Don’t look back in anger…

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…at least not today. So goes the Oasis classic – in my opinion the absolute peak of the mid-nineties cultural revolution in the UK. But, we are not here to talk about that, we are here to talk about FC Gifu’s decision to dispense with the services of manager Ruy Ramos.

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How did we get here?

In most normal circumstances, this decision would not have raised any eyebrows. It has been a theme of mine over the past couple of weeks to point out the facts surrounding FC Gifu’s current run of form. They don’t make for pleasant reading:

  • Five consecutive defeats
  • Six consecutive home defeats
  • Nine defeats in the last eleven games
  • No home win win since March 26th

Those stats are more than enough in this day and age to warrant a manager change. It wasn’t only the results though, the performances weren’t coming close to being good enough, even in Gifu’s last win (the 2-1 win at Mitsuzawa against Yokohama FC), the first half was probably one of the worst halves of football I have ever seen.

Defensive problems have been a hallmark of the Ramos era, and that never changed despite the myriad of defensive combinations that were tried. It became clear that his message either wasn’t getting through to the players, or possibly the players weren’t capable of following the instructions given. Or, the instructions given weren’t good enough to even be actionable. Whatever the reasons, it was very clear that there was a disparity in what Ramos thought the players could do, and what they actually did. All in all, his departure shouldn’t have been a surprise.

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Ramos consoles William Popp after a home defeat

So, why was it a surprise?

Throughout his reign in Gifu, it has been known that he brings in the money. Money that, by no stretch of the imagination, saved the club from going out of business. Just by being at the club, he guaranteed money, income streams & sponsorships. That was what Ramos brought to the table. His profile, his retained A-list status in Japan which sees him appear on massively popular (not with me, I hasten to add) variety shows on primetime TV, was gold for Gifu.

His introductory press conference was live on TV (eclipsing the Nagoya Grampus presser, which was at the same time). He brought in Alex Santos & Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, two legends of modern Japanese football which helped put bums on seats. The increased media interest in Gifu started a snowball effect which resulted in increased exposure, increased crowds and increased interest in a team which up until that point had been ignored by a large percentage of the local population.

That “magic” effect started to wear off through last season when Gifu were embroiled in an all out relegation battle. The casual supporters that were attracted to Ramos when he was new had come to the realization that the standard of football wasn’t up to much, and the “core supporters”, those that turn up rain or shine every game, believed that the team was only going in one direction.

But, most people – myself included – believed that the decision would be taken by Ramos himself, such was the influence he held at the club. But in the press release announcing the decision it was stated that it was a mutual decision, meaning that the current management structure, headed by recently appointed new chairman Mr. Miyata, were actively involved in it. It is possible that Ramos had had enough, and the reaction by the supporters after the defeat against Zweigen Kanazawa was strong enough that a lot of managers wouldn’t want to have that coming at them. But also the chairman and board had to look at the predicament that the club were in, and given the tightness of the division there is no real “safe zone” this year. This means that Gifu’s downward trajectory could have (could still) seen them bottom within weeks, and relegation to J3 would spell all sorts of problems for the financial side of the club, not to mention the loss of status that comes with being a J2 club. It was a mutual decision, but it had to be instigated by someone.

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As someone who was brought in to raise the profile of the club, he was highly successful. A smash hit, in fact. But his footballing credentials didn’t live up to the scrutiny that a managerial position brings. Lots of times in post-game press conferences, I heard him say “I’m not sure why they didn’t follow my instructions” or “they are professionals making very basic errors. I don’t understand it” or “We couldn’t play our football”. They began to sound hollow last year, and when they were repeated this year as well, it didn’t fill anyone with confidence.

As I said, he made FC Gifu relevant again for local people, and maybe for the first time in the Japanese consciousness. He was always patient with supporters, genial even. After defeats he would still stop and pose for photos and sign autographs. PR like that is brilliant for a small club like Gifu. But, ultimately, results need to be there as well – and in general, they weren’t.

To that end, the stats back it up. FC Gifu lost 56 of 108 games under Ramos (51.8%), conceding 170 goals in those games (1.57 goals per game). Had these kinds of stats continued for another half season, there’s a good chance that Gifu would finish bottom. The board had to act – it is that simple.

