• Friday, 26 March 2010

    Ligue 1 round 30

    Lyon v Grenoble
    Le Mans v Rennes
    Lorient v St Etienne
    Nancy v Lens
    PSG v Boulogne
    Toulouse v Nice
    Lille v Montpellier
    Monaco v Auxerre

    It's a truncated programme this weekend in Ligue 1 as the league cup final between Bordeaux and Marseille takes centre stage on Saturday afternoon. The only league game on Saturday is at Lyon where Grenoble are the visitors and unlikely to trouble Les Gones. Cris may have given up on the title, but they're only five points off the top and can make inroads while games mount up for Bordeaux and Marseille. Besides, something has to give in the match between Montpellier and Lille, both still live challengers for the title. Get anything from this and Montpellier will go top, at least until Monday when Auxerre take on Monaco at the Louis II. Really, three points is a must for Montpellier as Bordeaux will have two games in hand by the end of the week, but it's equally vital for Lille who are in danger of being dropped by the top few. They took a battering from Liverpool and it's taking a while to get that out of their system.

    It's becoming increasingly bleak for the bottom three as each week passes. Le Mans dropped to second bottom last week and have a tough home fixture with Rennes on Sunday, but there's still hope at Boulogne, buoyed by a win last time out and facing PSG in front of a hostile crowd at Parc des Princes this week. Football is secondary to what goes off on the terraces and around the ground here. St Etienne are the target for the bottom clubs to overhaul, but they have been picking points up and look good for a win this week against Lorient.

    Elsewhere, Loic Remy is the latest Ligue 1 striker to piss and moan about how great it'd be to play for Arsenal. He's some way to go before he's as annoying as Marouane Chamakh, but it's clear he's better than everybody else at Nice and has been carrying them all season. They're away at Toulouse this week and there's a mid-table skirmish between Lens and Nancy with little to nothing riding on it.

    Thursday, 25 March 2010

    Bundesliga round 28

    Bochum v Eintracht
    Bayern v Stuttgart
    Hannover v Cologne
    Bremen v Nurnberg
    Mainz v Wolfsburg
    Hertha v Dortmund
    Leverkusen v Schalke
    Hoffenheim v Freiburg
    Monchengladbach v Hamburg

    Big game of the week in Germany sees second placed Schalke take on third placed Leverkusen. Needless to say, this is a huge game in the context of the championship. Schalke were beaten in the cup by leaders Bayern in midweek and have been fighting against off-field adversity all season long, but they could quite easily take charge of this by the end of Sunday night. Leverkusen have picked the very worst time to suffer a blip in form and if they blow this one now, then they will probably never win the title. They will not have a better run at it, especially as Toni Kroos has been bogarded by Bayern, whose player he is. Bayern welcome Stuttgart to the Allianz and there's every chance they'll not take the points from this. Under Christian Gross, Stuttgart have been completely turned around and it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see stuttering Bayern beaten. What the Bavarians do have is the mercurial ability of Arjen Robben. What a player.

    Life in the Hertha Locker (see what I did there?) doesn't get much easier. Their massive win last week against a jaded Wolfsburg is perhaps the biggest tease in world football. This week, they face rampant Dortmund who are suddenly looking like genuine Champions League contenders should any of the top three stumble. Hamburg are away at Gladbach and desperate for points, especially as Bremen moved ahead of them a week back and Werder are at home to Nurnberg who hit the headlines for the wrong reasons this week. They've been hit with travel restrictions for their fans after trouble at recent games.

    Big game at the bottom sees Hannover take on Cologne. Cologne are just outside the danger zone, but could easily get sucked back down. Freiburg remain mired and face Hoffenheim, so lord alone knows what happens there and after a recent good run, Bochum are back in the firing line. They're in action on Friday at home to Eintracht. Finally, Mainz have a home game against Wolfsburg. A good run came to a shuddering halt for the champions last week, and going to Mainz is never easy. Score draw.

    Eredivisie round 29

    NAC v Den Haag
    AZ v Heracles
    Roda v Heerenveen
    Vitesse v Willem II
    Twente v Sparta
    NEC v Feyenoord
    Ajax v Groningen
    Utrecht v Waalwijk
    VVV Venlo v PSV

    It's difficult to see the picture change a great deal at either end of the table in this week's round of fixtures in the Eredivisie. The biggest game of the week is the proverbial six-pointer between Vitesse and Willem II. Should either side emerge victorious, they'll take a major stride to securing their top-flight status for next season as the other two in the frame, Den Haag and Sparta, both look long odds to get a result. Sparta go to Enschede to take on leaders Twente where a home win will see the engravers getting prepared to add the Tukkers' name to the soup dish. Den Haag are in Breda to take on NAC who need the points to get back into the Europa League play-offs.

