MICHAEL ADUBATO - Sunday, September 2, 2007
Standard remain at the top of the Jupiler League standings after a comprehensive victory over key title challengers Club Brugge in Liege.

"I wouldn't say it was the biggest one, but it was an important one", the big American told YA post game. "It kinda validates our season thus far."

The Liege faithful welcomed Karel Geraerts back to Stade Maurice Dufrasne after he signed with the Flemish club during the summer transfer window to the disappointment of the fans who hissed and booed each time the Brugge #22 touched the ball.

Milan Jovanovic, the new Standard hero and presently the league's top scorer, brought nothing but cheers from the crowd.

Both teams got to work from the get-go and it only took the hosts three minutes to win their first free kick. Salim Toama delivered from the right side of the box, but saw it headed away by Philippe Clement.

Not a minute later Brugge were attacking at the other end. Ivan Leko fed Francois Sterchele over the top of the defense but Olivier Renard read the danger and the Liege keeper came out to claim.

The Blauw-Zwart next took a pair of shots in the direction of goal, but both Leko and Sven Vermant saw their attempts coming closer to hitting the rotor blades of the police helicopter over the stadium than the back of Renard's net.

The hosts weren't much better, and in the 10th minute, a 20-yard shot by Marcos Camozatto literally hit a Brugge fan in the top deck.

Referee Frank De Bleeckere seemed to be in a generous mood, allowing both Onyewu and Brugge midfielder Jeroen Simaeys to flatter Sterchele and Jovanovic respetively with no flash of a card for either culprit.

Next, Les Rouches could have taken a 21st minute lead when Dante whipped a cross into the box from wide right into the path of Dieumerci Mbokani. The Congolese, however, could only get enough leg stretch to redirect the ball wide of the post.

With a half hour gone the real chances remained few and far between.

Simaeys saw three attacks up the right wing ended by Onyewu stealing possession, while at the other end, the American's long pass to his Serbian teammate left Jovanovic stranded on an island as he was the only Liege attacker that read the play.

Captain Steven Defour fed Mbokani as he stood on the edge of the 18 yard box. The ex-Anderlecht man struck with gusto but was somewhat off target with his effort.

Again, Standard could have had the lead before the intermission when Brazilian Dante became candidate for "miss of the season" when he blasted a corner kick miles over the crossbar from six yards out.

With both teams running out of ideas, the halftime whistle was a welcome relief for players and fans alike.

Ten minutes into part two and Sterchele thought he was through on goal when Geraerts slid the ball forward. The American-Brazilian connection, however, made a sandwich of the Belgian as Renard scooped up the ball.

Although both teams did their best to attack, neither had many clear chances until the league's top scorer added to his tally to begin a four minute goal blitz in the 65th minute.

With two defenders and one goal keeper failing to clear the ball out their area, Mbokani was given two shots at goal from eight yards. Both attempts were blocked and the ball returned to his feet yet again.

Instead of a third attempt, he slid to the right for the Serb, who showed why he has the golden ball on the back of his shirt and somehow forced his shot through a forest of legs and into the net for the opener.

Thirty seconds later, Brugge were level as from the ensuing kickoff, the visitors burst forward, and, after a cut back pass from Simaeys, Vermant had the ball at his feet inside the box and blasted it past a stunned Renard.

"That happens all the time," a chuckling Onyewu said later about the immediate response. "People lose their concentration and they get a goal back."

Blink and you would have missed it, because two minutes later Preud'homme's men were back in the lead.

Flying up the right side of the field, Axel Witsel burned one defender and served his cross past another. Despite a slight deflection, Mbokani latched onto the Belgian teen's pass and buried it from close range.

To make matters worse for the shell-shocked Belgian Cup holders, their anchor and central defender Clement was shown a second yellow card by De Bleeckere two minutes later for dragging Jovanovic to the ground.

The free kick from 20 yards hit the wall before falling to Witsel who was unable to do much more than hit keeper Stijn Stijnen's open arms.

In the 75th, Standard refused to bunker and Jovanovic came close with a pair of attempts. Brugge's Belgium international keeper Stijnen was forced into two point-blank saves from the Serb in close succession.

With minutes to play and most of the possession still against 10 man Brugge, Jovanovic wasted a sure goal when he tried to back heel an effort into the back of the net when a turn around strike could have paid dividends.

Brugge resorted to the long ball when they were allowed possession of their own yet the red back four seemed up to the task.

One last minute hiccup however could have seen Liege flush a couple of points down into the Meuse River just outside the stadium.

While chasing down the ball to clear, Onyewu slipped and allowed Simaeys to take control. The big man jumped back up and put the ball out for a corner, though, before the Belgian could do any damage.

The corner kick that followed was cleared as the final whistle sounded, leaving Onyewu happy with the final result.

"Up until now people say that we haven't played a strong team," the American said. "I guess the win against Brugge validates the strength of our team."

"They didn't have many chances at goal and I don't know why they only played one striker up top because that kinda killed them."

"The occasion they really had was the last minute when I slipped when clearing the ball out," Onyewu continued. "Aside from that we were well organized. I think we played well on defense and we put our chances away on offense. I'm happy with the result."

"It was a good thing though that we didn't lose focus. We were able to get a second one and keep the lead and earn three points. We're in first place all by ourselves."

After the break for internationals, Les Rouches will have another tough opponent when they travel to Gent to face the team currently occupying the third spot in the league standings.