Beerschot 3-1 Cercle Brugge
Charleroi 3-0 Waasland-Beveren
Club Brugge 3-0 Lierse
KAA Gent 1-1 Anderlecht
KV Mechelen 2-3 Zulte Waregem
Kortrijk 0-0 OH Leuven
Mons 1-5 Racing Genk
Standard Liège 0-2 Lokeren
As the Formula One season began this weekend, the chequered flag come down on the regular season of the Jupiler Pro League. It was perhaps no coincidence that former chairman Ivan De Witte chose to reignite the debate on the future of the play-offs before a round of games, which had an anti-climactic feel to them in no small part due to the system he has been the greatest supporter of.
Turning to the action, Anderlecht may well have ended the regular season top of the pile but they did so on a low note after a below-par performance against a somewhat resurgent KAA Gent. Until a stunning left foot strike from the under-fire Milan Jovanovic, the leaders were unable to string several passes together never mind create chances. If Gent weren’t amused, the Anderlecht hierarchy most certainly were. The second half was marred, unsurprisingly I regret to add, by some more questionable refereeing. John van den Brom said after the game that he felt his side had been “screwed”. Rodgers Kola scored his second Gent goal to equalise but Anderlecht were adamant that the ball had not crossed the line. Oli Deschacht was then given a straight red card for fending off David Hubert when a yellow would have sufficed. Van den Brom now faces an opening play-off game with Standard shorn of Mbokani, Jovanovic, Gillet and Deschacht but he did at least hand Anthony Vanden Borre his first Anderlecht appearance in six years.
Zulte Waregem kept the pressure up by bouncing back from last week’s defeat to win away to KV Mechelen. Jens Naessens gave Essevee the lead in rather fortunate circumstances as debutant Karehmet’s clearance struck the forward and went in. Mechelen began to improve on their sloppy start and Cordaro was unfortunate not to win a penalty. The visitors doubled the lead on the hour when Macedonian substitute Trajkovski finished off a beautifully crafted move involving Naessens, Berrier and Leye. Malinwa hit back soon after through a Diabang header before Conte scored his first Essevee goal with the aid of his hand. A late Mads Junker made it an uneasy end for Dury’s side but they held on for an important win even if publicly, the coach is setting his sights no higher than third.
Club Brugge are beginning to reap the rewards of appointing Juan Carlos Garrido and his decision to deploy Ryan Donk in midfield has not worked as spectacularly as it did against Lierse. The hosts had the game wrapped up inside 35 minutes but scored three superb goals to underline their quality. Carlos Bacca set up Maxime Lestienne for the first before the top scorer bagged a sublime brace. The first came when Donk lifted the ball over the defence to send Bacca clear and the Colombian lifted it over Sels and then into the net ; the second came again from Donk, who teed the ball up for himself and dinked it in to Bacca, who volleyed home first time. On this form, albeit against mediocre opposition, a return to the qualifying stages of Europe’s top competition is a distinct possibility.
Racing Genk and Standard Liège were both without their respective talismen (Jelle Vossen and Jelle van Damme) but their responses could not have been more different. Mons did take the lead against Genk through an Arbitman penalty after Koulibaly was wrongul penalised for a supposed handball. Gorius equalised in his 250th top flight game with an equally dubious penalty. From then on, Mario Been’s side ran amok. Kumordzi headed the visitors into the lead before Kim Ojo slid home his first for the club after the Mons defence stepped up en masse. Benji De Ceulaer added a fourth with a first time shot from Ojo’s cushion header before he got his second with a low shot, drilled from just outside the box.
Lokeren pulled off an excellent win at Sclessin, confounding those who felt be going through the motions. Peter Maes said Sporting came to win in order to finish fifth and avoid opening the play-offs with Anderlecht and his side were true to their word. Both goals came from Kanu errors with Nill De Pauw and Harbaoui capitalising. Standard could have played for a month without scoring – they are developing a worrying habit of trapping their opponents inside their own half without posing a genuine threat. Yoni Buyens said afterwards it was perhaps their worst performance of the season and Mircea Rednic, whose substitutions caused some discontent in the stands, said it was the poorest match he’d seen from les Rouches since he replaced Ron Jans.
Charleroi have not fared too badly since Yannick Ferrera’s resignation and are playing with a carefree attitude going forward, which is refreshing to see. The underrated Danijel Milicevic put them ahead with the outside of his right foot and though Waasland-Beveren had a good spell after another petulant red card for Rossini, David Pollet’s late double put the game to bed. The ex-Lens man has added class and a cutting edge to les Zèbres, as his second goal clearly showed when he stroked the ball past Coosemans with the minimum of effort.
Beerschot finally managed a win – their first since November – by downing fellow PO3 side Cercle Brugge 3-1. On the evidence of this game, we’ll be spared a tortuous six-game series but the home side do have more individual quality at their disposal – suspiciously so one might cynically point out given their precarious finances. One plus point for Groen-Zwart was Stephen Buyl’s first professional goal, cancelling out Bodor’s opener, which Coppens lost the flight of. In what was a worrying trend during round 30, Roy Dayan scored from the spot after another soft penalty call before he added Beerschot’s third from a corner. KV Kortrijk have been utterly impotent in front of goal of late and their 0-0 draw at home to OH Leuven goes down as one to forget. Hein Vanhaezebrouck’s main focus is on overturning a 2-1 deficit to reach the cup final at Cercle’s expense.
Here is how the table stands after all 30 rounds.
1. Anderlecht 34
2. Zulte Waregem 32
3. Racing Genk 28
4. Club Brugge 27
5. Lokeren 26
6. Standard Liège 25
Group A: Mons, Kortrijk, KAA Gent, Lierse
Group B: KV Mechelen, OH Leuven, Charleroi, Waasland-Beveren
Beerschot v Cercle Brugge, Beerschot begin the five game series with a three-point headstart.