Kashima Antlers suffered a humbling 3-0 defeat at home to Kawasaki Frontale on Friday as the away side won their third straight and moved above the reigning champs ahead of the weekend fixtures.
Kashima, who fell from the top of the table last weekend, started the day a point behind leaders Urawa Reds and Gamba Osaka, but goals from Hiroyuki Abe, Tatsuya Hasegawa and a third from Kyohei Noborizato after the break saw Kawasaki move level on points with the top two.
Kashima had the first three chances of the game all falling to Yuma Suzuki, but the striker scuffed his shot from a close range in the fifth minute, sent his header just wide in the 12th minute and had a shot saved from a point-blank range from a corner in the 19th minute before Abe scored at the other end.
Abe had the simplest of tasks to net for the third straight game. Hasegawa sprinted down the left and drew a save from Kashima keeper Kwoun Sun Tae with an angled effort before the ball fell nicely for Abe.
Some tidy passing in midfield allowed Kawasaki to negate Kashima's pressure and get the second on the stroke of half time after a clever dummy from Ryota Oshima. The midfielder let a ball through his legs for Yu Kobayashi to chase and although Abe's volley from a cross was saved, Hasegawa drilled home the high rebound.
"I guessed the ball would drop for me at the far post. It wasn't exactly how I thought it would, but I did well to bury it," Hasegawa said. "We got competitions within the team and everyone is really motivated."
Kawasaki Frontale keeper Jung Sung Ryong sprung a fine save five minutes after the break as he tipped over Shuto Yamamoto's header from six meters out, and the game was over with a solo goal from Noborizato in the 61st minute.
Having come on for Hasegawa five minutes earlier, Noborizato received the ball on the edge of the area before wriggling his way through two Kashima defenders and shot through the legs of another into the far right-bottom corner off the post.
Takeshi Kanamori had a close-range effort saved by Jung, and Mu Kanazaki also had a rasping effort denied by the South Korean late on as Kashima sought for a consolation, but Kawasaki eased to all the points.