The season got off to an exciting start with a topsy-turvy five-goal encounter as league champions Anderlecht beat cup winners Lokeren 3-2 at the former’s Constant vanden Stock Stadion. It marked a winning begin to John van den Brom’s time in Brussels with the former Vitesse boss picking up a trophy at the first time of asking. However, Lokeren showed excellent spirit to come back from a two-goal deficit, highlighting that the fears expressed over Paarswit at the back are not without justification.
Both sides lined up as expected though there as a welcome bonus for Lokeren in that Peter Maes was able to name Benji De Ceulaer on the bench as the winger had recovered sufficiently from a virus. Anderlecht were dominant in possession in the early stages, showing more patience with the ball than under Ariël Jacobs. However, they were slightly fortunate that Lokeren did not capitalise on at least one of the two occasions when Anderlecht committed perhaps too many forward with South African Ayanda Patosi rueing his missed opportunities.
The home side took the lead through one of their brightest stars. Many had called for the inclusion of the prodigious Dennis Praet in the first-choice starting eleven and the 18-year old did not disappoint, coolly guiding the ball past a helpless Lazic in the Lokeren goal. Credit must go to Kanu, whose wicked, bouncing, low cross caught Jérémy Taravel on the back foot and Praet was on hand to punish the Frenchman. Praet would later go off with a swollen ankle, which he hopes is not too serious, but while he clearly has a long way to go, the early signs are promising.
If the second half started in farce for Lokeren, with Taravel coming out with the wrong colour of tape, it was a completely different story for Les Mauves et Blancs. Moments after Dieumerci Mbokani’s good work inside the box went unrewarded seconds after kick-off, he took advantage of Taravel’s absence to head home a fantastic cross from right-back Denis Odoi. Interestingly, while Odoi is the first-choice in his position for club, it’s his team-mate Guillaume Gillet who most recently played there for Belgium, admitting that he is targeting a spot very much up for grabs.
The received wisdom may have been that the game would turn into a procession, however, Lokeren displayed resolve and crucially quality to hit back a minute later. With Benji De Ceulaer having surprisingly been thrown on in place of Nill De Pauw during the break, Peter Maes was not going to accept his charges going down without a fight. Profiting from a lapse in concentration in the Anderlecht defence, Ivan Leko deftly dinked the ball over Silvio Proto, who on this occasion could not come to the rescue of his blundering team-mates.
Lokeren then made Anderlecht pay for a squandered Gillet opportunity with the equaliser. Hamdi Harbaoui led Deschacht a merry dance down the right before laying the ball off to De Ceulaer. The former RKC man cut the ball back to Leko, who beat Proto at his near post with a well-placed shot on his gem of a left foot. After an eventful period for Mbokani in which he both hit the side netting and (wrongly) escaped a second booking, Gillet atoned for his earlier miss. Receiving the ball from Milan Jovanovic, Kanu picked out the ex-KAA Gent man who took no half measures and emphatically blasted the ball home.
Tensions threatened to boil over with a tête-à-tête involving Kanu and De Ceulaer, the latter refusing to go to ground easily, perhaps choosing to take the moral high ground after the incident with Kortrijk’s Brecht Capon , which saw him red-carded in the cup final. In truth, Anderlecht could have won by more with Mbokani hitting the post but they just had a little too much quality for Lokeren on the day.
After the game, Gillet let it be known that he felt Anderlecht should have been more ruthless: “We should have put the game to bed earlier. Lokeren should never have been allowed to get back into the match,” he told Sporza, admitting that there was still work to do. Lokeren captain Killian Overmeire felt that “it was a missed opportunity” and hit out at Taravel for his unprofessionalism.
Looking ahead to the league season beginning next week, there were encouraging signs for Anderlecht in the manner in which they were more patient with the ball, with the midfield trio impressing. Kanu showed why van den Brom has already invested a great deal of faith in him and this could be the season he takes the Pro League by storm in a more attacking setup. There are clearly defensive concerns for Anderlecht, with neither Wasyl nor Deschacht commanding at the back. It should be remembered that Juhász Roland and Cheikhou Kouyaté were missing but it’s also worth noting that Osama Hawsawi has seemingly already been earmarked for the exit door. Lokeren meanwhile still have to add Milos Maric to the squad and in Djiby Fall, they have one of the better strikers in the league, yet he finds his way blocked by Hamdi Harbaoui. A nice headache for Maes to have as he builds upon last season’s maiden trophy.
Stay tuned to the blog over the next week for a comprehensive preview of the new league campaign and hopefully a maiden podcast.