Henri Houtsaegerstadion, Koksijde
Belgian Second Division
Match Rating: 3
Always enjoying the experience of Belgian football, I made a late decision to take advantage of P&O's excellent £25 day trip fare, including six free bottles of wine, to pay a visit to the closest club to Calais in Belgium’s top two divisions.
The Henri Houtsaegerstadion is situated about 45 minutes drive from Calais, close to the centre of the small town of Koksijde. After walking through a sporting complex, spectators purchase tickets from one of the small booths outside the ground, before entering by a wooden hut and once inside, the ground has a feel of a non league one back home, not that that is a criticism – it's a very pleasant, homely and friendly place with a nice intimate atmosphere. Being the goal is a large, spacious clubhouse, with a tea bar just inside the entrance. From the entrance along the length is hard standing in front of a VIP lounge, and straddling the half way line is the all-seater main stand. A stand stretches between corner flags along the opposite length, with four rows of seating apart from small areas of standing at either end. There is just hard standing behind the other goal. Team sheets were given away free.
KVV Coxyde were promoted to the second tier of Belgian football for the first time in their history this season but have found life tough, having picked up just four points from their opening eight games and were in 15th place in the 17 team division. Union Saint Gilloise, also promoted into the Second Division this season, were in fifth place, having picked up 19 points from their eight games.
On a warm, sunny autumnal afternoon, the home side had the better of the opening exchanges, before gifting the visitors the lead on 8 minutes. The Coxyde goalkeeper, Soren Dutoit, tried to dribble away from a lurking striker, successfully clearing the ball from close to the corner flag, but the ball landed at the feet of Nicolas Rajsel, who took a few steps in from the wing before during the ball from distance into the empty net. Fortunately, Coxyde were level within four minutes when a free kick dropped to the far post and Alexander Embrechts volleyed the ball into the net. If Union St Gilloise were gifted their first goal, they certainly earned their second with a powerful drive by Cedric Faure from outside tge area into the top left corner which the keeper got nowhere near. The rest of the half was even, although the visitors always looked the more likely to score, which they almost did on 42 minutes when a powerful cross shot came back off the far post with the keeper standing watching.
One felt that Coxyde would need to score the next goal to stay in the game, but it was the visitors who scored it two minutes into the second half when Rajsel drove in from the left wing before thumping the ball across the keeper and into the net. That did seem to kill the game, as the game seemed to drift into a non event for the next twenty minutes, until things went from bad to worse for Coxyde, and in particular their goalkeeper. A lovely clipped ball over the defence sent a striker through on goal, and the keeper fouled him to concede a penalty and be shown a red card. The replacement goalkeeper was not forced into making a save however, as Faure placed the penalty low but wide of the left hand post. Going down to ten men actually seemed to rejuvenate the home team though, as they started to attack more than they had previously. They forced a couple of good saves, before pulling a goal back three minutes from time, when a low cross deep inside the six yard box was tapped into the roof of the net by Mitch Dekuyper. They pushed hard for a very unlikely equaliser, but the visitors held on for a win they certainly deserved. Following the latest bizarre decision by the Belgian football authorities to reduce the Second Division to just eight teams next season, Union Saint Gilloise look on course to remain in the division at worst, whilst Coxyde look destined for relegation.