After spending so many episodes concentrating on the pressure being put on East Tokyo United as a whole in the wake of five straight defeats, their return to winning ways sees such pressures be felt on a more individual level, as Sera feels the weight of goal-scoring expectations for the team upon his shoulders as Natsuki's return increases the pressure upon his solitary berth up front.
With only one goal all season, Sera's hunger for more goals is as understandable as its effect upon his confidence is notable, and we're soon thrust into another game against Yokohama as the clock ticks down with the game remaining goalless against an opposition that has effectively "parked the bus" in tactical terms - Two men marking playmaker Gino and a rough right for Sera on his own up-front means that a glut of goals are unlikely. In the end it's Murakoshi who pops up to blast home from a corner and make it a hat-tricks of wins on the trot for ETU, but despite the celebratory attitude on the coach back home Sera can't get into the party spirit as his goal drought continues, made worse by finding himself substituted again later in the game. Mind you, he isn't the only one having a rough time, as Tsubaki is once again plagued by his old demons after that winning performance against Nagoya a couple of games ago.
With a return to cup football and a match against Shimizu Pulse next up, Sera finds that his place in the first team is still intact (despite his fears to the contrary), but as the game progresses any hopes of a goal look even more remote with ETU on the back foot for much of the game. As is so often the case for a player who is down on his luck, it never rains but it pours for poor Sera - Just when he finally gets his chance to bear down on goal, so a cruel twist of fate robs him not only of a goal-scoring opportunity, but potentially his place in the starting eleven.
Perhaps its the lack of football for me to watch now the World Cup is over, but the past couple of weeks have found me enjoying Giant Killing even more than usual. Perhaps that's because, once again for this series, Sera's story feels very real to any football fan - A striker is a curious beast whose confidence feeds on goals, meaning that a single strike can turn into a sudden glut while a single game without hitting the back of the net can start a chain reaction which ends with the player's self-esteem in tatters. This is perhaps especially the case for a player like Sera - Acting as a lone striker is never easy, especially for a relatively diminutive and not hugely skilful player such as himself, and it can be a soul-sapping task ploughing a lone furrow within a team with few attacking options.
Still, aside from the tactical and psychological analysis, this was another good episode - I jumped out of my chair when Murakoshi scored as I remain drawn into watching ETU as though they're "my team", and sharing the joys and frustrations of both players and fans (and manager of course - It's interesting to see that Natsuki is perhaps the first player to "get" Tatsumi despite having worked with him for no time at all) has become a weekly pleasure of mine. I just hope when the new Premier League season rolls around I don't forget who I support and roll up at the Emirates Stadium chanting "ETU! ETU!"...