Zulte Waregem 2-1 Anderlecht: Essevee go top of the table
Zulte Waregem took a major step towards becoming the most surprising champions since Lierse in 1997 by defeating Anderlecht 2-1 at the Regenboogstadion to leapfrog the champions and move to the top of the standings with five games to play.
Both coaches named an unchanged side following their respective wins in midweek. Once again, there was no place in the eighteen for Dennis Praet. Before the game, Anderlecht boss John van den Brom said that his side could get away with two strikers, even against Zulte Waregem. Francky Dury, who now publicly admits his side are title candidates, gave a reminder that his side are pretty handy despite lacking the star quality of their opponents.
With two up front and Milan Jovanovic, Anderlecht looked to impose themselves on Zulte Waregem. Mbokani headed wide and Bruno was involved down the right flank. Essevee took some time to find their feet in the game as they often, if not always, tend to in the big games.
The most pivotal moment in the first period came on thirteen minutes. Conte did well to shrug off the attention of Wasilewski and Biglia to play in Leye, who was brought down by Nuytinck inside the penalty box. It was by no means a strong challenge but it was a clever run from Leye and Alexandre Boucaut had little option but to point to the spot. It was the first penalty Anderlecht had conceded all season and Leye sent Proto the wrong way from twelve yards to put Zulte Waregem ahead.
Anderlecht came close to the equaliser on 25 minutes. Tom De Sutter struck the post before Bruzzese was out quickly to stop Massimo Bruno’s follow up and De Sutter’s header from the subsequent corner was also stopped. Steve Colpaert was fortunate not to concede a penalty for his handball, which was not picked up even by the official behind the goal. The debate on their usefulness, or otherwise, will rage for the rest of the season and perhaps beyond. On the half hour, Thorgan Hazard, who had another good game, sprinted past Deschacht and swept inside Biglia before teeing up Leye, who shot wide. It was quite feisty for the rest of the first half but Anderlecht continued to try to take the game to Zulte Waregem without much success and Essevee led at the break.
Essevee could have been two goals to the good moments into the second half. Thorgan Hazard’s cross found Franck Berrier at the far post, forcing Proto to dive low to his left and parry the ball away. Conte subsequently had another chance for the hosts but a deflection off Wasilewski took the sting out of his shot. Lucas Biglia is often criticised for his unproductive set-pieces but he forced Bruzzese into a good stop with a sweetly struck free kick before van den Brom decided to withdraw the ineffective Jovanovic for supersub Iakovenko.
Anderlecht’s failure to find the net wasn’t for a lack of trying but Zulte Waregem remained composed and for the most part well organised at the back. That said, there were openings for the away side – Bruzzese came out very quickly to save from De Sutter and Colpaert was fortunate that Mbokani missed his kick having let the Golden Shoe winner go beyond him.
Cyriac and De Zeeuw came on for Anderlecht as they tried everything to swing the pendulum back in their favour but Zulte Waregem scored a second goal, which was shrouded in controversy. A poor ball from De Zeeuw put Kouyaté in trouble but though Anderlecht felt the centreback had been fouled, referee Alexandre Boucaut played on. Some neat interplay between Malanda, Conte and Leye then resulted in Malanda getting on the end of Leye’s pass and the ex-Lille man blasted the ball into the corner of the net.
An Anderlecht response was needed and it almost came from substitute Cyriac. The injury-hit striker found the net when he tucked away the rebound after Bruzzese had beaten De Sutter’s shot away but the flag was up for offside. The drama continued when Zulte Waregem were awarded their second spot kick when Kouyaté was adjudged to have fouled Trajkovski. Fortunately for the champions, Leye could not repeat his first half feat and he skied his penalty over the crossbar. Dieumerci Mbokani pulled a goal back at the very end of normal time when he powerfully headed a Biglia free kick past Bruzzese from five yards to give Paarswit some faint hope of salvaging a point. There was briefly panic from Zulte Waregem at the back as Anderlecht threw white shirts forward in pursuit of a draw but it wasn’t to be. The home side celebrated the final whistle against a backdrop of anger from the likes of Biglia and Nuytinck.
Zulte Waregem have climbed the summit. Can they stay there?
PO1: Zulte Waregem 40, Anderlecht 39, Standard Liège 35, Racing Genk 35, Club Brugge 34, Lokeren 30.