FC Gifu welcomed Thespa to the Nagaragawa on Sunday night and were unfortunate not to take all three points in a game which they mostly dominated.

As expected, Gifu lined up in their usual 4-5-1 formation with Taira Inoue as the lone striker. Gyotoku did spring a surprise by playing summer signing Arata Sugiyama in a holding midfield role, and Atsushi Mio reprised his attacking midfield role. Shun Nogaito & Shuto Tanaka bookended the CB pairing of Desmond and Sekita.

Gifu started well, and won a corner within the first two minutes, but Mio’s delivery came to nothing. Gifu continued their good start, no doubt fully aware that his was a game they had to take to their opponents,  and really should have taken the lead after 15 minutes. Nogaito, deciding that nothing was doing in front of him, went on a marauding run down the left which was abruptly brought to a halt by a Thespa defender near the edge of the area. Mio floated a beautiful ball into the box but Masayama’s header from 7 yards out flew over the bar when he should have at least hit the target. 10 minutes later a through ball from Mio in the direction of Inoue caused panic in the Thespa defence which culminated in Thespa keeper Naito charging out of his area to try and tackle Inoue. He only succeeded in putting the ball out for a throw and from it Kazuki Someya tried to lob the ball into the net but a Thespa defender was on hand to clear off the line. Just before half time, Gifu came ever-so-close to taking the lead as an Atsushi Mio pot shot from the edge of the area struck the base of the post and went to safety. Gifu would have felt they deserved to go in ahead at the break ahead after their best 45 minutes of football for a long time.

The second half continued in much the same vein, with Gifu pinning Gunma back most of the time. Mio was having a really good game, very busy and purposeful with the ball from his advanced midfield position, and again he came close with a shot from the edge of the area which went just wide of Naito’s left hand post. Then, the defining moment of the match. Inoue’s pass released Someya down the left hand side. Someya threatened to go outside his man but instead cut in onto his usually unfavoured right foot before curling a goal-bound effort from 18 yards out which Naito in the Thespa net somehow managed to tip on to the crossbar. The rebound fell to Ri Han Jae, but he couldn’t direct his header under the bar. At that point, I felt that this wasn’t going to be Gifu’s night and, despite a lot of pressure, there was no cutting edge and the game eventually finished as a goalless stalemate.

One thing of note that happened in the final stages of the game was an injury to forward Taira Inoue who was forced off. It initially looked like a very serious injury but he was able to hobble off, albeit with the help of the Gifu physio. Youngster Takumi Kiyomoto was brought on to replace him, but he himself was brought off in the last 5 minutes to be replaced by Nakashima. It was unclear to me if this was due to injury or due to the fact that Kiyomoto looked a bit lightweight up front on his own.

In all, Gifu will feel that they should have won this game, although they can be happy with how they played. But these are the kind of games that come to define how your season turns out. Too many dropped points in these games will mean you are battling around the bottom of the table. On this evidence, Gunma (or Thespa or Kusatsu, whatever people are calling them) will be down there too, because they didn’t look like a good team.

Positives for Gifu: Atsushi Mio had his best game, and was easily Gifu’s best player. He looks like he has the skills to impact games. Tokihisa, while relatively untroubled by shots, was very commanding on crosses. He needs to be like this all the time to pressure off Desmond & Sekita. The defence can be content with a clean sheet. Overall, they played the best football I have seen since they beat Shonan Bellmare last year, although Bellmare were down to 10 men early on in that game.

Negatives for Gifu: I suspect it will be a recurring theme throughout the season, and I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but if it wasn’t obvious before then it is now. Gifu need someone to keep centre backs honest. They need a goal threat. Whether that comes from the players (they have Fabio, Sugimoto & Kiyomoto waiting in the wings) or whether it comes from a change of system or philosophy is the $64000 question.

Next up: Ehime FC, away, on Wednesday night.

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