Takashi Usami returned to his inspirational best at a crucial time for Gamba Osaka, lifting his team to a 2-1 victory at Kashima Antlers with a brace in their encounter on Saturday.
The MEIJI YASUDA J1 League top scorer had gone on a dry spell, failing to find the back of the net since July, but became instrumental once again against former second stage leaders Antlers, who saw their six-game winning run under Masatada Ishii come to an end.
The hosts put Gamba under early pressure and it was Usami who helped alleviate some of that when he scored the opener with a precise low drive into the corner of Hitoshi Sogahata’s net following a brilliant run from midfield.
Antlers were rocked by Usami’s second of the evening 10 minutes later, as he combined with Patric to burst into the box and net from an acute angle.
Yuma Suzuki’s 90th minute consolation goal was of no consequence and causes the rejuvenated Japanese giants to fall two points off the pace at the summit given Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s 3-1 win at Montedio Yamagata.
Aside from going down first, Sanfrecce never looked in undue difficulty and pegged the ND Soft Stadium outfit back immediately through Mikic before Douglas put them into the lead at the hour mark.
A barnstorming run from Takuma Asano from inside his own half led to the starlet charging down on goal and eventually slotting past Norihiro Yamagishi for a comfortable looking scoreline on the evening.
Moving fourth now are FC Tokyo, helped there by a hat-trick from veteran striker Ryoichi Maeda against Yamazaki Nabisco Cup semi-finalists Vissel Kobe who will feel the scoreline was harsh given their hatful of chances in front of goal.
Elsewhere, Vegalta Sendai heaped more misery on Naoya Grampus - without a win in their last five fixtures in all competitions now, and eliminated in the second round of the Emperor’s Cup - with a 1-0 victory away thanks to Hiroaki Okuno’s 79th minute winner.
Matsumoto Yamaga were on course to nab their first league win since July, going in front at Shonan Bellmare via Jun Ando, but were ultimately forced to settle for a 1-1 draw after being unable to hold on to their lead and conceded at the death to Wataru Endo.
It took a long-range stunner from Ademilson to bring Yokohama F.Marinos back into the fight at Albirex Niigata, meanwhile.
The hosts had gone into the lead through Kentaro Oi but could perhaps consider themselves lucky to scrape a 1-1 draw after being reduced to nine men when Masaru Kato and Leo Silva received their marching orders.
Kawasaki Frontale celebrated an end to their losing streak of three games by winning 3-1 at Ventforet Kofu with Yoshito Okubo vital for getting them off on the front foot.
At Best Amenity Stadium, Shimizu S-Pulse put in a performance only lacking a goal, drawing 0-0 with hosts Sagan Tosu.