Thank you for your hard work Mr.Ramos, but now we have to look to our new manager.

Who is Megumu Yoshida?

Yoshida was Gifu’s top team coach before he accepted the call to take the helm. Prior to Gifu, Yoshida was at Kyushu based club Sagan Tosu, acting as their caretaker manager when Yoon Jung-Hwan was fired when they were at the top of J1. Now he comes into a very different situation, this time taking on a team that is fighting for survival.

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(photo from fc-gifu.com)

His first order of business was to terminate the contract of Wellington Rocha, the injured defender, and there are rumours today that Yoshida will return to Tosu to sign Korean midfielder Choi Sung Keun. Next up is tonight’s daunting looking trip to Hokkaido to face J2 league toppers Consadole Sapporo. Sapporo, who stuck four past Gifu earlier on this season, are in great condition and will likely field a front two of Ken Tokura – the best striker in the division – and Yoshihiro Uchimura – a player who ALWAYS scores against us. Not an easy task first up.

Still here’s hoping a fresh face can invigorate Gifu. Goodness knows they need something to happen for them, and soon. Supporters want to see a winning, coherent team. That’s all. For all the off field stuff, what is really important for the health of a football club is what happens after the white line. Yoshida needs to get it together and start to produce results, otherwise it is going to be a very, very long autumn in Gifu. But have faith! As supporters, we now need to get behind the team as much as possible.

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Season review so far……

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Given that the second half of the season has just begun, it think it might be a good time to go back and look at what lessons can be learned from the first half, and what we might expect in the second half of J2.

  • Leo Mineiro shines bright

Gifu’s vibrant Brazilian forward is the heart and soul of this side. Without him, I shudder to think what might happen to this team. His workrate is outstanding, and when he is given service he can really make teams pay. He has five goals so far, which really could be double that considering the chances he’s had, and how many times he’s hit the frame of the goal. Gifu are a poorer side without him, and must hope that he stays injury free.

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  • Masaya Tashiro – best newcomer?

After a slow start, the youngster has moved himself into the position of first choice centre-half. Excellent in the air and deceptively strong for someone with a relatively slight frame, he has had to take on a leadership role in defence. I’d like to see become even more of a leader, organizing not just those beside him, but those in front of him. Lots of Gifu’s defensive problems stem from the fact that the defence don’t get enough protection in front of them. Given that he is the first choice centre-back (in my view) I think he has to demand that those in front do their defensive duty.

 

  • Where is Bruno?

Back in the early stages of the season, Bruno Suzuki looked like he was the kind of sharp striker Gifu had been craving. He is quick, has good movement & puts in a lot of effort. Goals in Shikoku against Kamatamare Sanuki and Tokushima Vortis in April seemed to hint at Suzuki being a feature of Ramos’ team this term. However, since coming off at half time in the game against JEF United in the middle of May, Suzuki hasn’t seen the pitch since. Why? He hasn’t had a major injury, he’s been involved in training. Maybe Ramos prefers Ryo Takiya? Maybe he thinks Bruno is too similar to Leo Mineiro. I’m not sure of the exact reason, but I find it a bit puzzling that Suzuki hasn’t been involved – even as a substitute. If he’s got some kind of undisclosed injury then I can understand, but I’d like to see him back in the squad at some point.

 

  • Defend the flanks

Part of the reason that Gifu have the joint worst defence in the league (a recurring theme over the last four or five years) is partly down to the fact that opposition teams, if they set themselves up right, can exploit Gifu’s sides. Why? Well, the fact that the full backs don’t get a lot of protection in front of them (there’s that idea of “protection in front” again) is one of the main reasons. Leo Mineiro on the left, and Koya Kazama on the right (when he plays) aren’t in any way defensive minded. They are forward thinking players, which is good if you’re constantly on the front foot. But if you lose possession, then it becomes a problem. I’ve seen sides over the last couple of years in particular make the pitch very wide against Gifu. As a result, it makes a switch of play very quick & effective and more often than not it results in a 2 v 1 for the attacking sides against Gifu’s full backs, as the aforementioned attacking players struggle to get back, and even when they do, they don’t have the defensive awareness to sense danger.

