Japan international Hideo Hashimoto provided the perfect tonic for Gamba Osaka's Asian Champions League blues by scoring the winner in a 2-1 defeat of Yokohama F Marinos on Sunday. Hashimoto punished a blunder by Yokohama goalkeeper Hiroki Iikura to give Gamba their first league win in four matches, while reigning champions Kashima Antlers also bounced back from their ACL exit to beat bottom club Oita Trinita 2-1 and restore their seven-point lead at the top of the table.
Gamba came into the match in need of a morale boost after their defense of the ACL title came to a shuddering halt with a shock 3-2 defeat to Kawasaki Frontale in the round of 16 on Wednesday. But Naoki Matsuda smashed Yokohama into the lead on 20 minutes, shortly after Cho Jae Jin had spurned a great chance to open the scoring at the other end in pouring rain at Nissan Stadium. Tomokazu Myojin fired just over to spark Gamba into life at the start of the second period and Yasuhito Endo equalized with a cool finish on 52 minutes before the visitors took the lead with what turned out to be the decider two minutes later. Leandro's deflected shot sent Iikura backpedaling to prevent the ball from going out for a corner but he fumbled his attempted catch and Hashimoto was on hand to calmly slot home.
"We have had a burdening schedule and after losing such an important game (on Wednesday) I was expecting a very tough match," said Gamba manager Akira Nishino.
"I did not think it would be easy to pick up points from this game but the players controlled the match well for 90 minutes. They regrouped after the ACL loss and although we had to defend stoutly at the end I think we did well to pull away. This is a massive three points for us," he said.
At Kyushu Oil Dome, Hiroshi Kiyotake atoned for a poor earlier miss when he pounced on a loose ball to give Oita a shock lead nine minutes into the second half. Kashima bared their teeth and hit back through Mitsuo Ogasawara's well-taken volley shortly after the hour mark before defender Daiki Iwamasa made it 2-1 with 18 minutes remaining. Oita piled on the pressure in the closing stages but failed to find a way through and saw their losing streak stretched to 12 league matches.
"We were so frustrated at getting knocked out of the Asian Champions League so I am glad we could win today," said Ogasawara.
On a day of mixed fortunes for the two Japanese clubs that reached the ACL quarterfinals, Kawasaki won 1-0 at Montedio Yamagata, courtesy of Cho Jae Jin's late strike but 10-men Nagoya Grampus were brought back to earth with a bang after a 2-1 loss away to Albirex Niigata. Toshihiro Matsushita put Niigata ahead after five minutes and the home side were given a boost when Nagoya midfielder Magnum was sent off for his second caution after 27 minutes. Niigata made their numerical advantage pay as Matsushita doubled the lead on 43 minutes. Keita Sugimoto replied late on for Nagoya.
Kashima improved to 35 points, seven clear of Niigata and third-placed Urawa Reds with a game in hand. Frontale moved into fourth on 27 points from 14 games, with Gamba, who have also played 14 games, following in fifth on 23 points.
In Saturday's action, Edmilson's seventh goal of the season put Urawa on the way to a 2-0 win at home to Vissel Kobe. The Brazilian then set up strike partner Naohiro Takahara for his first league goal of the campaign in a much improved performance after a 2-0 defeat to Yokohama in the previous round.
"We lost last week and our performance wasn't up to scratch so it was important for us to bounce back with a win like this," said Urawa manager Volker Finke, referring to the Yokohama defeat.
Urawa made a dream start as Edmilson got an outstretched leg to Hajime Hosogai's cross-cum-shot and poked home at the far post with the game just two minutes old. Kobe should have drawn level on seven minutes through Yoshito Okubo but the Japan striker contrived to blaze over after Ryota Tsuzuki could only parry Alan Bahia's shot. That miss was to prove costly as Takahara doubled the lead on 42 minutes. Edmilson picked out Takahara on the edge the box and the former Eintracht Frankfurt striker kept his head under pressure from two defenders to finish with aplomb.
Okubo missed another fine opportunity in the 77th minute and when he did finally find the net six minutes from time, his goal was ruled out after he was adjudged to have handled.
"We defended solidly and there were both positives and negatives today," said Finke. "But to be fair we gave our opponents two decisive chances that we shouldn't have."
In Saturday's other games, Sanfrecce Hiroshima saw their winning streak end at three league matches after goals in each half from Yuta Someya and Hiroki Mizumoto gave Kyoto Sanga a 2-0 victory at Nishikyogoku Stadium.
Minoru Suganuma scored twice and Tadanari Lee snatched a late winner as struggling Kashiwa Reysol beat Jubilo Iwata 3-2 at Yamaha Stadium to record only their second league win of the season.
Yoshihito Fujita also bagged a double as Omiya Ardija ran out 2-0 winners over JEF United Chiba at Fukuda Denshi Arena while Naohiro Ishikawa, the leading Japanese scorer in the J-League, continued his rich vein of form by netting the clincher in FC Tokyo's 2-1 defeat of Shimizu S-Pulse 2-1 at National Stadium.