Sanfrecce Hiroshima went two points clear at the head of the overall MEIJI YASUDA J1 League table following their 2-0 win over Gamba Osaka on Saturday.
Despite Takashi Usami having an early chance to begin the scoring, it was Sanfrecce who enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges, with Masaaki Higashiguchi standing tall against the threat.
But the visitors went ahead against the champions when Douglas curled in a free-kick from the edge of the box in the 55th minute for a foul that Keisuke Iwashita was fortunate to only receive a caution for.
A goal down, Gamba threatened sporadically to get back into the game before Kohei Shimizu eventually ended all resistance when he doubled Sanfrecce’s lead, driving home from inside the box.
Patric then compounded his side’s misery when he received his marching orders in stoppages and will thus miss Gamba’s final game of the season at Montedio Yamagata.
It was a good day for Hajime Moriyasu’s men overall as they put themselves in the driver’s seat to progress straight to the two-legged final of the post-season J.League Championship, while rivals Urawa Reds faltered
The first stage winners could only draw 1-1 at Kawasaki Frontale despite Shinzo Koroki’s wonderfully-chipped opener, with Kentaro Moriya equalising right before the break with a terrific effort from outside the area.
New Yamazaki Nabisco Cup winners Kashima Antlers at least continued putting pressure on Sanfrecce in the second stage standings with a 2-0 win over Yokohama F.Marinos thanks to Caio’s brace - the second goal coming after the striker unleashed a shot after running all the way from the halfway line.
FC Tokyo did their chances of appearing at the Championship no harm when they dispatched Kashiwa Reysol courtesy of captain Masato Morishige’s penalty when Kento Hashimoto was hacked down inside the box.
At the other end of the table, Matsumoto Yamaga suffered relegation at the hands of Vissel Kobe, their 2-1 loss sending the side back down to the second tier after a single season in the top flight.
The news was received well at Vegalta Sendai and Albirex Niigata - teams that likewise had been in a precarious position - despite both suffering concurrent losses to Sagan Tosu and Shonan Bellmare respectively.
Unfortunately for Kazuaki Tasaki, there was nothing left to play for when relegated Shimizu S-Pulse secured their maiden win under his charge with a 2-1 result at Montedio with goals from Takashi Sawada and Chong Te-se.
Looking set to finish in mid-table comfort again are Nagoya Grampus, with outgoing manager Akira Nishino able to bid farewell to Toyota Stadium with a 4-2 win over Ventforet Kofu following Milivoje Novakovic’s brace, although Bare had given the visitors the temporary lead.