FC Gifu moved off the bottom of the table with a crucial, hard fought 2-1 win against relegation rivals Gainare Tottori.
Gifu played this game at the small, very rural, Asanaka Stadium in Ogaki, just to west of Gifu city itself. It is hard to imagine another J.League stadium in such a rural spot, but it turned out to be lucky for the hosts.
Gifu went with Yuki Nakamura and Stipe up front; the former to boost Gifu’s physical presence and the latter to add guile & skill to the team. In other areas, Arai kept his place in defence ahead of Desmond and Moriyasu partnered Hattori in the centre of midfield. For the visitors, Masao Tsuji was the preferred partner of Yuichi Kubo up front, while ex-Gifu loanee Ryuji Hirota started against his previous club.
It was the visitors who made all the early running, finding joy especially down their left hand side where Arata Sugiyama was getting a doing over on a regular basis. Gainare’s first chance came from there, Hirota’s cross finding Tsuji but he couldn’t control his shot and fired over the bar. Tottori were pressing Gifu well, not allowing any service to the forwards while making sure that they had plenty of people in attack. Their next chance came when Kubo fired a right foot shot just wide of the post.
Against the run of play however, Gifu took the lead after 20 minutes. Someya was released down the right hand side and his cut-back was swept coolly into the net by Croatian forward Stipe. It was a classy finish, almost passing it into the net as opposed to shooting. Over the last few weeks, Stipe has looked increasingly important to Gifu, showing he can play up front or “in the hole”. In any event, his goal put Gifu 1-0 up. slightly undeservedly though.
Whenever Someya got into space on the right he was finding joy against Nagira. However, he was riled in the first half when a 50/50 decision went against him and he had to be physically restrained by Yuki Nakamura. Someya earned a yellow card for his troubles. Nakamura was next to find space in the box, but Mio’s cross was just a touch too high for him, and he could keep his header down.
The second half started with a bang for Gifu. A hopeful ball from the back was left to bounce by the Gainare centre backs. The bounce allowed Nakamura the run on his defender and he out-muscled him to nod the ball on to Stipe who calmly flicked the ball past on-rushing keeper Kobari and into the net. Stipe then did one of the worst somersaults I have ever seen, but I’ll forgive him! Still, some breathing space……but not for long. Gainare promptly went up the other end and won a corner. The corner from the left was swung in viciously and was met by Dudu who flashed his header past Tokihisa and into the net. Dudu looked like he got the run on Tatsuya Arai which allowed him the time and space to make the header. Game on.
Things got a whole lot worse for Gifu in the 58th minute when Kazuki Someya was sent off. Someya was fouled, or thought he was fouled, in the centre circle and went down. As he went down, he grabbed the ball but the referee hadn’t given the free-kick meaning that it was a deliberate handball and the referee deemed it another bookable offence which resutled in an irate Someya being sent off. From now on, it would be backs to the wall stuff. Gainare by this time had four strikers on the pitch and they were having all the possession. Gifu brought on Masuyama to try and shore up the defence and he had a lot of defending to do. Gainare delivered a lot of balls into the box, but very rarely got on the end of them. They did have one chance which fell to Mori, but his shot was saved down low by Tokihisa. Gifu brought on Blazhe for Stipe, who had cramped up, in an effort to try and hold the ball up better, and he did provide a good outlet. He had one run which was crudely halted on the edge of the area, and he smashed the resultant free-kick just over the bar.
Gainare continued to press, desperation getting stronger and Gifu had a very lucky escape five minutes from time when Okayama smashed a shot just wide of the post, but that proved to be the last chance, and Gifu held on for what could turn out to be a vital win.
Gifu had a lot of good performers on the day. Stipe will rightly get the plaudits for a super all round display, but Shun Nogaito came to the fore and put his body on the line for the cause. Masuyama was brilliant when he came on, giving some much needed bite in the midfield and Hirofumi Moriyasu has quietly turned into one of the best players at the club. Unfortunately, Gifu don’t have a game next week and could possibly lose momentum, but the next game should be a cracker. Matsumoto Yamaga visit town, intent on a play-off spot and intent on erasing their horrible memories of the first fixture this year when it was all going to plan until Tatsuya Arai came off the bench………