Former Japan forward Yuya Osako hit a brace as leaders Vissel Kobe brushed aside last-place Yokohama FC 3-0 at home to stay top of the J-League first-division on Sunday.
The 32-year-old, a surprise omission from Samurai Blue's Qatar World Cup squad, moved top of this season's J1 scoring chart with his ninth.
Daiju Sasaki's 10th-minute effort from the edge of the area grazed the bar as the home side dominated the first half at Noevir Stadium, although they had to wait until stoppage time to find the breakthrough.
Yokohama FC goalkeeper Svend Brodersen brought down Osako inside the area and the forward sent the German the wrong way with the penalty for the opener before he got his second seven minutes into the second half.
Hotaru Yamaguchi won the ball near the halfway line to launch a counter, and although Brodersen saved Koya Yuruki's low drive from 20 meters out, the rebound fell to Osako, who chest-controlled the ball before finding the left bottom corner with a volley.
"(The second goal) came after we defended well as a team, and that's something that has been clicking for us this season," Osako said.
Their third arrived two minutes later after Yokohama FC defender Takumi Nakamura gifted the ball to Yuruki inside his own box, allowing the attacker to square the ball for Sasaki to tap into the net.
Kobe, who flirted with relegation last season, have now won eight while drawing and losing twice each as they sit atop the standings on 26 points, with manager Takayuki Yoshida building a side without having to rely on Andres Iniesta, who was a second-half substitute on the day.
Elsewhere, holders Marinos thumped Kyoto Sanga 4-1 at home to remain two points off the pace. Sanfrecce Hiroshima came from behind to defeat Avispa Fukuoka 3-1 at home, joining Nagoya Grampus on 23 points in third.
Kashima Antlers grabbed a 1-0 win at Cerezo Osaka for their fourth straight victory to move up to fifth on 19 points, while Kawasaki Frontale saw off Sagan Tosu 1-0 at home for their third straight win to move up to sixth on 18 points.
Albirex Niigata and Kashiwa Reysol played out a goalless draw, with the match in Niigata held without VAR after the league failed to allocate a vehicle that was to deliver the equipment.