For more than ninety minutes, Zulte Waregem failed to replicate their stunning win in midweek away to Anderlecht. It mattered little however, as the returning Mbaye Leye snatched a dramatic win for the title chasers in injury time, leaving them just three points off the champions with two regular season games to be played.
Francky Dury welcomed back Junior Malanda and Mbaye Leye while Aleksandr Trajkovski retained his place in the team with Jens Naessens benched. Charleroi’s interim boss Luka Peruzovic brought back Francis N’Ganga at leftback and recalled Giuseppe Rossini to partner David Pollet upfront.
The game got underway on yet another dreadful surface, which was as much covered in mud as in grass. As ever, vast swathes of Charleroi’s stadium were deserted meaning that Lokeren coach Peter Maes had plenty of space all to himself.
Zulte Waregem have the meanest defence in the league but they were far from commanding in the first half. Bozovic headed over from close range while Smamy Bossut and Karel D’Haene ensured that defensive lapses amounted to near misses and no more. Ederson had the best chance of the opening 45 but he disappointingly shot at Bossut, who looked more assured than his opposite number Michalis Sifakis.
Throughout the second half, les Zèbres, who have little to play for this season having guaranteed safety, looked the much more likely team to score. The best chances fell first to N’Ganga whose acrobatic volley was superbly kept out by Bossut and then Pollet, who rounded the goalkeeper only to overrun the ball out of play.
Essevee’s creative hub of Franck Berrier and Thorgan Hazard endured a frustrating day with the Frenchman coming off towards the end with the scores at 0-0. Hazard, to his credit, kept plugging away and was a threat from distance as well as in and around the box, where he won free kicks due to his close control and capacity to lure defenders in.
With the game seemingly destined to finish scoreless, there was a late and dramatic twist. An Essevee corner dropped kindly for Mbaye Leye, who couldn’t have wished to strike his volley any better. Sifakis was unsighted behind the melee of players and couldn’t keep out the stunning strike. It can often be on such moments that title races turn.
It was clear to see what the victory meant to the Zulte Waregem players and technical staff alike. In spite of a very average performance in a game they should have lost, they came away with a second win in five days.
Anderlecht’s once seemingly impregnable lead has been cut to a mere three points. Paarswith still have to face Mechelen at home and go to Gent while Zulte Waregem finish the regular season hosting Club Brugge before a tricky looking trip to Mechelen on the final day.
No trophy will be handed out before the play-offs but today was nevertheless a very significant day in the reborn Belgian title race. Some fans may glance jealously at the competitive nature of the fight for the Eredivisie this (and last) season. As it stands right now we’ll have something resembling a genuine scrap for the title of Jupiler Pro League champions.