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J-League Preview: Chasers seek improvement

Sagan Tosu, Kashima Antlers and Kawasaki Frontale all squandered opportunities to keep pace with leaders Urawa Reds last time out in the Japanese top flight.

The Reds stretched their advantage to three points over Sagan as the second-placed side were held to a 2-2 draw by Shimizu S-Pulse.

Kashima and Kawasaki - third and fourth respectively - were also restricted to a single point by Tokyo and Nagoya Grampus and sit a point behind Sagan.

Sagan travel to Ventforet Kofu on Saturday as they look to reel the Reds back in, and will be hoping for a favour from S-Pulse, who play host to the current leaders.

The Reds will want to bounce back after crashing out of the J-League Cup at the quarter-final stage on away goals to Sanfrecce Hiroshima last weekend.

"The reason for our team's defeat was that we were not able to score one more goal to win the match even though we created so many scoring opportunities," said coach Mihailo Petrovic after that defeat. 

"Now, we must put this behind us and concentrate on our upcoming J-League matches and prepare well for our next match against Shimizu S-Pulse."

Kashima's draw in their last fixture brought an end to a four-game winning streak, but they remain unbeaten in nine in the league.

Omiya Ardija are their opponents this weekend - a side without a win in 10 and rooted in the relegation zone.

Kawasaki have now gone two matches without a win, but will be confident of picking up maximum points at home to basement club Tokushima Vortis.

Vortis triumphed 2-1 at Albirex Niigata last month, but normal service was resumed when they fell to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Sanfrecce Hiroshima last time out.

Cerezo Osaka complete the relegation zone and welcome Kashiwa Reysol this weekend.

Cerezo have registered just one victory in their last 18 outings and are in danger of being hauled further into the mire unless they can turn things around on Saturday.

Elsewhere, Tokyo play host to Vissel Kobe, Yokohama F Marinos welcome Nagoya Grampus, and Vegalta Sendai head to Albirex Niigata.

In the weekend's remaining fixture, Sanfrecce Hiroshima are at home to Gamba Osaka.