Takashi Usami was at the heart of another Gamba Osaka victory, as his strike in the 2-0 win over Shonan Bellmare moved the champions up to second in the J.League on Saturday.
The striker scored his sixth goal in four games - and seventh in total this season - to soar top of the MEIJI YASUDA J1 League goalscorers chart, and more importantly help Gamba record their fourth league win in a row.
Kenta Hasegawa’s side picked up what was a routine win against the promoted outfit after their talisman broke the deadlock in the 26th minute.
However, Gamba failed to break the hosts’ resistance until Yasuhito Endo’s strike in the final minute of the second half, as Yasuhito Endo made the result that moves the 2014 Treble winners within one point of leaders Urawa Reds safe.
The Reds had responded in stout manner from conceding first to visiting Yokohama F.Marinos, fighting back to emerge 2-1 victors and preserve their lead in the table.
Yuki Muto showed good composure to turn home the equaliser at the second attempt from a shot that rebounded off the post, cancelling out Sho Ito’s 34th minute goal.
Takahiro Sekine then pounced to score the winner in the dying minutes of first half, sweeping home a move that was started by new Reds signing Zlatan Ljubijankic and extending their time unbeaten at the top.
FC Tokyo had hoped to go first, if only temporarily, for the first time this season, but ultimately succumbed 2-1 to Sanfrecce Hiroshima at Ajinomoto Stadium despite scoring in the opening minute.
2015 breakout star Yoshinori Muto continued announcing himself to the world with another goal, capitalising on a rebound from a poor headed clearance in the Sanfrecce area to hit home.
But the visitors, who have looked revitalised this season, came pouring back when Kosei Shibasaki equalised 10 minutes later, paving the way for Takuma Asano’s winner in the closing stages of the second half.
The capital side thus find themselves leapfrogged by Sagan Tosu, whose impressive 3-0 win at basement side Ventforet Kofu came courtesy of Yohei Toyoda’s brace.
The veteran hitman got his first in the opening five minutes and would add another after the hour mark, as his team earned their 12th point of the season and move into third of the J1 League.
Kawasaki Frontale sit a solitary point behind in an impressive fourth spot following their 3-2 win at valiant Vegalta Sendai, 2014 top scorer Yoshito Okubo settling an encounter his side largely controlled in the 86th minute.
With challengers solidifying at the top, those who will duke it for survival this campaign likewise looks clearer too, after Albirex Niigata were twice pegged back by Vissel Kobe, both teams eventually having to settle for a 2-2 draw.
A point was nevertheless enough for the hosts to keep themselves out of the relegation zone, given what might have otherwise been a potentially decisive battle for survival between Montedio Yamagata and Matsumoto Yamaga petered out in a dour 0-0 draw.
Yamaga’s place in the bottom three was eventually taken by suffering Shimizu S-Pulse however, who lost their seventh game in all competitions by going down 3-1 at Nagoya Grampus.