The run-in starts now

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Apologies for the recent lack of posts. Other projects & a summer “holiday” conspired against me. But let’s crack on. Here are the facts of FC Gifu’s current position:

  • Knocked out of the Emperor’s Cup by an amateur team
  • Eleven league games without a win
  • 20th in J2

There are various ways to interpret what has gone on before, but the truth is that from this point on, it is almost irrelevant. What matters from now is the final twelve games that Gifu face, starting this coming Sunday when JEF United visit the Nagaragawa Memorial Stadium.

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Manager Megumu Yoshida is without a win since taking over from Ruy Ramos, but for those wanting a more positive prognosis, he has made Gifu quite difficult to beat. We have drawn the last four games 1-1 (and that rises to five if you include the fact that the Emperor’s Cup defeat against Honda finished 1-1 after 90 minutes).

The fact that Gifu are difficult to beat presents a little bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, if Gifu don’t lose for the rest of the season they should (repeat, SHOULD) be safe, just about. That scenario wouldn’t be pretty in the slightest. But, that not losing scenario isn’t going to happen – no matter how safe Gifu supposedly set up. To play “not to lose” is tant amount to admitting you aren’t good enough to compete, and nobody wants to believe that.

Setting up not to lose is one thing. But setting up without the intention of winning is another thing completely. My conservative estimate is that we will need AT LEAST 12 points to avoid the relegation play-off. Mathematics tells us that this equates to four wins. Those wins are going to be difficult to come by anyway, but especially so if the focus is on not losing.

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Yoshida has set his teams up in a 4-3-2-1 formation mostly. The three sitting midfielders, of which Naoya Okane and Daiki Tamori are important components, ensures that Gifu are more difficult to get through. That is a positive element after Gifu were consistently opened up during the Ruy Ramos reign, and the defensive work is to be applauded (there was something heroic about the rearguard action against Matsumoto Yamaga). Now though, the question Yoshida must ask himself is how to keep a sense of defensive solidity while at the same time giving the attack some more weight.

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Of course, the Brazilian Leo Mineiro will be the most important player for us. His mixture of pace, energy & skill could well be the difference for us. If I was Yoshida, I would probably try and go for more of a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2, just to give the attack a bit more bite. Something like:

   Takagi

Abe   Tashiro   Iwase   Nogaito

        Okane    Takagi

Kazama      Leo Rocha (Choi)    Leo Mineiro

          Evandro (Takiya/Bruno)

The “Leo Rocha” position is a bit of a headache for me. I think that Rocha gives the team the most creativity, but you could argue for at least three others:

  • Keiji Takachi would give the experience and veteran influence
  • Taisuke Mizuno would give ball skills & energy
  • Choi Sung Keun would add a bit of steel & drive

Between the four of them, I’m pretty sure all of them would give a good account of themselves. I think it is important that Koya Kazama plays. He looked a bit tired coming into August, but hopefully the rest that he has had means he is fresh for the run in. He gives Gifu a unique combination of creativity & energy down the right, and so if he & Leo Mineiro can give Gifu some outlets on the flanks, it will only bode well for the team.

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Looking ahead, Gifu face JEF next Sunday, and it is worth remembering that Gifu haven’t won at home since March. They say “win your home games”, but Gifu might have to look at their away games as being more winnable. The away games on the slate are:

  • Renofa Yamaguchi
  • Cerezo Osaka
  • Kyoto Sanga
  • Giravanz Kitakyushu
  • Roasso Kumamoto

The first three on that list are in the top half – with Cerezo & Kyoto in the play-off positions – but the other two represent huge games. Both are “six pointers” and Gifu will look to target those games. But in all honesty, that is a tough slate of games, especially the earlier ones. It might come down to the final games of the year. Here’s how they shape up:

  • Machida Zelvia (h)
  • Kitakyushu (a)
  • Gunma (h)
  • Yokohama FC (h)
  • Kumamoto (a)
  • Tokyo Verdy (h)

When you look at that stretch, it looks like there are plenty of winnable games there. IF Gifu can sort their home form/home mental block out, there is a real chance of surviving this relegation battle. If the poor home form persists, we could be in whole world of trouble.

I’m backing the former. Statistically, you would think there would be some bounce back, and I genuinely can’t see us not winning at home in the next two months. It would be pretty shocking, even for Gifu standards.

So, with that, I’m going to go out on a limb and say Gifu will survive. It might not be pretty, and it most certainly will be nerve-wracking. But, in the end, I think we will be safe. But it is going to take a huge effort from everyone: players, staff & supporters. The supporters have had it rough this year, no doubt about it. But they still turn up, still support. And Gifu will need that going forward.

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But I think the thing that is most needed is bravery. Be brave, be bold. It applies to everyone involved.

  • Yoshida – Be brave in your team selection. Believe you have the players to win games.
  • Players – Be brave on the ball. Don’t always take the safe option, especially in attacking positions. Don’t pass on responsibility, seize the responsibility, take charge. Back yourself, and be confident.
  • Supporters – Be brave and be bold in your support. Never give up, and never lose faith.

It is going to be a difficult end to the season, that is for sure. But standing up and being counted will give us a chance.

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#WeAreGifu

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