Jun Amano picked the perfect time to score his first career goal, the Yokohama F Marinos midfielder netting in the dying minutes to lead his side to a 1-0 victory over FC Tokyo in the J-League first division on Sunday.
With a goalless draw looming on the horizon, Amano struck two minutes from time to hand the three points to Erick Mombaerts' side, who improved to 26 points from 15 matches, five points off the pace of Kashiwa Reysol.
With just 32 J1 appearances under his belt, Amano, 25, said he was thrilled to have come through for Marinos, who stretched their unbeaten run to five games including four victories.
Tokyo, who were unhelped by the uncharacteristic wastefulness of their top scorer Yoshito Okubo, stood on 24 points.
"It's nice to be able to contribute to the team, finally," Amano said. "I'm glad my goal helped us win, and I hope I can keep doing it. I know I've been a source of stress for the fans up until now so it feels good to have done something they can cheer about.
Marinos winger Quenten Martinus gushed about Amano, saying he could have a career in Europe any time he wanted to.
"We have a very, very talented team. We have some very good players," Martinus said. "Maybe we need to have a little bit bigger team to cover players who go, but at the end we have young, quality players like Jun, who for me can play easily in Europe -- easily."
"He has a lot of quality. His first touch, wow, and he can turn with a man on his back, and not many people can do it. And his left foot? It's very dangerous."
On a wet evening at Ajinomoto Stadium, where a crowd of 23,282 still turned out, the first half was frustrating for both teams as they largely canceled each other out.
Okubo had an excellent opportunity right before the interval. His strike-partner Peter Utaka set him up for a completely free shot in the center of the box, but the two-time World Cup striker hit wide right to spare goalkeeper Hiroki Iikura.
The second half saw Marinos spend more time on the ball, keeping the hosts nervous. Amano scored as the visitors rode a wave of momentum, lashing out from the edge of the area with his left foot, off the assist by Cayman Togashi's head.
Nearly halfway through the season, the J-League title race is shaping as another close one, with the top nine teams separated by eight points.
In another J1 game Sunday, Urawa Reds lost 4-2 at home to Jubilo Iwata despite being up 2-1 with half an hour to go. In a space of six minutes, Takuya Matsuura scored the last two goals after coming off the bench for Jubilo.
"It's really tight, everybody is so close to each other," Martinus said. "One win can be a big difference. I think this was a very important game, also against Kawasaki (Frontale before the international break), so these points from the last two games were important."
"Last year, I think it was just Gamba, Urawa and Kashima. This year, there are more stronger teams."