    Ajax take on Groningen at home and look good to add another bagful to the 85 league goals they've already scored this season while PSV, knocked back to third last week, are away in Venlo. Again, they're short-priced favourites. AZ v Heracles has become a pretty big game as Feyenoord's abandoned game last week has put the Rotterdammers there to be shot at. But Feyenoord take on NEC this week and don't look likely to drop points. Roda against Heerenveen has little riding on it and Waalwijk are all but down and look like it. Easy win for Utrecht there.

    Monday, 22 March 2010

    Four-horse race? Ligue 1 reviews

    Grenoble 0-0 Monaco
    Auxerre 2-1 Le Mans
    St Etienne 0-0 Nancy
    Boulogne 2-0 Lorient
    Rennes 4-1 Toulouse
    Nice 1-0 PSG
    Lens 0-0 Sochaux
    Montpellier 2-1 Valenciennes
    Bordeaux 3-1 Lille
    Marseille 2-1 Lyon

    Lyon and Lille were both beaten by fellow title challengers and at least one of the admit that that's as far as they go this season. Lyon's Brazilian defender Cris has said the game is up as it leaves them five points adrift of leaders Bordeaux with nine games to go. He seems a bit pessimistic, but that can easily happen when you get back into a game against a fellow contender and then blow it. Charles Kaboré gave Marseille the lead at the Vélodrome, but Bafetimbi Gomis looked to have rescued a point with a headed equaliser ten minutes from time. But within a minute, Taye Taiwo blazed in a left-footed winner. Lille were dumped out of the Europa League in midweek and shot themselves in the foot against Bordeaux, all but ending their hopes of Championnat success. Eden Hazard put them in front against the champions, but Michael Ciani equalised just before the break. The real turning point came quarter of an hour after, Ricardo Costa sent off for a second yellow. Jussie converted the penalty and Yoann Gourcuff made it safe ten minutes later.

    Montpellier will not be shaken off and they were in front against Valenciennes inside five minutes, Victor Hugo Montano with his tenth of the season. Joris Marveaux made it two early in the second half, but they had to hang on for quarter of an hour after Fahid Ben Khalfallah pulled one back. Auxerre remain a point back from the top two after another win, albeit after some late drama. Ireneusz Jelen put AJA ahead midway through the first half and 1-0 looked enough as the clock wound down. Thorstein Helstad equalised in the first minute of stoppage time, but Benoit Pedretti managed to find a winner even later on leaving Le Mans deep in the mire.

    Grenoble grabbed a point at home to Monaco despite Jodi Vivani's sending off midway through the second period. Boulogne managed a win, but remain seven points from safety. Damien Marcq put them ahead against Lorient and Laurent Koscielny's own goal sealed it in the second half. It's St Etienne they're chasing, but Les Verts nicked a point at home to Nancy in a goalless encounter. In the behind-closed-doors game on the south coast, Nice battled to a 1-0 win, Loic Remy with it ten minutes from time. The mid-table game between Lens and Sochaux ended goalless while Toulouse's season is petering out after Asamoah Gyan struck twice for Rennes in a 4-1 win over Les Violets.

    Hertha still doomed despite big win: Bundesliga reviews

    Cologne 1-1 Monchengladbach
    Freiburg 1-0 Mainz
    Bremen 3-2 Bochum
    Stuttgart 2-0 Hannover
    Nurnberg 0-0 Hoffenheim
    Eintracht 2-1 Bayern
    Dortmund 3-0 Leverkusen
    Hamburg 2-2 Schalke
    Wolfsburg 1-5 Hertha

    After last week's on-field protests, Hertha dished out a few indefinite bans to some of those arrested and then teased their support with what might have been with a stunning win at outgoing champions Wolfsburg. Die Wolfe needed extra time to beat Rubin Kazan in the Europa League on Thursday night and were definitely jaded after their exploits and were caught cold, Hertha two up inside ten minutes. Theofanis Gekas and Gustavo Ramos struck in the early stages to give the Berliners a shock lead and Gekas increased the lead halfway through the first half. Lorenz-Gunther Kostner rang the changes, sacrificing defender Jan Simunek for Grafite and it paid almost immediate dividends, the big Brazilian's first touch a delicate header that pulled one back. It was as good as it got. Gekas completed his hat-trick just on the hour and Ramos's second sealed it close to the end. Despite this, they're still going down. They still have seven points to make up and won't find much opposition that looked as leg-weary as Wolfsburg did here.

