No, you’re not reading it wrong, nor is there any malfunction on your screen. FC Gifu not only scored their first goals of the campaign but they came from behind to beat a very capable Matsumoto Yamaga side. But that only tells half the story from this game……
Gifu came into this game bottom of the table, no wins & no goals. But they were boosted by the arrival (or, to put it more accurately, the re-arrival (?)) of forward Hiroki Higuchi who returned to start his second loan spell at the club from Shimizu S-Pulse. The other new signing of the week, Taisuke Mizuno, made his way on to the bench. Masuyama retained his place in centre of defence as he partnered Desmond. Higuchi went straight into the starting line up, leading the attack which allowed Atsushi Mio to slot into favoured advanced midfield role.
Matsumoto Yamaga made no changes from the team that beat Mito away last week.
The game started with Matsumoto playing with the strong wind behind them and at the start they seemed to have problems dealing with it, often overhitting passes. Gifu on the hand started very brightly with Higuchi bringing a much needed focal point up front, making defenders defend. A good example of this was when he picked up the ball on the right, slalomed past 3 or 4 defenders before having his shot blocked for a corner. Gifu had had a couple of half-openings before their first real chance came. A croner was swung in by Atsushi Mio and Higuchi managed to lose his marker but unfortunately he couldn’t direct his header under the bar. When Yamaga got the ball on the ground they managed to play some nice one touch football, and one passage of that led to a free-kick on the edge of the Gifu area. Park Kang-Il stepped up and it looked as if it was heading for the top corner but it was deflected over by the wall. It was a pretty even first half, but four minutes before the break Yamaga took the lead in very fortunate circumstances. Build up play from Shun Nagasawa & Iwanuma found Hiroshi Tetsuto on the left hand side in space from which he put a left footed cross in that caught the strong wind and sailed agonizingly over Tokihisa and into the net. It was a cruel blow for Gifu, having more than matched their hosts in the first, but Gifu supporters got that feeling (again) that things were against their team.
Neither side made any changes at half time, and straight from the kick-off Mio decided to test the strength of the wind by launching a 50 yard shot which flew just over Shirai’s crossbar. Matsumoto had the first real shot of the second half, and it was a rasper as Tetsuto, buoyed from his goal, smacked a 30 yarder which Tokihisa managed to push around the post. Mio & Huguchi both had sights of goal, but Mio had a shot blocked and Higuchi volleyed over. With 20 minutes to go Gifu coach Gyotoku, who has a history of making puzzling substitutions, took off Arata Sugiyama and replaced him with young defender Tatsuya Arai. Cue puzzled looks from all Gifu supporters as they tried to understand the decision, but in hindsight it was inspired. Gifu needed to go more direct and Arai, standing at 180cm +, was the man to direct long balls at.
And then it came. The goal that Gifu supporters had been waiting over 11 hours of football to see, and when it came it was a beauty (to be fair though, I think any goal would have been beautiful!). Hiroki Higuchi, who was having a good game, played in winger Kazuki Someya down the left hand side and his crossed picked out Arai who rose majestically above two Matsumoto defenders to power a header into the back of the net, leaving Shirai with no chance. Cue absolute bedlam in the away end, but the goal was no more than Gifu deserved for their play up to that point.
But almost immediately Matsumoto went up the other end at nearly restored their lead and it was only a superb save from Tokihisa, pushing Funayama’s powerful, point-blank shot on to the bar which kept things all square. And then, with 6 minutes remaining, lightning struck for the second time. Again it came from a cross from Someya, originally aimed for Ri Han-Jae (I think) but it went all the way through to that man Arai, who had the simplest of tasks to head in at the far post. Both sets of fans could scarcely believe what was happening, and Gifu were heading for their first win of the season. Matsumoto tried to rally, but they didn’t seem to have any ideas and Gifu closed out the game without any major problems. Full time came and another explosion of joy from the Gifu end.
Obviously Arai will get the majority of the hero worship, and rightly so for his incredible cameo, but for me Hiroki Higuchi was Gifu’s main man. He gives the team such better shape, and makes defenders pay attention. He is quick, can take players on and doesn’t let up. I’m really happy that he is back for a second spell at the Nagaragawa Stadium. Also, Tsukasa Masuyama was a rock at centre half. I’m not sure what has happened to Hiroshi Sekita (he wasn’t on Gifu’s injury list) but he might find it hard to replace Masuyama, such was the ex-JEF United man’s performance today.