The full back play from the full-backs themselves has been inconsistent. Jun Suzuki, Go Iwase, Shun Nogaito, and Yuki Fuji have shown bits if good form, but none of them has done so on a consistent basis. Ramos and his coaching staff have to address this area, otherwise teams will continue to find joy down the sides, and that puts even more on he plate of the goalkeeper and centre backs.

 

  • Crucial games coming up

From a position of strength early on in the campaign, Gifu are now in the position of looking nervously over their shoulder – a pose that has become second nature to the team. The current run of form doesn’t inspire confidence given that Gifu have lost seven of their last nine games but they simply have to turn it around, starting next Saturday against Mito Hollyhock and then the following Wednesday against Zweigen Kanazawa.

Mito are perennial associates of Gifu towards the bottom of J2, and a defeat for Gifu at the K’s Denki Stadium will set off panic sirens in Ramos’ squad. Should Gifu continue their horrific home form with a defeat against current bottom side Kanazawa it won’t look good – especially given the prospect of an away trip to the Sapporo dome as their next game.

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  • Don’t lose faith

I know a lot of supporters are reaching the end of their tether with Ramos’ FC Gifu side. The constant reinvention of ways to lose home games, while interesting for the neutrals, is not something to placate supporters who part with hard earned money & time to watch the team. It isn’t about the players not caring, they do. I’ve seen it. After games, I’ve seen the experienced players lead group talks about what went wrong. No-one, I repeat no-one, wants to have to go up to the supporters and apologize for a defeat. The core group of supporters want nothing more than the team to be competitive and to learn from their mistakes. One of the most frustrating things is that, at times, Gifu don’t seem to make the necessary adjustments after things go wrong.  So many times in the last two or three seasons we’ve seen opponents score right after we do. Is it so difficult to go defensive for five minutes after we score? My gut says it isn’t, but it looks like the players find it difficult. Of course we want to win, but we must also learn to settle for what we have when it is necessary.

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But that isn’t to say there won’t be good times ahead. As much as it is difficult to keep spirits up at home in the midst of such a wretched run, when the victories come, they will taste sweet. Gifu are in danger of being dragged into a relegation battle again, and if that does happen, we don’t need there to be discord between players & supporters – they need each other.

 

Anyway, that’s my rallying call! Here’s to an enjoyable second half of J2.

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What’s happened lately?

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So, it has been a busy time for me personally, that’s why I haven’t had a chance to update the blog for a while. Hopefully in the next couple of days I can put a few thoughts down. In this post, I’m going to recap the last few games.

June 19th – Yokohama FC 1-2 FC Gifu

Gifu went behind in this one when Kazuyoshi Miura, yes the 49 year old “King” Kazuyoshi Miura, found space in the area to head past Yoshinari Takagi and become the oldest professional goalscorer (in Japan definitely, possibly in the world).

The first half was one of the worst Gifu performances I’ve seen. It was bad. No cohesion, no plan and no substance. Koya Kazama came off the bench at half time and changed the game. His presence instilled confidence in the system – ostensibly a 4-2-3-1 – and he added quality to Gifu’s go forward. Leo Mineiro was the matchwinner with two second half goals, but it was the decision to bring on Kazama that swung the game Gifu’s way.

 

June 26th – FC Gifu 2-3 Roasso Kumamoto

An epic, topsy turvy game. Kumamoto went ahead just before half time, but Gifu once again fought back & played better in the second half. Gifu equalized when Masaya Tashiro somehow squeezed in a volley from a tight angle to register his first professional goal, but looked deflated when Kumamoto scored what appeared to be the winner in the 88th minute. Drama was to follow (understatement alert) when Ryo Takiya smashed in an equalizer in the 93rd minute, only for Kim Tae Yeon to score a sensational last kick winner.

It was unbelievable, but as was put to me after the game not something that we haven’t seen before – especially at home. There just seems to be something about playing at home which makes Gifu susceptible to these kinds of collapses. Mental? Technical? Emotional? Probably a mix of all of these reasons, but as gut wrenching as it was, it was something that all Gifu supporters should have been ready for.