    At the top end, all three contenders dropped points. An Eintracht late show turned Bayern over. Miroslav Klose had put the Bavarians in front inside six minutes and so it remained until a couple of minutes from time when substitutes Juhvel Tsoumou and Martin Fenin swooped to snatch the points. Lucas Barrios struck twice for Dortmund as they beat fading Leverkusen 3-0. Dimitar Rangelov got the third late on. Schalke blew a lead after coming from behind against Hamburg. Ruud van Nistelrooy put his new side in front five minutes from the break before Kevin Kuranyi and Ivan Rakitic, with a penalty, turned it round in the space of five second half minutes. Jonathan Pitroipa popped up with an equaliser little more than ten minutes from time.

    Ciprian Marica got both goals for Stuttgart as they beat Hannover with something to spare while Bremen twice came from behind to beat Bochum. Stanislav Sestak put Bochum in front on the quarter hour only for Claudio Pizarro to pull it back to 1-1 ten minutes into the second half. Zlatko Dedic restored the lead five minutes later, but it was all square within second, Marko Marin with Bremen's second equaliser. And nine minutes from time, Torsten Frings broke Bochum hearts with a scarcely deserved winner. Cologne and Gladbach battled to a 1-1 draw, Maniche equalising Marco Reus's opener. Nurnberg nicked a point in a drab goalless draw with Hoffenheim while Freiburg scored a vital win over Mainz, Johannes Flum with the only goal of the game, which gives them real hope of digging themselves out of trouble.

    Twente clear, but Ajax on their heels: Eredivisie reviews

    Heerenveen 4-1 NEC
    Willem II 0-3 Utrecht
    PSV 1-1 Twente
    Heracles 3-0 NAC
    Feyenoord 1a1 Vitesse
    Waalwijk 1-5 Ajax
    Den Haag 0-0 VVV Venlo
    Groningen 1-0 Roda
    Sparta 0-1 AZ

    Stalemate at the Philips Stadion allowed Ajax to cut Twente's lead at the top of the table to four points. Another five goals - that's 85 for the season so far - were put away against Waalwijk who finished with ten men. Ajax even put RKC's goal in for them, Marko Pantelic turning a free-kick into his own goal. That made it 1-1 after Siem de Jong put Ajax in front early on, but the second half saw the Amsterdammers cut loose. Luis Suarez, inevitably, restored the lead before Hans Mulder's own goal made it three and Ruud Berger was sent off. In the last few minutes, Suarez struck his second and Dennis Rommedahl made it five to maintain a title push. It's still Twente's to lose though after a hard-fought draw in Eindhoven. Blaise N'Kufo, back from injury, equalised midway through the second half after Danny Koevermans had put PSV in front just after the break. The biggest test Twente will face in the remaining games is a trip to Alkmaar, but it's now Ajax that provide the main challenge, not PSV.

    Willem II remain in deep, deep trouble after a 3-0 loss at home to Utrecht. Jacob Mulenga put Utrecht ahead early on and two goals in five second half minutes sealed it. Jan Wuytens and Alje Schult were on target as Utrecht maintain faint hopes of European football next season. Den Haag pull out of the bottom three after a goalless draw with VVV Venlo, moving ahead of Vitesse on goal difference after Vitesse's game against Feyenoord was abandoned at half-time. Torrential rain throughout didn't ease and the referee was left with little option as the ball wasn't rolling. Sparta have been dragged right back into it at the bottom after defeat to AZ. David Mendes struck after just four minutes and that was enough for the champions.

    Heracles won again, two goals inside the first five minutes putting them on their way against NAC. Bas Dost and Willy Overtoom struck the early and decisive blows, Everton wrapping it up in the second half. Late drama at Heerenveen where NEC led early on through John Goossens. Gerald Sibon equalised before the break with a penalty and then put his side ahead after it and that looked like that as the clock wound down. Jeffrey Sarpong was sent off in the last minute, Michel Breuer notching the resultant penalty, and there was still time for Samir Fazli to make it four. Groningen cemented their position in the Europa League play-offs with a 1-0 win over Roda, Ajilore Oluwafemi with the only goal of the game coming after just two minutes.

