JPL Round 8: The axe begins to fall
“I will continue to fight even if we lose again,” was how Mons coach Enzo Scifo defiantly put it after his side’s sixth defeat in eight games. Unfortunately, one of the greats of Belgian football wouldn’t get the chance. He was given his marching orders this morning after what was sadly always likely to be an ominous board meeting. The same Scifo who guided the club with the smallest budget in the top flight to seventh place last season and a strong showing in PO2 was deemed to be the wrong man to take the club forward just four months later.
It had been a frustrating transfer window for les Dragons. Scifo was unable to bring in many of his preferred targets as he tried to replace the goals of Jérémy Perbet (who admittedly left in January) and Aloys Nong, both of whom bucked one recent trend by going from Belgium to Spain. Shlomi Arbitman missed last week’s very winnable game at home to Waasland-Beveren (1-1) due to Yom Kippur before things unravelled in Mechelen in a match that Shakespeare would term a tragic comedy for there were three own goals and two red cards. Nicolas Timmermans showed he had the killer instinct of Perbut – just at the wrong end of the pitch. His own goal set the tone for a miserable night for Mons, who finished with nine men and went down 4-2 despite scoring twice in a game for the first time this season. The club’s statement said:
“Enzo Scifo is a gentleman who is not the root cause of all the club’s problems but in order to ensure the club’s top flight future and to avoid the spectre of relegation to the second division, which we don’t want to experience again, we had to react.”
Scifo did not win the dubious honour that is the sack race ; Juan Carlos Garrido beat him by five days. It took until October last season for Ron Jans to be the first to go but the Dutchman’s departure was the signal for a domino effect that claimed six more victims before the end of November. Victor Fernández is also under a great deal of scrutiny after KAA Gent failed to win at home to KV Oostende. The most damning aspect of the game was that KVO had the two most creative players on either side in Franck Berrier and Fernando Canesin. De Buffalo’s couldn’t even capitalise on a huge slice of good fortune when De Schutter scored a “brilliant” own goal as Berrier combined to set up Canesin for the equaliser and a point was the least De Kustboys deserved.
The biggest game of the weekend was Club Brugge‘s 4-0 thrashing of Anderlecht. Michel Preud’homme looked on in the stands as Blauw-Zwart answered the criticism of their general manager Vincent Mannaert of not having put together an entire 90 minutes all season. Young defensive duo Brandon Mechele and Bjorn Engels had Anderlecht’s much vaunted front two of Matias Suárez and Aleksandar Mitrovic in their respective pockets all afternoon. Only Frank Acheampong, who himself came up against an inspired Thomas Meunier, can emerge with any real credit.
Anderlecht’s midfield of Luka Milivojevic and Sacha Kljestan was overrun against Vadis, Simons and Jørgensen. Milivojevic had a miserable 45 minutes before he was taken off (à la De Zeeuw in Lisbon). He gave more away than a donor to a charity shop and conceded the penalty from which Simons gave Club the lead. The Serb bemoaned comparisons to Lucas Biglia but he needs to pull his socks up and become accustomed to dictating attacks from midfield. From then on, Maxime Lestienne took charge scoring a brace and underlining once again his status as the outstanding player in Belgium in 2013. A Golden Shoe and full international honours surely await. The two newcomers Waldemar Sobota and Kehinde Fatai linked up for the fourth goal that put the icing on the cake.
If les Mauve et Blanc are to carry the mantle of being Belgium’s champions with the honour it deserves, they need to stand up in tough situations. Defeats happen to the best of them, as we saw elsewhere in Europe this weekend, but how you conduct yourself and bounce back is the real test of a side’s mettle. De Zeeuw’s public outburst post-Benfica and Mitrovic’s alleged spitting at Club fans (for which he’s been given a three game ban, accepted by Anderlecht) are two symptoms of the same disease. Last October’s defeat in Charleroi proved a seminal moment in the season with van den Brom changing things up and leading the side to eleven straight wins. The calls for young Belgians Dennis Praet and Youri Tielemans to get their chance will grow ever louder. There’s little point in having two stellar strikers if the platform is not there for them to perform. The run of three defeats in four can be turned around by van den Brom, who remains a fine young coach but is hampered by his own short-termism.
Elsewhere this weekend, Standard Liège marched on at the top with eight wins from eight. Lokeren gave the league leaders a real game with Jordan Remacle excellent and Hans Vanaken on target once again. Ultimately, les Rouches had that extra bit of quality, showcased by Michy Batshuayi’s wonderful individual effort. Guy Luzon, expressive at the best of times, was ecstatic at the end because his side passed a thorough examination. Racing Genk were flat against an improved Waasland-Beveren side and drew 0-0 but they welcome Mboyo back this week. Zulte Waregem were made to work very hard for their 4-2 win over OH Leuven but Thorgan Hazard inspired a second half rally with goalscorers Sven Kums and Habibou (2) impressing.
Our final two games were notable for two first-time goalscorers in the Pro League. Tony Watt scored on his Celtic debut, his Champions League debut and completed a hat-trick with a goal less than 90 seconds into his Lierse debut. He closed Kortrijk defenders down and also went on one run where he beat four men but that wasn’t good enough for coach Stanley Menzo, who gave him a lengthy dressing down after the game. Charleroi had too much for Cercle Brugge, with PSG loanee Neeskens Kebano opening his account and Daniel Milicevic pulling the strings in a more central role than he’s used to.
We leave you with Zulte Waregem striker Habib, or that should be Henry(?), Habibou:
— Diezel L’infatigable (@DiezelAbdoulaye) September 23, 2013
Results: Charleroi 2-0 Cercle Brugge, KAA Gent 1-1 KV Oostende, Lierse 2-0 KV Kortrijk, KV Mechelen 4-2 Mons, Club Brugge 4-0 Anderlecht, Standard Liège 2-1 Lokeren, Waasland-Beveren 0-0 Racing Genk, Zulte Waregem 4-2 OH Leuven.