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Gifu players down as the referee blows the final whistle

July 3rd – FC Gifu 0-1 Kyoto Sanga

Promotion chasing Kyoto Sanga secured a vital win for them, and condemned Gifu to an eighth home defeat of 2016 when the sides met on a monsoony style day. A couple of hours prior to kick off, Gifu was hit by a biblical rainstorm which flooded the pitch in a matter of minutes, and which affected the game throughout. A fairly even first half, one in which Leo Mineiro hit the post and nearly set up a tap in for Ryo Takiya, seemed to augur well for Gifu who have a habit of playing their best stuff in the second half. But Kyoto brought on Daniel Lovinho to liven their play up, and he scored the winning goalin the 54th minute when he slotted past Takagi after being put clean through.

Gifu didn’t really look like getting back into it, and had to face up to the fact that, with this defeat, they had lost their last five home games.

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July 10th – V-Varen Nagasaki 2-1 FC Gifu

Back at the beginning of June, Ryo Nagai scored a first half hat-trick to propel Nagasaki to a 4-2 win the Nagaragawa Memorial Centre, and he was back in familiar goalscoring territory in this game.

Gifu actually took the lead when Tatsuya Tanaka picked the ball up on the half way line and used his blazing speed to burn past Nagasaki defenders and put the ball past the keeper and into the net. It was the popular Tanaka’s first goal for the club, but unfortunately it didn’t spur much positive reaction. Ryo Nagai leveled things in the 33rd minute, before delivering his hammer blow in the 52nd minute. Nagai has scored 10 goals this year, exactly half of them have come against Gifu.

One day last Spring….

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It was ten minutes away from being one of the most impressive victories in Gifu’s recent history, but instead it has gone down in folklore – but for very different reasons. Here, I look back on the hazy, crazy game between Tokyo Verdy and FC Gifu last season.

 

The fact that a mere 3,178 people turned up to the cavernous Ajinomoto Stadium to watch this spectacle unfold doesn’t really reflect the scale of events that unfolded during this game. Gifu were in the midst of a pretty horrid run having lost the last four games, and that run included the 2-6 humiliation at Oita Trinita (a game in which Gifu were 0-5 down at half time).

The one thing Gifu had going for them was the form of forward Hiroaki Namba. The then 31 year old was enjoying something of a renaissance at Gifu, and had scored three in his previous five games coming into the Verdy game. Concerns abounded at the state of Gifu’s defence, rightfully so as up until that point the team had conceded 14 goals in the six games they had played. The supposed veteran effect that the likes of Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi and Kazumichi Takagi had been brought in to bring to the side had hitherto yet to materialize.

Still, the previous year, Gifu had gone to Tokyo Verdy and won 1-0 in what turned out to be Verdy’s final game (and one of the many “final” events) at the Kokuritsu National Stadium. Soon after that game, the stadium was knocked down to be replaced by a brand new one that owuld be ready in time for the 2020 Olympics – but I think we all know how that particular plan is turning out. Anyway, back to 2014 and Gifu had won 1-0 with a solitary goal from the aforementioned Namba, so Gifu didn’t really have any grounds to be scared of Verdy – even though Verdy had only lost one of their opening six matches.

The first half went as well as a first half could possibly go for FC Gifu. We took the lead in the 14th minute when Namba scored from the spot after Brazilian forward Rodrigo pushed pushed in the area by Verdy full-back Kazuki Anzai. Looking back at the incident, it looks like that could have, possibly should have, been a red card because it is difficult to think of a more clear cut goalscoring opportunity being denied than being pushed over in front of an open goal. The red card never materialized, but that didn’t affect Namba who confidently stepped up and sent Verdy ‘keeper Sato the wrong way.

Gifu were playing really well, and doubled their advantage ten minutes later. Tsukasa Masuyama, playing in a more advanced role, stole the ball in midfield, played Namba through and he did the rest, coolly slotting the ball home to make it 2-0 to Gifu. Things got better for Gifu as the timeless Keiji Takachi stole in down the left hand side, and his low cross was bundled in at the near post by Namba to complete his hat-trick. Game over. Not literally of course, we had barely played 30 minutes but Gifu were cruising – playing with a confidence yet to be seen so far that season.