    Thursday, 18 March 2010

    Ligue 1 round 29

    Grenoble v Monaco
    Auxerre v Le Mans
    St Etienne v Nancy
    Boulogne v Lorient
    Rennes v Toulouse
    Nice v PSG
    Lens v Sochaux
    Montpellier v Valenciennes
    Bordeaux v Lille
    Marseille v Lyon

    This should be a week where the title gets sorted out with four of the top six facing off against each other. Should either of Marseille v Lyon and Bordeaux v Lille produce a winner, then the table will finally begin to take shape. Montpellier and Auxerre both have eminently winnable home games, AJA moreso, but the focus will be elsewhere.

    It'll be on PSG. More accurately, it'll be on their fans, one of whom died in the week after protracted clashes amongst themselves. Sports minister Rama Yada has waded in with some strong words. "he club's survival is at stake. The worst has happened. Passions transformed into sordid, senseless, murderous rage. Love of the team jersey has become hate for the other, hate for the sport, hate for life. It is a victory for barbarism and a defeat for sport, fraternity and civilisation. Everyone should be concerned, first and foremost the leaders of all clubs. This may take time but our resolve will not falter."

    That final sentence should be a worry coming as it does from Sarkozy's cabinet as anyone who remembers when he was minister of the interior and went all Travis Bickle on us and promised to wash the scum off the streets in response to rioting in les banlieus around Paris. The PSG game this weekend is in Nice. PSG fans are banned from travelling and the game will in any case be played behind closed doors after Nice fans went on the rampage after their recent game against Monaco.

    So while we ought to be in for a fascinating weekend of football, coming off the back of two French sides qualifying for the quarter-finals of the Champions League (more than Germany, Italy or Spain could muster and just as many as England), we instead have the spectre of hooliganism grabbing the attention and the headlines.

    Bundesliga round 27

    Cologne v Monchengladbach
    Freiburg v Mainz
    Bremen v Bochum
    Stuttgart v Hannover
    Nurnberg v Hoffenheim
    Eintracht v Bayern
    Dortmund v Leverkusen
    Hamburg v Schalke
    Wolfsburg v Hertha

    Tricky games for the leading trio this week. Bayern have the easiest task, at least on paper, but Eintracht can be stubborn old buggers at home. Leverkusen take on in-form Dortmund while Schalke are also away as they take on Hamburg. Neither of those are anything like bankers and both could quite easily lose. This could be the week the championship takes a huge swing towards Bavaria.

    Hertha have picked a fine old time to run into Wolfsburg who are finally showing, albeit way too late, championship form. Another defeat looms for the Berliners and they will be all but down should that happen.

    Eredivisie round 28

    Heerenveen v NEC
    Willem II v Utrecht
    PSV v Twente
    Heracles v NAC
    Feyenoord v Vitesse
    Waalwijk v Ajax
    Den Haag v VVV Venlo
    Groningen v Roda
    Sparta v AZ

    Very quick preview this week due to time pressures. The big game is, obviously, Twente v PSV. If Twente win, then they can metaphorically place one hand on the soup dish. Even if they draw, they'll remain in the box seat and have a degree of comfort. PSV go in without Ibrahim Afellay, banned for four matches after appearing to punch Eyong Enoh in the stomach in last week's defeat in Amsterdam. Ajax have Waalwijk and should easily roll them over. They could go second and into that oh-so-valuable Champions League spot they desperately need.

    Monday, 15 March 2010

    Draws all round: Ligue 1 reviews

    Monaco 0-0 Bordeaux
    Le Mans 0-1 Nice
    Montpellier 1-1 Auxerre
    Lorient 1-0 Lens
    Nancy 1-3 Boulogne
    PSG 4-1 Sochaux
    Lyon 1-1 St Etienne
    Valenciennes 0-2 Rennes
    Lille 1-0 Grenoble
    Toulouse 1-1 Marseille

