DAVID SMITH - Thursday, October 20, 2011
Jonathan Spector and Birmingham snatched a late win in Brugge while Jermaine Jones and Schalke easily took all three points in Cyprus as the Europa League group stage reached its halfway point.
Club Brugge 1 - 2 Birmingham City FC
Jonathan Spector went the distance in defense for Birmingham City FC as an goal in the tenth minute of injury time by Chris Wood saw them take all the spoils against Club Brugge.
The Blues were already at a disadvantage in the third minute, after Brugge attacking midfielder Nabil Dirar whipped in a low cross from the right side which Joseph Akpala had no problems to redirect over the line for 1-0 to the hosts.
Birmingham equalized four minutes before the half-hour at the tail-end of a counter attack, as Wade Elliott cut in from the right side and aimed a cross towards the far post which David Murphy flicked in to put the game on even terms.
Spector received his first yellow card of the competition 14 minutes from full time for being a touch too argumentative with the referee, and all in the stadium received a major scare with seven minutes remaining when Birmingham defender Pablo Ibañez went down seemingly unconscious resulting from a hard collision and forced a long stoppage in play as the medics carefully took him from the field.
The visitors did regain their composure, and finally found the winner in the tenth minute of stoppage time. Substitute Marlon King fought to maintain possession on the right side and fired a low cross goalwards, which Chris Wood rushed in to emphatically strike past the keeper to take the full three points for his team.
Birmingham now lead Group H, ahead of Brugge by a superior head-to-head record. The two teams will face off again in England in two weeks, however Birmingham will hope to taste victory beforehand, beginning with Sunday's trip to last-place Bristol City.
Sturm Graz 0 - 2 RSC Anderlecht
Sacha Kljestan and Anderlecht rode a second-half surge on Thursday evening at Austrians Sturm Graz to stay perfect in Group L play.
After a scoreless first half, Anderlecht took the lead midway through the second period when Graz keeper Silvije Cavlina failed to reach a loose ball at the edge of his six-yard box, allowing Guillaume Gillet an easy strike into an open net.
The road back for Graz became more difficult almost immediately after when Thomas Burgstaller was given his marching orders for a second yellow card, and put the game out of reach with 15 minutes left as Matias Suarez ran onto a short through-ball from Deiudonne Mbokani on the right side, evaded Cavlina and hit his shot from a tight angle.
Anderlecht remain atop Group L on nine points, with a home re-match against Graz in two weeks. Beforehand, they will face off on Sunday afternoon against KVC Westerlo in hopes of extending their lead atop the Jupiler League standings.
AEK Larnaca 0 - 5 FC Schalke 04
Jermaine Jones was in Schalke's starting lineup on Thursday evening, dishing up the assist on the team's first and ultimately winning goal in their blow-out victory at AEK Larnaca.
Schalke went ahead in the 23rd minute when Jones fed Lewis Holtby from the midfield for a low 25-yard shot to the right corner, then were ahead by two in the 35th as Klaas Jan Huntelaar headed a long cross from Christian Fuchs down and into the left side of goal.
Five minutes later, a Fuchs corner was headed in by Joel Matip for a third Schalke goal, sending them into the half with a safe lead.
Jones' shift ended in the 68th minute when he was pulled from the game in favor of Marco Höger, however Schalke still had more fireworks in store.
Yougster Julian Draxler added a fourth for the Königsblauen with three minutes on the clock when he tapped in a blazing cross from Benedikt Höwedes, then Huntelaar added his second of the night only moments later when he slid in to put the ball over the line in the 88th minute for the final 5-0 scoreline.
Schalke sit atop Group J on seven points with a one-point lead over Maccabi Haifa. They will host Larnaca in two weeks at the Veltins Arena, but beforehand must turn their focus towards Bundesliga play, which will see them visit Bayer Leverkusen on Sunday.
Hannover 96 2 - 2 FC Copenhagen
Steve Cherundolo returned to Hannover's starting lineup on Thursday night as the team had the three points pulled from their grasp in the last seconds thanks to a late equalizer by visiting Danes FC Copenhagen.
An errant pass from Copenhagen midfielder Claudemir in the 29th minute led to Hannover's opening score, as the ball rolled directly to the foot of Christian Pander for a looping 25-yard shot that flew uncontested into the left side of goal.
Hannover returned the favor in the 67th minute, failing to effectively clear a corner from Danish-American midfielder Thomas Delaney, which popped high into the air and fell directly in place for Dame N'Doye to head freely into goal for the equalizer.
Sergio Pinto briefly gave Hannover the lead again with nine minutes left as he fired a low shot from outside the area which rolled just inside the right upright, however the last-second dramatics of Copenhagen would ultimately leave the hosts with a sour taste.
N'Doye slipped a short pass through to Cesar Santin on the left side of the area, and the Brazilian forward poked his shot out of Ron-Robert Zieler's reach to earn the visitors their share of the points.
Hannover are tied with Standard Liege atop Group B with five points, trailing only by goal differential. They face a tough visit to Copenhagen in two weeks, but beforehand have an even tougher matchup against FC Bayern in Bundesliga play.
Jozy Altidore saw the final 16 minutes of action as a late substitute for Alkmaar on Thursday as they rescued a point at home against Austria Vienna thanks to a second-half comeback in their 2-2 draw.
Clint Dempsey was given a rest amidst Fulham's busy schedule and did not make the trip with Fulham for their 1-0 loss at Wisla Krakow.
Third-string Celtic keeper Dominic Cervi was not in uniform for the Hoops on Thursday evening as a 1-1 draw at Rennes saw their hopes of advancing to the Europa League knockout round take a nosedive.
Oguchi Onyewu is recovering from a minor injury and did not suit up for Sporting's 2-0 home victory over Romanian team FC Vaslui on Thursday.
Brad Friedel is being saved for Tottenham's Premier League campaign and did not take part in their 1-0 home win over Russians Rubin Kazan.