In the second half, of course Verdy came out to try and take the game back. They made most of the running but didn’t really make too many clear cut chances. Gifu were more than content to sit back and try and soak up the pressure, they were sitting on a three goal lead after all. Keiji Takachi came off in the 65th minute after putting in a great hour of football, and Hiroaki Namba – assuming his work was done for the day – was taken off just before the 70 minute mark.

And then it started.

In the 82nd minute, Verdy pulled a goal back. It was a rather fortunate strike, Verdy forward Hiramoto following up a shot that came off the post. It rarely happens like that, the ball cannons off the post RIGHT to the feet of the on-rushing forward, it often goes just to the side to make the finish a bit more difficult but this one fell perfectly for the Verdy striker.

Verdy players ran to get the ball from the net in order to get the game restarted quickly, but Gifu weren’t duly concerned at that time, but that was about to change. The home side were awarded a free-kick 25 yards out, just to the left of centre. Masaaki Chugo stepped to arc in the most beautiful of free-kicks that left Kawaguchi with no chance at all. It really was a dream of a free-kick, delivered at the perfect time. To be fair to Kawaguchi, the wall was set in the right place, and even a world class goalkeeper wouldn’t have got near it.

Looking back at the game, this was the moment that Verdy really turned the screw. Gifu had had a lucky goal scored against them, and a goal that wouldn’t look out of place in the Champions League, their captain and talisman had been substituted – it just felt like Verdy would go on and get something from the game.

However, that free-kick was scored with 88 minutes on the clock. Additional was set at 5 minutes, so Gifu had around 7 minutes to try and hold back the Verdy tide. The Gifu supporters, massed at the opposite side of the ground, were probably thankful that they couldn’t witness the collapse close up, but were probably hopeful that that the players could just hold out.

92 and a half minutes were on he clock when Verdy leveled things up. A brilliant cross from left found substitute Ryuji Sugimoto, somewhat improbably, unmarked eight yards out, right in the centre of the goal and his flying header made score 3-3. In an era of wild unpredictability for FC Gifu, even this was stretching the realms of credibility – Verdy had scored three goals in seven minutes against a team that really had no necessity to do anything other plant a line of defenders right across their own penalty area.

And then it happened.

With the five minutes of added time up (although, I should point out that according to the rules of the game it was a MINIMUM of five added minutes) the ball wound up on the right side of Gifu’s penalty area, and a cross came in that eventually found Hiramoto completely unmarked, six yards out and he had the relatively easy task of volleying past Kawaguchi. Yoshikatsu came agonizingly close to pushing the ball over the bar, but his hand just wasn’t strong enough and the shot came in from too close a range to save.

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Hiramoto ran behind the goal to celebrate with the disbelieving Verdy fans, while at the other end the Gifu supporters were also disbelieving, but they did not share their counterparts’ enthusiasm for what they had just seen.

There’s a great picture of Hiroaki Namba at the final whistle – the unhappiest hat-trick scorer in history. It really is a picture that speaks a thousand words, probably a lot of them expletives.

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My personal recollection of this game was that I was actually working, and after about the 80th minute I was called into a meeting. I was following the game on Twitter, and I left for that meeting thinking everything was cool, everything was good. When I came back to check the final score about 20 minutes, I could scarcely believe what I was looking at. Of course, I knew Gifu had a penchant for conceding goals but I didn’t really think, especially considering what went on in the first half at Oita – and the lessons that should have been learned from that – that a four goal reversal in the final ten minutes was a realistic possibility.

At least this occasion helped me learn the value of never taking anything for granted in J2.

Recent recap

Want to know the latest goings on with FC Gifu? Really? OK, but it is isn’t pretty reading (due to the content, not my archaic literary style).

