Kawasaki Frontale moved to the top of the table for the first time this season after Jong Tae-se scored twice to secure a 3-2 win at Omiya Ardija, while fellow title contenders Kashima Antlers and Gamba Osaka could only draw.
Defending champions Kashima were held to a goalless draw at Jubilo Iwata to remain second after ending a dismal run of five consecutive defeats, while Gamba fought back to draw 2-2 at Sanfrecce Hiroshima to hold on to third place, with Shimizu S-Pulse dropping down to fourth ahead of tomorrow's meeting with basement side Oita Trinita.
Kawasaki hold a one-point advantage over Kashima after recording a third consecutive win. Gamba are level on points with Shimizu with the top four separated by just two points with only five games remaining after this weekend's action.
Brazilian striker Juninho missed an early penalty for Kawasaki at Saitama Stadium, but made amends after 22 minutes as he latched on to a through-ball from Kengo Nakamura before lobbing advancing Omiya goalkeeper Koji Esumi. Jong then had his penalty saved by Esumi before Mato Neretljak pulled Omiya level from the spot just a minute before the break.
But just a few seconds later Jong fired home to hand Kawasaki the lead at half-time before doubling the advantage five minutes after the hour mark with his 11th of the season. Neretljak converted the fourth penalty awarded in the game with a minute remaining, but it was not enough to stop Omiya suffering a second straight defeat.
At Hiroshima Big Arch, a looping header from Toshihiro Aoyama and a fine strike by Tomoaki Makino late in the first half seemed to have put Sanfrecce in command against Gamba. But after Hideo Hashimoto pulled a goal back three minutes after the hour mark, Hayato Sasaki equalised with 20 minutes remaining following a fine ball from Yasuhito Endo.
"We played badly in the first half," said Endo. "We wanted to win and we had a chance of scoring the third goal. But we should take the positives from this result."
Fifth-placed Albirex Niigata slipped six points off the pace after Edmilson struck in the first minute to earn a 1-0 win for Urawa Red Diamonds, who are down in eighth but level on points with Albirex, Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Tokyo, who eased to a 4-0 win over struggling Kashiwa Reysol. Shingo Akamine opened the scoring a minute before the break before Naotake Hanyu, Sota Hirayama and Naohiro Ishikawa with his 15th of the season struck in the second half to leave Kashiwa six points adrift of safety.
Elsewhere, Kenta Kano struck with a minute remaining as Yokohama F.Marinos beat Asian Champions League semi-finalists Nagoya Grampus 2-1, while Montedio Yamagata boosted their survival hopes after recording a 1-0 win over Vissel Kobe to move seven points clear of the drop zone courtesy of Tatsuya Furuhashi's 40th-minute header.