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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.