Belgian Pro League
Admission: 19 euro
Team Sheet: Free
Match Rating: 3
Taking advantage of another £10 return coach ticket from London to Ghent, this time I decided to head to a stadium which promised similar to what I experience a fortnight ago at Kortrijk - a small town club probably punching above its weight with a compact stadium close to capacity with passionate fans. Further attractive features of this match would be that that it would be a local derby - the two clubs separated by just 15 miles - and also that back in July, I watched the club formed, AFC Wimbledon style, by supporters dismayed that their club Beveren merged with a relatively minor club.
Lokeren is about a 20 minute train north-east from Ghent, with the Daknamstadion about a 15 minute walk north from the town's train station. Having collected the ticket I purchased on the Internet next to the main entrance - no tickets were available on the day for this match - the entrance itself was colourful and attractive enough, however once inside, the atmosphere was rather downbeat. Whereas at Kortrijk there was a really buzzing feel, here there is just a club shop, sterile bar and refreshment vans available, and so it made sense to proceed straight to the stand. This stand, along one length, had terracing along the bottom and seating - where I was positioned - along the top, with good unobstructed views throughout. On the opposite side, there is a taller stand, although it only covers about a third of the length, with the remaining area out of bounds. Behind one of the goal is a stand with terracing along the bottom and seating along the top, with the visitors packed into one corner of the stand. Behind the remaining goal is just advertising hoardings. No programmes were produced, however a double sided team sheet was given out upon entering the stands.
There was not too much riding on this game, in the penultimate round of fixtures in the regular season. Lokeren were in fifth place and guaranteed a Championship play-off berth. They could still finish fourth however, trailing Zulte-Waregem by 2 points. Waasland-Beveren were in 14th place in the sixteen team league, five points clear of OH Leuven and a relegation play-off spot, but with a goal difference superior by ten, a point tonight would probably guarantee Waasland-Beveren Pro League football next season, even though their final game is against Standard Liege, already certain to finish top of the regular season league table. They came into this game in good form, losing just once in their last ten league games.
On a very mild evening, there was a passionate feel to proceedings, thanks to an almost full stadium with a noisy and colourful away following. Lokeren had the stand-out chances to open the scoring in the first half. With just four minutes on the clock, a Lokeren free-kick from just outside the penalty area was awkwardly saved by the keeper, a follow up header was blocked by a defender, before the keeper managed to palm the ball away. The, as half time approached, the ball fell to a Lokeren forward at the corner of the six yard box but off balance, he shanked his shot high and wide of the goal. The visitors had their chances too, and it was something of a surprise that the scoreline remained goalless at the break.
Into the second half and Lokeren assumed superiority, as Waasland-Beveren seemed more content now to be solid defensively. Lokeren had some wonderful chances to win the game - a shot from 25 yards out fizzed over the bar, a header from six yards following a corner was saved by the keeper, a header from a curling free kick came back off a post, and another free kick forced a fabulous save from the keeper as the ball headed for the top corner. But in truth, if they were a little more direct in the final third rather than pass the ball to death around the penalty area, Lokeren surely would have scored, and the visitors always seemed to have a goal in them, and they nearly got it in the closing moment when a header flashed just over the bar. Surely Waasland-Beveren would be delighted with a point which, despite Leuven surprisingly beating Anderlecht, all but guarantees survival, with Leuven having to make up a nine goal deficit in their final game, whilst Lokeren could still finish in fourth, as Zulte-Waregem also drew at home to Club Brugge.
Video highlights can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4VNCQqhjfo