Kashima Antlers’ six-game unbeaten run came to a sudden halt when they were beaten 2-1 at home by plucky Vissel Kobe in matchday 7 of the MEIJI YASUDA J1 League.
Toninho Cerezo’s outfit appeared to have recently recovered from their early season blues, and were looking to close the gap at the top of the table with a result on Saturday.
But Vissel’s Keijiro Ogawa tapped in the opener for the visitors right after the break, with Hideo Tanaka later capitalising on an Antlers’ defensive blunder to fire in the winner and cancel out Gaku Shibasaki’s earlier curling equaliser.
The hosts’ misery was compounded when Mu Kanazaki was sent off for his second bookable offense in the 94th minute in which he protested a referee’s call.
Vissel’s result allows them to leapfrog both Antlers and Kashiwa Reysol in the table; the latter only managing a 1-1 draw at Sagan Tosu despite taking the lead.
Leandro curled in the opener after being given the space to turn and shoot by Sagan’s defence, though the home team came back through Yohei Toyoda’s header from a free-kick - his side dominating the game in terms of shots.
Kawasaki Frontale capitalised on their rivals’ missed opportunity to the max, roaring up into second place by blowing past basement team Ventforet Kofu 3-0.
Last term’s top scorer Yoshito Okubo opened the scoring with his sixth goal of the 2015 season, before Renato’s splendid brace in the second half put the result beyond doubt and kept Yahiro Kazama’s men soaring.
Back to winning ways are FC Tokyo, who kept up their title challenge with a 1-0 win away at Montedio Yamagata thanks to Kosuke Ota’s 22nd minute goal from a free-kick.
Of course, Urawa Reds maintain their three-point lead at the summit - at least until Gamba Osaka play on Sunday - with a 2-1 victory over Nagoya Grampus with Takahiro Sekine and Yuki Muto amongst the goals.
The resurgent Sanfrecce Hiroshima remain contenders for a return to the AFC Champions League next season after picking up a solid 2-0 win over free-falling Shimizu S-Pulse, whose winless streak in the league extended.
Last term’s J2 champions Shonan Bellmare have now also fallen three points above the bottom three, after being soundly beaten 3-0 by Yokohama F.Marinos at Nissan Stadium.