Sunday, 8 February 2015

KAA Gent 4 v 0 KVC Westerlo

Saturday 7th February 2015
Belgian Pro League
Ghelamco Arena, Ghent
Admission: €25.00
Programme: None
Attendance: 18,248
Match Rating: 4

This was very much a last minute impulse trip. Having planned to go to Oxford up until yesterday lunchtime, inspiration fell upon me to take on a coach trip to Belgium, aided by surprisingly low last minute fares and various vouchers bringing the cost down to around £30 including the train fare to Victoria Coach Station. I decided upon a visit to KAA Gent. Trips to Belgian football grounds are generally most enjoyable, visiting the type of old-school grounds and atmospheres that are sadly fast dying out in England. However, today I would be visiting a stadium that was only opened at the start of last season - apparently the first completely newly built stadium in Belgium for almost 40 years - although I had heard that this would one of the more interesting newly built stadia to visit.

The Ghelamco Arena is ideally located for road transport, adjacent to the E17 and E40 motorway intersection, and literally just around the corner from the Megabus stop in Ghent. It is situated three miles south of the city centre, two miles south east of the train station, on a rather bleak industrial estate. So it is almost out of place to find an aesthetically very attractive modern stadium installed there, a stadium that continues to be impressive once one enters. The bar areas are spacious, with glass walls, attractive blue background lighting and a well designed layout giving the area a pleasant, relaxed and spacious feel. From this area, one has to pass through closed glass doors to reach the seating area, and one then finds a sensibly sized arena holding 20,000 spectators in continuous seating around the stadium, with corporate boxes along the top of the seating. The roof has an interesting curved design, with a gap to the main structure, and the design of the stadium is conducive to good acoustics, with a good atmosphere generated when the fans are in full voice. As one would expect, views are excellent, unobstructed and the first row starts from an elevated position above the pitch - the pitch is located on a stage, with a "trench" between the pitch and the stands. Spectators also have plenty of legroom. In the lottery that is the provision of programmes or team sheets at football matches in Belgium, neither appeared to be available to spectators today, although I was able to subsequently download a team sheet from the club's social media outlets.

KAA Gent, one of the oldest clubs in Belgium with a matriculation number of 7 and founded in 1864, have had an encouraging season so far, in fourth place and are well on course for a top six finish and a place in the end of season Championship play-offs in the complicated Belgian league system, with 41 points from 24 games, three points behind second placed Anderlecht but ten adrift of Club Brugge, and overall have won 11 and drawn eight of their league games. They are in good recent form in the league, having won three and drawn the other of their last four games. Having been promoted as Champions of the Second Division last season, KVC Westerlo - a partner club of Chelsea - have had a solid season back in the top flight, in ninth place in the 16 team division but eight points clear of the relegation zone and have won seven and drawn nine of their 24 league games. After a rather sticky period in late autumn which saw them slide down the table towards the relegation zone, their recent form has been good, winning their last two games and losing just one (away at Anderlecht) of their last six games. The two teams played out a goalless draw when they met in early October.

On a cool evening with occasional misty drizzle, this turned out to be a surprisingly one sided affair, as Gent attacked at will throughout whilst Westerlo struggled to mount any attacks of note. Part of that was down to one of their players, Englishman Jordan Mustoe, being shown a straight red card for a late lunging tackle with just 15 minutes on the clock, although in truth, the pattern of the game was becoming established before then. The home side eventually took the lead on 38 minutes. Some good footwork by Moses Simon, who would be the outstanding man of the match this evening, showed some good footwork in the penalty area to beat several defenders before chipping a pass towards Laurent Depoitre around the penalty spot, and he swept the ball first time on the volley into the net, just beyond the keeper's dive. One goal was all the home side had to show for their domination though, giving the visitors hope that they might be able to get something out of this game if they raise their game in the second half.

Indeed, Westerlo tarted the second half fairly well, still without ever looking likely to score though, and it wasn't until just after the hour that Gent gave themselves some real breathing space. After seeing a shot from outside of the area hit the crossbar, and then a cross shot that went just wide of the far post, an excellently judged one touch pass set Simon running through diagonally on goal all on his own, dribbled to a central position before coolly firing the ball low inside the keeper's near post from eight yards. One sensed that was probably the decisive blow, and so it proved. A wonderful remarkable waist-high volley from just outside the area following a long looping cross from the opposite byline drew a good save from the keeper, but another good volley did produce Gent's third on 77 minutes. Moses yet again showed some excellent footwork to beat a defender before chipping the ball back from right on the byline, and substitute Danijel Milicevic hit a waist high bicycle shot to fire the ball just inside the near post, despite two defenders almost getting a touch en route. In added on time, Gent scored a deserved fourth goal. Hannes van der Bruggen intercepted the ball in midfield, the ball fell to Depoitre, who ran towards the edge of the area, evaded the attention of a couple of defenders before striking the ball low across the keeper and just inside the near post from the edge of the area. 4-0 was how it finished, a thoroughly deserved win that should have been even more convincing. Following the final whistle, the Gent team went over to each stand in turn to receive the cheers of the fans, who appreciated an excellent display full of attacking intent and a very enjoyable game to watch. In Moses Simon, Gent certainly seem to have acquired a player with the X factor - after signing last month and being sent off within 30 seconds of coming on as a sub in his first home game, he scored a hat-trick last week and tonight, he was a constant threat with his trickery and direct play towards goal, a player to really get the fans off their seats. If he remains consistent, one would presume he is destined for higher things than the Belgian Pro League. after reported interest from Liverpool, Hull and Ajax (where he was part of the youth team set up) before signing for Gent.

Video highlights of this game can be found here

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