Belgian League Second Division
Stade Edmond Machtens, Brussels
Attendance: 1500 (estimate)
Match Rating: 3
Whilst browsing through the Megabus website a month or so ago looking for any cheap tickets to visit a new ground far from home, I came across a return journey to Brussels for just £13.50, and with times to suit a day trip for this fixture, albeit extended into Sunday morning, I planned my second ever visit to a Belgian football ground.
Arriving next to Brussels central rail station just before 6 (having left London Victoria at 10.30), I soon headed for the Metro for an eight minute journey westwards to Beekant, from which the Stade Edmond Machtens is about a quarter hour walk. I bought my ticket from one of the kiosks outside the main entrance for a seat in a large single tier stand along one length. Despite looking dreary and in need of maintenance in the concourses, it is adequate enough with good unobstructed views. Although the seats were just shaped plastic bolted onto the concrete steps, I along with many others stood anyway. Below the seating are a few rows of terrace steps but these were out of bounds, and a large but very crowded bar is located on the ground floor of the stand. Along the other length is a similar sized stand, although it is two tiered with a row of corporate boxes between. Behind one goal there are uncovered terrace steps - not in use tonight - whilst behind the other goal there are just advertising hoardings and the area is inaccessible to spectators. No programmes or teamsheets seemed to be available here.
Both teams have had reasonable starts to their campaigns. Brussels were in sixth place after 11 games, winning six and drawing two, although last weekend they lost 1-4 at Royal Antwerp. Aalst were in tenth place in the 18 team division, winning three and drawing three of their eleven games. This evening's match would be something of a local derby, with the town of Aalst situated just 20 miles north west of Brussels.
On a clear, moonlit evening, this would be a strange game, looking for all the world that it would be a goalless draw with both teams badly lacking a cutting edge, before an explosive final three minutes of the game. The first half was, for the most part, a midfield battle, the home team seeming to have a little bit more trickery to suggest they would be the likelier scorers. Aalst also managed tocreate some good chances, but both sides lacked conviction approaching goal.
Into the second half and there was a little more attacking intent on display, and both sides saw an effort come back off the post, but it was looking ever more certain that my run of 87 games without watching a goalless draw would come to an end this evening. However, on 87 minutes, a Brussels striker burst into the box before being hauled down by Pedrag Filipovic to concede a penalty and earn the inevitable red card. Geoffrey Cabeke stroked the ball home low into the bottom left corner despite the keeper diving the right way to send the home support into loud celebrations - indeed, they had been creating an excellent noisy atmosphere all game, even when the football played was rather dull. That seemed to be game won as Brussels continued to attack, all the more so when Aalst were reduced to nine men when their keeper Kevin Van den Noortgaete was sent off for tripping a Brussels player just wide of the penalty area, although contact did look minimal at best. An outfield player had to take over in goal. Three minutes into injury time and Brussels had a player sent off themselves for a rather ugly high tackle by Vincenzo Bellia, who had only come on as sub in the 83rd minute. That gave Aalst some encouragement as they mounted a couple of attacks, the final one paying off when a cross from deep found its way to Niels Martin at the far post who tapped in from very close range to send the Aalst fans into wild celebration, continuing well after the final whistle, which blew straight after the kick off after the goal. So an amazing, frenetic end to what had been pretty uninspiring game for 87 minutes. Any side that earns a point having gone down to nine men deserves considerable credit, although Brussels will surely feel this was two points dropped, having been unable to close the game out in the closing minutes with a two man advantage. As I headed back to the city centre after the final whistle to catch the coach back to London at half past midnight, arriving at 7am, I reflected on an enjoyable groundhopping experience that was worth the 14 hour round trip.
Video of the goals can be found here