It’s been a tough week for the citizens of Shimizu.
Faced with the indignity of not one S-Pulse player making the J. Allstars team, football fans awoke last Tuesday to a sizeable earthquake shattering the peace of their sleepy town.
It’ll be a different noise rocking the port city this evening, with all 20,330 tickets snapped up for tonight’s “Orange Derby” against high-flying Albirex Niigata.
And Shimizu fans are likely to create a raucous atmosphere inside Outsourcing Stadium Nihondaira, with Kenta Hasegawa’s team set to launch a late charge towards the Asian Champions League places.
After some shaky displays at the start of the campaign, the catalyst for Shimizu’s rejuvenation has been the outstanding form of strikers Shinji Okazaki and Frode Johnsen.
Many S-Pulse fans felt Okazaki should have been an automatic choice for Oswaldo de Oliveira’s J. Allstars select, but the Japan international won’t complain about having last weekend off.
Okazaki has formed a lethal combination with lanky Norwegian striker Frode Johnsen, who after a slow start to his Shimizu career has suddenly exploded into life.
Johnsen was deemed surplus to requirements by Judi Slot Nagoya Grampus at the end of last season, but such was his influence at the Aichi-based club, Nagoya have now signed a like-for-like replacement in the form of giant Australian target man Joshua Kennedy.
Former policeman Johnsen has enjoyed a new lease of life at Shimizu, with his goals and assists keeping exciting youngster Kazuki Hara on the bench.
Injury-plagued ex-Urawa front man Yuichiro Nagai is another option for Shimizu coach Hasegawa in attack, but the S-Pulse tactician will be more pleased with the return from long-term injury of midfield lynchpin Masaki Yamamoto.
Shimizu recently knocked Saitama giants Urawa Reds out of the League Cup at the quarter-final stage, while their recent league form has been equally impressive.
Unbeaten in their last five league matches, Shimizu are now fifth in the standings and looking to heap pressure on third-placed Niigata by taking all three points from tonight’s blockbuster.
The visitors have been strengthened by the return of influential striker Pedro Junior, but they won’t relish a trip to the Nihondaira foothills.
It’s all tickets sold at Outsta, for what will be the first of consecutive sell-out crowds at one of the J. League’s most atmospheric venues.
Shizuoka rivals Jubilo Iwata are in town for the local derby next weekend, and squeezed in between is a full midweek round of action that sees Shimizu travel west to take on Kyoto Sanga.
In the meantime S-Pulse will be desperate to do the double over Niigata, having earlier beaten the northern side 1-0 at Big Swan Stadium thanks to a Yamamoto special.
Another win here could see Shimizu move fourth, with coach Hasegawa’s side looking set to launch their annual late-season charge towards a top-three finish.