Kashima Antlers wasted no time returning to winning ways as the J-League champions thumped Shimizu S-Pulse 2-0 to get a firmer grip on the lead Saturday.
After losing their first game under manager Go Oiwa last weekend, 3-1 to Kawasaki Frontale, Kashima defeated Shimizu in businesslike fashion at home behind goals from Leandro and Mu Kanazaki.
The victory put Antlers on 49 points two-thirds of the way through the season, with a four-point cushion at the top over a pack of three -- Cerezo Osaka, Kashiwa Reysol and Kawasaki.
Cerezo were held to a 1-1 draw at Jubilo Iwata, Kashiwa edged Gamba Osaka 1-0 away and Frontale beat relegation-threatened Consadole Sapporo 2-1 at home.
Oiwa's men have a grand opportunity to pull away even further next weekend, when they are away to Cerezo.
"The most important thing is we achieved our goal for today, which was to win," said Leandro, who struck in the 17th minute. "We need to rest up and get ready for a big game next week."
From a ball by Mitsuo Ogasawara, Leandro tore through the middle of the park to open the scoring. Kanazaki sealed the win three minutes to time, netting off the left-hand post from a tight right angle.
Kashima never let Shimizu in the game, and Oiwa was proud of the way his troops responded after their nine-game unbeaten run came to an end the previous week.
"The boys came out aggressive and stayed that way through the entire match. I thought we played really well," Oiwa said. "(Cerezo) beat us at home earlier this season. We will definitely be out for payback."
In other J1 games, 17th-place Sanfrecce Hiroshima beat 14th-place Ventforet Kofu 1-0 at home to collect a crucial three points toward their survival, while dead-last Albirex took another sure step toward J2 after losing 2-1 to Vegalta Sendai in Niigata.
Shinzo Koroki netted twice during the first half in Urawa Reds' 2-1 win against FC Tokyo at Saitama, where kickoff was delayed one hour by a thunderstorm.
Victor Ibarbo's brace keyed Omiya Ardija to a 3-0 home win over Sagan Tosu.