Anderlecht 2-2 Standard Liège: The fireworks are on the pitch as three are sent off
Reigning champions Anderlecht equalised in the dying minutes through Guillaume Gillet to deny a Standard side who performed above expectations what would have been an outstanding win. Tempers flared on all sides in an encounter, which saw under-fire referee Serge Gumienny send three men from the field of play and bafflingly not a fourth.
With Dieumerci Mbokani controversially late back from the Africa Cup of Nations, Tom De Sutter continued to deputise upfront in what was otherwise John van den Brom’s first-choice starting eleven. Mircea Rednic too resisted the temptation to throw many of his newcomers into the cauldron of a Clasico. Reza continued upfront with Ezekiel not yet fit enough to start and Daniel Opare stepped into the shoes of the departed Réginal Goreux.
The home side got off to a dream start when Lucas Biglia decided to give Standard a headache rather than the Anderlecht hierarchy. Standard goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima punched weakly to Dennis Praet and though the youngster’s shot was blocked, there was no stopping Biglia’s left-footed effort on its way to the top corner. Following the goal, Anderlecht looked comfortable and in control with the ball at their feet with Bruno having some early joy against his opposite number Jelle van Damme and Kawashima saving Kljestan’s long-range free-kick.
Standard have been resurgent under Mircea Rednic and they channeled their Romanian coach with a spirited fightback, which led to their equaliser. Reza delivered his pass to perfection and Ezekiel got away from the poorly positioned Bram Nuytinck before smashing the ball home past Silvio Proto. The Dutchman has been a rock since joining from NEC in August but today was his worst performance in purple and white.
Reza volleyed wide soon after and les Liègeois were in the ascendancy making the timing of what happened next still less forgivable. After losing out to Opare in a shoulder-to-shoulder battle, Milan Jovanovic lost his marbles and shoved the young right-back to the floor. It was little surprise when the ex-Standard man was the first Mauve to be sent off in the league this season leaving his side in a precarious position. There were shades of the infamous water-bottle incident in Cyprus and the club may now consider the issue of his contract in a rather more negative light.
Van den Brom brought off his two youngsters Bruno and Praet at the break for the more battle-hardened duo of Denis Odoi and Kanu, meaning Guillaume Gillet shifted further forward. The changes didn’t have much of an immediate impact as Standard took the lead. Frédéric Bulot produced a magnificent cross on his less-favoured right foot for the underrated Yoni Buyens to head home.
The ex-Mechelen man is often in the shadow of fellow central midfielder William Vainqueur and it was no different today. Just back from suspension, the Frenchman was given a second booking for a foul on Gillet, however, the reputed Newcastle target was right to protest that a prior elbow from Sacha Kljestan to the head of Buyens somehow went unpunished. In hindsight and whatever your point of view, those two decisions were to impact on the final outcome.
Anderlecht’s Kanu fired wide and Kouyaté’s effort was parried onto the bar before the home side were forced to make do without their captain for the final ten minutes of normal time. Biglia was sent off after he stopped the lightning-quick substitute Imoh Ezekiel in his tracks. Up against it, Anderlecht forced an equaliser five minutes from time. Denis Odoi stood his free-kick up to the back post, where Gillet leapt highest to head past the scrambling Kawashima. It was the type of goal the utility man had become known for during the Ariël Jacobs era when he had often played further forward.
Both sides had to settle for a point at the end. For Anderlecht, they see their eleven game winning streak come to an end but at least they remain unbeaten having finished with nine men. Their previously impregnable defence was given a tough time with the speed of Reza and Batshuayi. A Standard side further on in its development may well have been able to close the game out but the signs were very encouraging as at times they were able to outplay the league leaders in their own backyard. Bulot appears to save his best for Anderlecht but he needs to be this productive on a more consistent basis.
Fans of the two clubs will bemoan a series of controversial calls and some decisions, which were plain wrong. That is one of the downsides of Belgian football. Video technology can and must help but it is not the only solution. The Pro League and Belgian FA must seek to emulate best international practice and may be well-advised to look across the English Channel or to Germany. For this neutral, who tries to emphasise the positives where possible, it was a pulsating game, which I could not take my eyes off. Super Sunday more than lived up to the name.