-point lead at the top following Kashima Antlers’ 2-0 win at Vissel Kobe which sent the former level.
The hosts kept possession well but it was Antlers who enjoyed the clear-cut scoring chances in the first half, deservedly going ahead when Shuto Yamamoto nodded in from a corner.
In the first of three encounters to be played over eight days - both teams also face off in the upcoming Yamazaki Nabisco Cup semi-finals - Masatada Ishii’s side continued exerting pressure and earned their second through Caio, placing the momentum for the subsequent fixtures next week firmly in their hands.
The result ensured the rejuvenated Antlers’ bounced back from their 2-1 defeat to Urawa Reds last Saturday, the latter only drawing 1-1 with Sagan Tosu despite Shinzo Koroki repeating his heroics in front of goal.
Kashiwa Reysol now move a single point behind the first stage winners after defeating Nagoya Grampus 3-1 win, a Masato Kudo’s brace in the first half coming either side of Ryunosuke Noda’s equaliser before Hiroto Nakagawa made the result safe in the 89th minutes.
Earlier, Shunsuke Nakamura had displayed his flawless technique once more by scoring his third free-kick this season in Yokohama F.Marinos’ 3-1 win at Vegalta Sendai.
A Yuta Mikado blockbuster from distance got the visitors off on the front foot, before Vegalta’s equaliser came when Hiroaki Okuno dove in to head home Ramon Lopes’ perfect left-wing delivery.
But the hosts’ moment passed and Yuzo Kobayashi reacted fastest to pounce on a rebound and put his team back into the lead, before Nakamura rounded off the victory with another trademark free-kick.
Shimizu S-Pulse’s torrid season continued with another loss, this time at Matsumoto Yamaga, but Montedio Yamagata did move off the bottom of the second stage standings with a 1-0 win at Shonan Bellmare courtesy of a scrappy goal from Diego.
Finally, Ventforet Kofu keet a safe buffer between themselves and the drop zone by holding Albirex Niigata to a 0-0 stalemate at Yamanashi Chuo Bank Stadium.