Oita Trinita have thrown a roadblock into Kawasaki Frontale's inevitable march towards the 2020 J.League 1 title after the Turtles had stunned the runaway league leaders 1-0 in their Matchweek 28 encounter on Saturday. A first-half penalty from Naoki Nomura and a resilient defensive display ensured all three points for Tomohiro Katanosaka's Oita at the Showa Denko Dome.
Kawasaki made the long trip South to Kyushu knowing that a win over mid-table Oita would clinch them their third J1 title, however they were facing a very fresh Oita side who hasn't played a match since November 3rd - partly due to their Matchweek 27 game against Kashiwa Reysol being postponed to early December due to Kashiwa's COVID-19 scare. Kawasaki, on the other hand, had to play Yokohama F. Marinos during the midweek, a game which they won 3-1 at the Todoroki Athletics Stadium.
Cheered on by their faithful supporters at the Showa Denko Dome, Oita immediately took the attacking initiative from the get-go, testing Kawasaki goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong with early shots from both Nomura and Kohei Isa. Nomura then attempted his luck in the 24th minute with a close-ranged finish, however South Korean custodian Jung was on-hand to parry the ball over his crossbar, thus preserving the stalemate.
Ten minutes afterwards Yamato Machida found Nomura rushing his way into the Kawasaki penalty box, prompting him to send a long ball towards the Oita attacking midfielder. Nomura received Machida's ball just outside the area, however mere seconds afterwards, as he was making his way towards Jung's goal, Nomura was shoved from behind by Kawasaki captain Shogo Taniguchi. As Taniguchi had denied a clear goal-scoring opportunity, the referee had no choice but to give him a straight red card, and as the foul had occurred inside Kawasaki's box, the referee awarded Oita a penalty.
Nomura took it upon himself in taking the spot kick and although Jung had gone the right way, he was powerless to stop Nomura's blistering shot from going past him.
Seeing that his team were down by a goal, Kawasaki head coach Toru Oniki brought out his trump cards in Ao Tanaka and Kaoru Mitoma during half-time. However, Katanosaka saw this coming and immediately Oita lived up to their nickname in the second stanza, soaking up increasing pressure from Kawasaki as the league leaders tried their best to chase the game. Veteran Yu Kobayashi nearly equalized for the away side in the 51st minute with a powerful header, however his attempt could only struck the side-netting.
In the end Kawasaki were unable to penetrate both Oita's defense and Shun Takagi's goal, forcing the league leaders to leave the Showa Denko Dome empty-handed. The 1-0 win, on the other hand, cemented Oita's position in the J1 mid-table even further, with Katanosaka's men sitting in 11th place with 36 points. The Turtles could not pry their way into the top half of the table as they are 9 points off the top 9, however they have a 13-point cushion over the bottom three.
Despite being denied the chance of clinching their third league title at Oita, Kawasaki would nonetheless win this year's J1 if 2nd placed Gamba Osaka fail to win their Matchweek 28 game away at Urawa Red Diamonds on Sunday.
Saturday's other J1 results saw Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo recover from being a goal down to swallow Shimizu S-Pulse whole with a resounding 5-1 victory at the Sapporo Dome, with Anderson Lopes scoring a brace for the hosts. Last-placed Vegalta Sendai succumbed to a 3-1 home defeat at the hands of Kashima Antlers, while Cerezo Osaka were also handed a home defeat, going down 1-0 to Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Nagoya Grampus took over Gamba's runners-up spot temporarily with a 3-1 home win over Shonan Bellmare, while last but not least Kashiwa were given a 2-1 beating by Sagan Tosu at the Hitachi Kashiwa Stadium in their first J1 game after their temporary COVID-19-enforced shutdown.