With just four games remaining in the league phase of the Jupiler Pro League, it’s crunch time in Belgium. Clubs are doing all they can to make it into the top six play-off or avoid the dreaded relegation play-off. We start on Friday night where Club Brugge had the opportunity to apply some pressure to the league leaders Standard, as they entertained Kortrijk.
Despite Standard being ten points clear at the top of the Pro League, it’s vitally important to remember that lead will be halved once the play-offs begin, so the likes of Club Brugge and Anderlecht certainly aren’t out of the title race yet.
Brugge came into the match with three consecutive wins under their belts and Blauw-Zwart had the opportunity to take the lead after just half an hour when Kortijk ‘keeper Darren Keet brought down wonderkid Maxime Lestienne in the box. Timmy Simons stepped up and scored from 12 yards. Just before half-time the home side doubled their lead when Lestienne got on the end of a Lior Refaelov cross and found the net. 21-year-old Lestienne is reportedly being courted by a host of European clubs, and this performance won’t make it any easier for Brugge to hold onto him. Preud’homme’s men added another on the hour – Timmy Simons again scoring from the spot after Lestienne had been fouled. But Kortrijk did snatch a consolation, albeit via a Brugge player. Midfielder Jesper Jorgensen diverted a low cross past his own goalkeeper. The convincing 3-1 win put Brugge seven points behind Standard going into Saturday’s matches.
Standard had a tricky fixture to navigate – the Walloon derby against Sporting Charleroi. Despite being 13th, there was little separating Charleroi and the league leaders until the 75th minute when substitute Mehdi Carcela scored the only goal of the match – Ivan de Camargo providing the assist. This was ten minutes after Stergos Marinos had been sent off for Charleroi. Despite Charleroi late efforts, Les Rouches held out and regained their ten-point lead at the summit of the Pro League with a 1-0 win..
Elsewhere on Saturday, fourth-placed Zulte Waregem were looking for their first win in four when Cercle Brugge made the trip south. Zulte were without the suspended Thorgan Hazard, but had no trouble in overcoming Cercle. The home side had chances and Raphael Caceres put them in front on 34 minutes, before Junioir Habananga equalised just moments later for Cercle Brugge. The winner came ten minutes from time, Karel D’Haene tapping home from close range after a parried free-kick. Zulte Waregem remain 15 points behind Standard after this 2-1 victory, while Cercle drop down to 11th.
Lower down the Pro League, Waasland-Beveren took on OH Leuven with both teams frantically looking to avoid being involved in the relegation play-off. Logan Bailly’s goalkeeping heroics were something to savour, the OH stopper denying brilliantly denying Beveren on numerous occasions. However Bailly could do nothing about Aboubakar Oumarou’s extravagant diving header that proved to be the only goal at the Freethiel-Stadion on 78 minutes. As a result the pair swap places in the standings – Waasland-Beveren in 14th and OH down to 15th.
Mario Been’s Genk remain just inside the championship play-off places after taking three points at Lierse on Saturday – halting Lierse’s three-match winning streak in the process. Julien Gorius’ late strike was the solitary goal in a rather dull affair. Both sides are unaltered in their Pro League positions after week 26 – Genk 6th with 41 points, Lierse 9th with 30 points.
The only other action to be found on Saturday was a mid-table clash between Mechelen and Oostende, who are separated by just two points. Mechelen took the lead just before the break when Aleksandar Trajkovski fired home an unstoppable free-kick. However just four minutes from time Fede Vico’s cross looped in at the back post, ensuring that Oostende took a share of the points in a 1-1 draw.
Sunday’s early kick-off saw Gent, chasing a position in the top six, take on Lokeren. But Gent knew it wasn’t going to be easy – Lokeren have enjoyed a fairly fruitful campaign and sit in sixth. Gent’s Zie Diabate was brought down inside the box after 13 minutes and Renato Neto made no mistake from the resulting penalty, sending Lokeren’s Boubacar Barry the wrong way. The majority of fans inside the GHELAMCO-arena could have been forgiven for thinking the home side had won the match, but deep into stoppage time substitute Hamdi Harbaoui scored Lokeren’s equaliser, denying Gent a deserved three points.
The final match of week 26 took place at Stade Constant Vanden Stock, where Anderlecht beat bottom-side Mons 2-0. Mons are winless since boxing day and could have done without a trip to Brussels as they search for a miracle to avoid relegation. Goals either side of half-time from Sacha Klještan and Ronald Vargas were enough to secure a comfortable victory. Anderlecht remain third, two points behind Club Brugge and twelve points behind Standard, while Mons languish twelve points from safety at the bottom of Pro League.
Club Brugge 3-1 Kortrijk
Sporting Charleroi 0-1 Standard Liege
Zulte Waregem 2-1 Cercle Brugge
Mechelen 1-1 KV Oostende
Lierse 0-1 Genk
Waasland Beveren 1-0 OH Leuven
Gent 1-1 Lokeren
Anderlecht 2-0 Mons
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