Former England international Jay Bothroyd has secured promotion with Júbilo Iwata to the J. League, the top tier of Japanese football, at the first time of asking.
Bothroyd joined the Japanese club in February of this year ahead of the Japanese season in what was a surprise move after leaving Thai side Muangthong United on a free transfer.
The striker was predicted to become a key player for his new club due to his powerful frame and hold up play for a team that was one of the strongest in J. League 2.
Although Júbilo were one of the favourites for a title challenge, the team had to work for their second place finish with tough games up and down the country through the brutal Japanese summer.
It is not uncommon for temperatures to hit the high 30C’s during the season, so late kick-offs are essential throughout the summer months.
To give you an idea of how gruelling the league is and the distances travelled in J. League 2, when Consadole Sapporo from the northern Hokkaido Prefecture played the most southerly club V-Varen Nagasaki, a 1,894 mile round trip was a necessity.
Júbilo, a team based in Shizuoka Prefecture, just over 120 miles from Tokyo finished just four points behind eventual champions Omiya Ardija who were relegated from the top division only 12 months ago.
Omiya and Júbilo were the top two teams throughout most of the gruelling 42 game season that started in the March of this year. However, come the end, Júbilo finished level on points with third placed Avispa Fukuoka but secured automatic promotion on goal difference.
Unlike Gary Lineker who played for Nagoya Grampus between 1992 and 1994, Bothroyd seemed to settle in at the club almost immediately, praising the professional standard of the Japanese game and showing off his Japanese skills on social media site Twitter throughout the season.
The much-travelled striker became an instant hit with the fans after scoring a brace against Giravanz Kitakyushu on his debut much to the delight of the Júbilo fans.
Bothroyd finished the season as the League’s top scorer with 20 goals including a hat-trick in August against Park Ji-Sung’s old club Kyoto Sanga. Bothroyd’s best part of the season perhaps came during April and May when he helped propel Júbilo up the rankings with five goals in six games.
The striker standing at 6 foot 3 inches tall held off a final goal flurry from Omiya’s Serbian striker Dragan Mrda who finished the season with 19 goals after scoring five in the last five games of the season.
Júbilo survived a dramatic final day in which they needed an injury time winner to secure automatic promotion in second place ahead of Avispa Fukuoka. Fukuoka won their final game away at FC Gifu 1-4 and looked to have leap-frogged Bothroyd’s team until a dramatic finale.
With Júbilo also away at relegation fighters Oita Trinita, it was expected to be an east three points for the Shizuoka team, however Oita had other ideas.
Trinita managed to score in the final minute to tie the game at 1-1 before a dramatic injury time striker from Yuki Kobayashi earned the three points and second place in the league for the away team.
For the final promotion spot to the J. League, Avispa Fukuoka will play V-Varen Nagasaki and Cerezo Osaka will play Ehime in the play-offs. Replacing them in the J. League 2 will be Montedio Yamagata, Shimizu S-Pulse and Matsumoto Yamaga F.C. who were relegated from the top division.
It will be interesting to see what happens with Bothroyd over the Japanese close-season as he has clearly proven himself in Japanese football and has perhaps put himself back in the shop widow for potential suitors in Japan or further afield back in Europe.