For the second time this season, the Walloon derby between Standard Liège and Charleroi provided us with plenty of goals and lots of other drama besides. There were some crucial differences however, namely that this game was played in freezing temperatures and that this is a Standard side who are very much on the way up, rather than delivering the odd good performance in between several mediocre displays. And that’s before we get on to the Charleroi fans.
This game had been in some doubt due to the deluge of snow that has hit Belgium (and my own Luxembourg) over the past couple of days but fortunately, the game was given the go-ahead this afternoon. Charleroi wished it hadn’t as soon as the third minute.
When the normally reliable Parfait Mandanda spilled Paul-Jose Mpoku’s shot, Dzinic was given a red card for a professional foul on Michy Batshuayi. High-profile referee Serge Gumienny could have chosen to give the goal but instead Charleroi were down to ten men and when play had resumed, a goal down thanks to Yoni Buyens. Slovenian international Dzinic will not have fond memories of these opponents – he was also sent off in the first game between the sides for a professional foul on Ezekiel, which also led to a converted spot-kick.
From then on, Standard were rampant. William Vainqueur doubled the lead in the eighth minute with a superb shot from 30 yards out beyond Mandanda, who tonight was below the high standards he has set for himself this season. To their credit, Charleroi managed to weather the storm and even create a couple of chances themselves through Danijel Milicevic but were unable to narrow the gap.
Standard then proceeded to demolish and humiliate les Zèbres with three goals in an eight minute spell prior to the half-time interval. Maor Buzaglo had the home fans in raptures when he deliciously curled his free-kick beyond Mandanda on 33 minutes. Buzaglo, whose contract is up in June, was involved in the next goal. The Israeli looked to be going nowhere after a fine through ball from Buyens but he had the presence of mind to backheel the ball into the path of Réginal Goreux, who calmly stroked the ball into the net.
If the fifth Standard goal was comical, the scenes, which were to follow, were anything but. Mpoku’s mishit shot was thumped into his own goal by the unfortunate Milicevic. That unfortunate mishap was the cue for the Charleroi fans in the upper tier to start hurling seats in the general direction of the pitch. After the break, they followed this up by lighting flares and throwing them onto the pitch to the extent that the game had to be suspended for several minutes. The scenes were reminiscent of Standard’s home game with Anderlecht but this time the away fans were responsible.
Not that the home fans were entirely happy in spite of the scoreline. There were just 18,605 fans present in a stadium, which can hold 29,000 spectators. Some felt the game should have been postponed. Furthermore, while the ultras have had their stadium ban (handed down for what took place against Anderlecht) lifted, many are still unhappy with those who run the club. One banner aimed at owner and chairman Roland Duchâtelet read “Before throwing us out, learn to get to know us.”
Once the game had resumed, Standard took the opportunity to give run outs to the likes of Sébastien Pocognoli and Nacho Gonzalez (who have been out injured) and young Brazilian forward Luiz Phellype. Charleroi managed to pull one goal back when Onur Kaya’s cross was headed home from close range by captain Giuseppe Rossini, however, Standard were not finished yet. Jelle van Damme set up the sixth with a scissors kick across the penalty box, which landed perfectly on the head of young Nigerian striker Imoh Ezekiel, who notched up his ninth goal of the current campaign. Charleroi were unable to score another, thus avoiding a repeat of the 6-2 scoreline earlier in the season.
If the first derby had been played on the hottest weekend of the year, the return game took place on one of the coldest. The Charleroi fans may have done their best to heat things up but joking aside, their actions were a disgrace and set back Belgian football. If the league wants to truly assert itself, they must be a lot more strident in tackling the problems of fans’ behaviour, dated stadia, haphazard refereeing and the farcical league structure. It will take time but should they fix these off the field problems, the teams will improve on the pitch.
As for the two teams, this is a particularly difficult setback for Charleroi to stomach coming a week after one of their best shows this season in the win over Kortrijk. It is to be hoped (if not expected) that the club will not plump for a knee-jerk reaction and get rid of Yannick Ferrera – a young coach who has done a superb job given the circumstances. Meanwhile, there will be some who will say Standard should not get carried away by this result. They may well be correct but it’s worth bearing in mind that Standard found it just as easy last week against Waasland-Beveren but lacked the desire and initiative to kill the game off, only scoring a second in stoppage time. I say in my headline that this derby had almost everything – it’s just a shame it wasn’t more competitive.