FC Gifu 0-1 Montedio Yamagata

Once again, Gifu failed to impress in front of a large home crowd. There were over 8,000 in attendance for this game due to the offer of free tickets for Gifu city residents. The home side actually started quite well, but fell behind to a first half penalty, conceded when Go Iwase brought down a Yamagata forward just inside the left edge of the penalty area. Iwase was beaten by the flight of the ball over him, and clattered the Yamagata player down as he was looking to get back & clear it. Diego – your architypal “big man” – made no mistake from the spot to put Montedio in front.

After that, it was more-or-less all Gifu as we strived to find an equalizer. Evandro had a couple of good chances, Tatsuya Tanaka directed a Mizuno shot wide, Leo Mineiro missed a couple of chances too. All in all, a very frustrating afternoon, but the performance was actually ok. And there was nothing to suggest what lay in store for the visit of V-Varen Nagasaki……

 

FC Gifu 2-4 V-Varen Nagasaki

Yikes, where to start? Well, how about at the start? Ramos selected a, shall we call it “brazen” line up that included Taisuke Mizuno at right back. Given that Mizuno is a ball playing midfielder, it probably wasn’t going to end well. And it didn’t.

Three minutes in, Nagasaki took the lead when Takasugi found himself completely unmarked in the area and volleyed in. Four minutes later, Ryo Nagai doubled the lead, punishing a defensive lapse. Gifu were given hope when Leo Mineiro converted a penalty after nine minutes, but Nagai restored the two goal cushion in the 14th minute. Ryo Takiya’s header again breathed life into Gifu and after that goal Gifu had a spell of really good football with Leo Mineiro hitting the bar and forcing the Nagasaki keeper into a great save.

Unfortunately, Gifu’s defending once again let them down as Ryo Nagai spanked home a volley to make it 2-4. That would be the HT score AND the end of the scoring full stop.

It marked the fourth time this year that Gifu have conceded four goals, and the second time it has happened at home. In those two games, against Consadole Sapporo & Nagasaki, all four goals have come in the first half. It really fills me negativity – I can’t understand why the same mistakes are being committed over & over again. Another source or my pessimism is the fact that both Keiji Takachi & Daiki Tamori went off injured in the first half and both look doubtful for Wednesday’s trip to Tokyo Verdy – if not for longer.

It is going to be a huge test for Gifu’s resilience on Wednesday. Another defeat would make it four in a row heading into a Sunday showdown with glamour boys Cerezo Osaka. Honestly, I’d be very happy with a 0-0 draw, but I can’t see it happening.

Fingers crossed…..

#wearegifu

Free entry day*

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*If you live in Gifu city, that is.

 

This Saturday sees the yearly running of FC Gifu’s 岐阜市民全員無料デー (roughly translated as “free entry for Gifu residents day”)

This started two years ago and was the brainchild of previous club president Satoshi Onda. He wanted to bring a sense of community and pride to the club, and decided to reward/encourage local people to come to the stadium – obviously with the view of getting them to come back as paying supporters.

The first time it happened was for a home game against V-Varen Nagasaki in 2014, a game which Gifu drew 1-1 in front of a bumper crowd of 13,016.

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The second installment was last year when Gifu faced Thespa Kusatsu Gunma on a similarly hot & sunny day, and the result this time was also a 1-1 draw, and the attendance this time was 8,517

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The back stand for the 2015 visit of ThespaKusatsu Gunma

So, can we expect another 1-1 draw when Montedio Yamagata come to visit on Saturday? Well, after a bad start, Yamagata have slowly been creeping up the table and are quietly on a six match unbeaten run, a run that has consisted of three draws and three wins (against Okayama, Tokyo Verdy & Gunma).

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Gifu, on the other hand, are coming off a 2-3 loss at JEF United, and still have injury concerns. Leo Mineiro is still a doubt, and shun Nogaito was forced off in the dying minutes against Chiba with what looked like a knee injury so his status will be one to monitor leading up to the game. One bit of good news for Ruy Ramos is that Leonardo Rocha will be available again after serving a one match suspension for picking up four yellow cards.

Hopefully it will be a good game, and although I like Yamagata (and especially goalkeeper Norihiro Yamagishi) a repeat of FC Gifu’s 1-0 win the last time these two teams met will do me very nicely indeed.

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#WeAreGifu