Standard Liège 1-0 Zulte Waregem: Mpoku brings the top five even closer together
Zulte Waregem may remain top after a 1-0 defeat to Standard at Sclessin, about which they can have no complaints, but Paul-José Mpoku’s second half penalty means that a mere five points separate the top five teams in PO1 with four games to go.
Mircea Rednic sprung a surprise by preferring Dino Arslanagic to Laurent Ciman, who had a shocker last week in the defeat in Lokeren. Jelle van Damme missed out with a back problem and was replaced by Zie Diabaté, while Paul-José Mpoku returned to the starting XI. There were no such worries for Francky Dury, who again named his strongest side with the arguable exception of Sébastien Bruzzese in goal despite Sammy Bossut signing a new contract this week.
The match began with former Standard midfielders Steven Defour (FC Porto) and Marc Wilmots (Belgium coach) in the stands. Defour had addressed the home supporters beforehand and the Belgian international remains a hugely popular figure, having won two titles at Sclessin.
It was another ex-Rouche in Franck Berrier who had the first real chance when he latched on to Hazard’s ball but he flashed his shot wide from a narrow angle. Shortly after, Kanu’s back post header was saved by Bruzzese and the colourful Brazilian defender was to be an aerial threat throughout the opening 45 minutes. Thorgan Hazard was dangerous in patches and when he capitalised on a loose ball from Mpoku, he raced down the right with his customary sense of purpose and cut the ball back to Godeau, who surprisingly popped up to shoot wide of the near post.
While Standard were the better side in the opening 45, shots on target for both sides were few and far between and it was little surprise that it was scoreless at the interval. However, Standard could take encouragement from the fact that Essevee found it difficult to deal with their pace going forward.
Les Rouches came close to breaking the deadlock in the opening minute of the second half when Bruzzese spilled Ezekiel’s shot but he managed to take enough of the sting out of the effort and Essevee were able to clear the ball to safety. It was a warning the visitors did not heed and Standard took the lead soon after.
Mpoku was brought down inside the box by a retreating Conte and referee Tim Pots showed no hesitation in pointing to the spot. In contrast to events in Brugge earlier this afternoon, Mpoku sent Bruzzese the wrong way, albeit after a rather curious run up, which had more success on this occasion than Adebayor in the Europa League.
Standard should have confirmed their superiority when they found themselves in a three-on-one situation on the counter but D’Haene cut Bulot’s ball out before the ex-Caen midfielder saw a shot deflected wide after good work from Batshuayi, who admiredly stayed on his feet inside the box despite D’Haene’s lunging challenge. Zulte Waregem knew they had to do something to turn the game around and Hazard went agonisingly close with a left-footed volley, which whistled wide of Kawashima’s post.
The home side, led by Kanu (who misses the next game through suspension), were proving resolute and tough to break down. Zulte Waregem were largely reduced to high, looping crosses into the box, which posed little danger. Both sides rang the changes and George Tucudean was unfortunate to be flagged offside late on while D’Haene volleyed straight at Eiji Kawashima, who kept yet another clean sheet. Bruzzese had an eventful end to the game, coming forward and teeing up D’Haene, who shot over before denying Vainqueur and seeing Tucudean put the rebound wide. As it turned out, the one goal was enough.
PO1 after 6 games: 1. Zulte Waregem 40, 2. Anderlecht 39, 3. Standard Liège 38, 4. Club Brugge 37, 5. Racing Genk 36, 6. Lokeren 31.