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Soccer: Frontale edge past Grampus to move 9 points clear

Kawasaki Frontale's Jesiel, center left, celebrates with teammates after opening the scoring during the first half of a J-League football match against Nagoya Grampus on May 4, 2021, at Todoroki Stadium in Kawasaki, near Tokyo. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Leaders Kawasaki Frontale held onto a 3-2 home win over second-placed Nagoya Grampus on Tuesday, the reigning champions opening up a nine-point gap at the top of the J-League first division.

    After easing to a 4-0 win in the reverse fixture on Thursday, Kawasaki led 3-0 before surviving a late scare in the final 20 minutes at their Todoroki Stadium.

    Kawasaki remain unbeaten after winning 12 of their opening 14 fixtures. Grampus have suffered a huge setback in their title chase, meanwhile, as their defense which in April set J1 records of 823 minutes as well as nine games without conceding a goal were cut open in both top-of-the-table clashes.

    Brazilian center-back Jesiel headed in an Ao Tanaka corner for the dominant hosts in the 31st minute before winger Kaoru Mitoma showed his worth once again, skipping past opposing Shumpei Naruse down the left before sending a low cross for right-back Miki Yamane to volley home five minutes after the break.

    Grampus, without manager Massimo Ficcadenti for the second straight game after the Italian contracted the coronavirus, had their heads down and their misery was then compounded by a bizarre 59th-minute own goal from captain Yuichi Maruyama, as his back pass rolled into an empty net after keeper Mitch Langerak was wrong-footed.

    The comfortable scoreline saw Frontale manager Toru Oniki withdraw striker Leandro Damiao and playmaker Akihiro Ienaga soon after before Grampus came firing back.

    Sho Inagaki handed the visitors a lifeline in the 73rd minute, steering home substitute Ryoya Morishita's cutback from the right to continue his fine scoring form with his fifth goal of the season.

    Brazilian winger Mateus, the biggest threat for the visitors throughout, scored a long free-kick from a tight angle off the post with seven minutes to go but Kawasaki saw out the tense last minutes.

    "Subbing off Damiao and Aki, I might have sent the wrong (kind of) message to the team and I need to reflect on it," Kawasaki manager Oniki said.

    "We've managed to grind out wins against a strong opponent, in what were matches between the top two teams in the league. It was difficult coming into this game mentally after winning the last game 4-0 but the players did a good job."

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