    Nobody struck out on their own in France this week as draws were the order of the day. Only Lille of the front-runners managed to take all three points which moves them within two points of the summit. Indeed, three points covers the top six and it's between them. An own goal a couple of minutes into the second half from the hapless Bostjan Cesar gifted Lille the points after a hard-fought game, completing a fine week for LOSC. Marseille were held by Toulouse, Brandao giving OM the lead only for Paulo Machado to equalise ten minutes later. Bordeaux were kept goalless by Monaco while the crunch clash between Montpellier and Auxerre also finished level. Dennis Oliech put AJA ahead on the stroke of half-time and Alberto Costa levelled it up just after the hour and so it remained despite Jeremy Berthod's late dismissal meaning AJA finished with ten men. Lyon also ended 1-1, Lisandro Lopez with a late equaliser after Emmanuel Riviere gave St Etienne the lead in the big derby.

    A Mevlut Erding hat-trick eased the pressure on PSG coach Antoine Kombouaré. Guillaume Hoarau put the Parisians ahead before ex-Sochaux man Erding made his former club pay with two before half-time. Ryad Boudebouz pulled one back with a penalty, but Erding's third sealed it. Boulogne scored a rare win, though they still look doomed. They won in some style too, sticking three away past Nancy. Laurent Agouazzi put them ahead, but they went into half-time level, Chris Malonga with the equaliser. Two goals in six second half minutes sealed it, Matt Mousillou and Alexandre Cullivier on target. Le Mans lost, and they're favourites to join Boulogne and Grenoble in Ligue 2 next season. Loic Remy got the only goal of the game as Nice leapfrog St Etienne and make it a seven point gap for Le Mans to bridge in the last ten games. Lorient are the best of the rest after a win over Lens thanks to Sylvain Marchal and Rennes are there with them after beating ten-man Valenciennes. Sylvain Marcheaux and Asamoah Gyan gave them a first-half lead and when Siaka Tiéné was sent off 12 minutes from the end, the game was up for VA.

    Riot in Berlin as Hertha lose again: Bundesliga reviews

    Schalke 2-1 Stuttgart
    Bochum 1-4 Dortmund
    Hannover 2-1 Eintracht
    Monchengladbach 0-4 Wolfsburg
    Hertha 1-2 Nurnberg
    Mainz 1-0 Cologne
    Bayern 2-1 Freiburg
    Hoffenheim 0-1 Bremen
    Leverkusen 4-2 Hamburg

    Nurnberg left Berlin with all three points as Greek international striker Angelos Charisteas swooped in stoppage time to win it. The Hertha defence looked on from their static positions as Ilkay Gundogan waltzed past them and squared to Charisteas for the simplest of tap-ins. Thoefanis Gekas had put Hertha in front in the first half, following in after the initial shot was saved, but Albert Bunjaku headed Nurnberg level before the late drama. Players and staff fled for the dressing rooms at full-time as fans stormed the pitch, many carrying improvised weapons, until police forced them back. The Hertha board say Friedheim Funkel's job is safe, unlike Hertha's Bundesliga future. This was a huge result and Nurnberg are nine points clear of the Berliners with eight games remaining. Hannover also won, leaving Hertha adrift, as Eintracht imploded, finishing with nine men. Leon Andreasen put Hannover in front, but Halil Altintop ensured it was level at the break. Selim Teber got himself sent off early in the second half and Sergio Pinto scored moments later to give Hannover the lead for the second time and Eintracht's Maik Franz became the second to be sent off in the last minute.

    Freiburg remain in deep trouble as well, but were unlucky to come off second best to Bayern who remain top. Cedric Makiadi put Freiburg ahead on the half hour with a fierce strike, but two late goals from Arjen Robben won it for Bayern, the second from the penalty spot. That saw them leapfrog Schalke who had gone to the top on Friday night by beating Stuttgart. Ten second half minutes saw Schalke go ahead through Goncalves, Serdar Tasci draw Stuttgart level and Kevin Kuranyi win it for the Royal Blues. But they're not title challengers. Oh dear me no. Well, not unless you think Felix Magath may be prone to the odd fib now and again. Leverkusen got over their loss last week quickly with a win over Hamburg in an error-strewn game. Stefan Kiessling got two, including the first of the game, but ever since Rene Adler got the nod as Germany's number one, he seems to have gone to pieces. A weak punch let Ze Roberto in for the equaliser. Kiessling's second and one from Eren Derdiyok put Leverkusen back in control before David Rozehnal out-muscled Adler for Hamburg's second. Gonzalo Castro struck on the counter as Hamburg went for broke late on to seal it.

