KAA Gent 0-0 Standard Liège: Bienvenido Victor Fernández
If the winter break had whetted the appetite of fans of the Pro League eager for something to get their teeth into, then they should be entitled to a full refund following the first game of 2013. KAA Gent have been perhaps the most interesting side (perhaps some will plump for Lierse) to observe during the mid-season hiatus and Bob Peeters’ ignominious reign came to an end not long after we saw in the New Year. His replacement came out of left-field but it would be churlish to neglect the positive aspects of Victor Fernández’s CV – European qualification with Betis and Celta Vigo allied to a European trophy with Real Zaragoza.
Fernández has emerged from his own break after a stint working as a pundit on Spanish television and has to hit the ground running – the odds are stacked against him as he has no knowledge of the Belgian league, he speaks neither Dutch nor English and Gent are mired in a relegation battle with just seven games of the regular season remaining after this weekend. In his favour, he at least has his assistant Manu Ferrera who speaks Spanish and the Gent hierarchy have made significant moves in the market in an attempt to reverse the series of errors that have blighted this current campaign.
Of Michel Louwagie’s new recruits, Renato Neto and David Hubert began in a bolstered midfield alongside the returning Christophe Lepoint, who is rebuilding his own career after his own problems, not least a car crash also involving then team-mate Sébastien Bruzzese. Ervin Zukanovic, plucked from Kortrijk featured in central defence and Eliamane Coulibaly would come off the bench to commence his second spell in Gent. For Standard’s part, it was a familiar line up even if shorn of their most potent striker Imoh Ezekiel with Mircea Rednic deciding not to risk newcomer Reza from the start.
Perhaps a scoreless draw should come as no surprise for Gent have found the net a miserable 24 times in 23 games, which is far from acceptable, even after weighing up the overall talent and lack of a coherent attacking force, though Ilombé Mboyo has improved in recent months, controversies aside. Furthermore, Standard have been much more solid at the back since Mircea Rednic took up the reins and as witnessed tonight, Batshuayi on his own isn’t as effective when Ezekiel is not making the runs in behind but he did have his moments.
Ezekiel or no Ezekiel, Batshuayi should have done better on twelve minutes when he shot over with Bulot better positioned. Gent had more of the game in the first half but rarely posed a genuine threat with Standard happy to keep the hosts at arm’s length. Luis Manuel Seijas should have done better eight minutes before the break when he mishit his shot high and wide after good work from Batshuayi.
Whatever was said in the respective dressing rooms at the break had little effect. Rodgers Kola was substituted on the hour after yet another inadequate performance and it’s difficult to see how his form can justify a prolonged run in the side. Perhaps even W-B weren’t prepared to accept him in any Lepoint swap and I wouldn’t blame them but his supporters in his native Zambia maintain there is a lot more to come.
The second half brought some good chances for Standard with Frank Boeckx making a string of important saves in his first start since February in place of the injured Sergio Padt ; the pick of the bunch for me being his fingertip stop to tip Mpoku’s rasping drive onto the post. Reza could have won the game on his belated Standard debut but in a moment of hesitation, he stopped and allowed Arzo to avert the danger. Club stalwart Réginal Goreux was booked in what is almost certainly his final game for the club before he joins Krylia Sovetov while William Vainqueur who was sent off in the final stages.
In the end though, neither side showed enough quality to merit the three points and les Rouches have missed out here on a chance to catch Gent cold following the recent upheaval at the Ottenstadion. Lepoint’s inclusion definitely gives the side more in midfield with the tall Belgian adding depth to their play with his runs forward while I felt that Gent had a better attacking shape in terms of their front three. However, these small chinks of light are insufficient on their own to propel Gent in the right direction.