Last weekend, in a very cold Machida, FC Gifu recorded their first win under new coach Takeshi Oki, and released some of the pressure that had been building up.

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It isn’t an excuse, but Gifu have had a tough start. Games against presumed promotion challengers Nagoya & Matsumoto and away at a surprisingly impressive Tokyo Verdy has made it quite difficult to reconcile the performances – which have been very good – with the points total, which hasn’t been so hot.

Going into the Machida game, Gifu were sitting on two points and had lost their previous three games. Takeshi Oki’s preferred set up is a 4-3-3 formation which gives Gifu lots of possession, but relies on a cutting edge being developed. In the first five games, Gifu created plenty of attacking opportunities, but because there is only one central forward in the system, many of the promising opportunities went to waste through a lack of numbers.

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Against Machida, Gifu went with Daiki Tamori at CB alongside Tsubasa Aoki, and it was a decision which confused me at first. I know Tamori and Oki have a long relationship & Oki really values Tamori’s on-field leadership (much like Ruy Ramos did with Keiji Takachi) but Henik had been one of Gifu’s better performers at the back and so it was a little surprising to see him benched.

Elsewhere, the favoured trio in midfield of Yoshihiro Shoji, Sisinio & Yushi Nagashima were playing behind a forward three Kohei Yamada on the right, Hiroaki Namba in the centre, and very promising rookie Kyogo Furuhashi on the left.

 

The start of the game, while not being very pleasing to the eye, was weighted in favour of Machida as Yuki Nakashima gave Tusbasa Aoki a hard time with with his movement & timing of his runs. Gifu keeper Victor was forced into action action early, making a couple of good saves, one of which rebounded off Takayuki Fukumura and was just about cleared off the line. Gifu did make some running, and gradually were able to settle into their passing routine, although clear chances were at a premium. Kyogo Furuhashi probably having the clearest sight of goal, his 20 yarder being beaten away by the Zelvia keeper.

 

The second half took on a more even feel. Sisinio & Shoji started to get on the ball more, and space started to develop along the flanks. The seemingly limitless energy of Yuki Omoto on the right was causing problems, while Kohei Yamada, who had switched to the left, found himself in a couple of good positions and really should have scored when played in by Shoji. Yamada was replaced by Paulo Tanaka, and it was this change which spurred Gifu’s winning goal.

Fukumura was fouled on the left touchline, and he took the free-kick quickly, setting Furuhashi down the wing. He outpaced the full back before crossing into the box and waiting there was Hiroaki Namba who looped his header over the Zelvia keeper and into the net.

The goal came in the 70th minute, leaving Gifu with twenty minutes to hold on and record their first clean sheet and, consequentially, first win of the year. Zelvia pushed forward, but found Victor in excellent form – the Spanish goalkeeper’s highlight being an outstanding one handed save in additional time. That save secured the game for Gifu, and a vital first win of the year, which was probably just about deserved.

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In all honesty, Gifu have been much better than their points tally has suggested. The way they play the ball about, led by the highly impressive Yoshihiro Shonji & Sisinio in midfield, isn’t the way a usual J2 side makes its living. I think it will take a bit of time to see the true results of this approach, but the initial signs are promising.The two Spaniards, Victor & Sisinio have settled in really well and are starting to show some good form. By all accounts, Yuto Ono has helped the players settle thanks to his Spanish language skills and Yoshinari Takagi has been a guiding hand for fellow GK Victor.

It is full back/winger Yuki Omoto that really caught my eye in this side. He is so quick and is always willing to overlap anyone in front of him. His pace is very quick, but it his ability to change direction quickly which really puts defenders in a difficult position. I’ve noticed that he often likes to control the ball with the sole of his boot, giving him a lot more control over the direction of the ball. His attacking intent from the full back role gives the team an added dimension and his outstanding start to the season gives us more cause for optimism.

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The defence in general is still a work in progress. Tsubasa Aoki hasn’t been a defender for long and so is still learning his trade. His ability on the ball is the reason, I presume, he has been shifted to defence, but that means that he needs to work really hard on his positioning & timing – two traits that are completely different from being a holding midfielder. The positive signs are there – and the more he plays, the he will grow into the role, but he will inevitably have days where he looks like midfielder playing in defence as opposed to a defender.

It seems like everyone is talking about how Gifu keep the ball, but it really is interesting to see the difference from last year to this. Shoji & Sisinio are playing really well. Shoji’s all round game has been outstanding thus far – a true all round midfielder, and the way he delivers long passes by cutting down on the ball as he strikes it is footballing Hida beef – outrageously good. Sisinio’s range of passing and his constant go-forward is crucial in this side. He isn’t the conductor of this orchestra, but he is the guy whose solo steals the show. Yushi Nagashima shows from time to time, and probably needs to be a bit more consistent, but he is a menace when he does get the ball. I would expect Hideyuki Nozawa to start pushing Nagashima for his place in the midfield pretty soon.

Up front, I feel that the team needs a “striker” as opposed to a “false nine” and that is why Namba playing has made the team look better because at least there is a central presence. When Koya Kazama played up front, he tended to drift out wide (as he would in a usual game because he is usually a right sided attacker) but Namba provides a focal point not only for Gifu but he also occupies defenders as well. In the next game, I would think Paulo Tanaka would come in in place Kohei Yamada. Yamada is good at what he is asked to do, but Paulo & Omoto on the right is a very appealing proposition.

As mentioned before, the start has been tough, but that mean there should be some more winnable games on the schedule – starting this week when we face Mito Hollyhock at home. See you there!

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