    Dortmund pass Hamburg into fourth after thrashing Bochum. Milos Maric was sent off for Bochum and they were already 2-0 down by then. Lucas Barrios struck twice for BvB. Claudio Pizarro got the only goal of the game on his 100th appearance for Bremen, inflicting yet another home defeat on Hoffenheim and Mainz won despite Aristide Bancé's sending off. Andre Schurrle got the only goal as Cologne were beaten again. Edin Dzeko got another two for Wolfsburg as they stuck four past Gladbach. Zvjezdan Misimovic put the outgoing champions ahead just before the break before they cut loose in the second half. Dzeko struck from the penalty spot, Christian Gentner made it three and Dzeko's second wrapped it up ten minutes from time.

    Twente clear after PSV downed again: Eredivisie reviews

    Twente 3-1 Den Haag
    NAC 0-3 Groningen
    AZ 6-2 Waalwijk
    VVV Venlo 0-1 Utrecht
    NEC 0-2 Roda
    Feyenoord 1-1 Heracles
    Vitesse 0-1 Heerenveen
    Willem II 3-1 Sparta
    Ajax 4-1 PSV

    Ajax's amazing run of form continued in the Classic at home to PSV, severely denting the Eindhoveners title challenge. What it has done is hand Twente a huge advantage, but the battle for the second Champions League spot is well and truly alive, a single point separating PSV and Ajax. What a time for PSV to lose their mojo, right at the crucial point in the season. Siem de Jong got the first, turning in a wayward Luis Suarez effort early on and Urby Emanuelson made it two at the break following Marko Pantelic's cheeky backheel. Pantelic got on the scoreboard himself as PSV dallied in defence before Balazs Dzsudzsak pulled one back from the penalty spot. Suarez, back in the side after missing the last two, added a fourth late on to wrap up a hugely impressive win. Twente's win on Friday against relegation threatened Den Haag means they're in the box seat. ADO were in front inside 11 seconds, Wesley Verhoek making a sleeping defence pay. Bryan Ruiz squared it up before the break with a penalty and the Costa Rican put Twente in front after the break, springing the offside trap and slotting home coolly. Kenneth Perez made the points safe with a ludicrously deflected cross-shot. Next week it's PSV v Twente.

    AZ were the big winners of the weekend, a Mounir El Hamdaoui hat-trick the highlight of a 6-2 battering of hapless Waalwijk. The champions may not have a sniff of retaining the title, but they could have a huge say in who does. They've to play both Twente and PSV yet and are in superb form. They've closed the gap to Feyenoord for the last Europa League place to six points after the Rotterdammers could only draw with Heracles. Everton looked to have won it for Heracles, opening the scoring eight minutes from time, but Ron Vlaar's second goal in three games smashed one in on the turn in stoppage time to rescue a point. Groningen beat NAC to move above them into the last Europa League play-off place, Ajilore Oluwafemi with two and NAC's Donny Gorter was sent off late on. Utrecht are still in the frame as well after beating VVV Venlo. Jacob Lensky got the only goal of the game twenty minutes from time.

    Willem II move up a place after a win over Sparta which concertinas everything together at the foot of the table. Frank Demouge put them ahead and an Ayodele Adeleye own goal increased the lead. Stefan Nijland's penalty made it three, meaning Rydell Poepon's late goal was just consolation. Elsewhere, Heerenveen beat Vitesse by a single Roy Beerens goal late in the game, Roda saw off NEC thanks to Willem Janssen and Mads Junker.

    Friday, 12 March 2010

    Ligue 1 round 28

    Bordeaux 1-2 Auxerre
    Monaco v Bordeaux
    Le Mans v Nice
    Montpellier v Auxerre
    Lorient v Lens
    Nancy v Boulogne
    PSG v Sochaux
    Lyon v St Etienne
    Valenciennes v Rennes
    Lille v Grenoble
    Toulouse v Marseille

    Midweek saw Bordeaux play one of their two games in hand and lose at home to Auxerre. Benoit Pedretti put through his own net early on to give Bordeaux the lead, but two second half goals from Ireneusz Jelen, the second coming seven minutes from time, won it for AJA and left Bordeaux level on points with Montpellier at the top. This weekend, AJA could do Bordeaux a massive favour as they're up against Montpellier and now just one point off the summit. Funny how this game works sometimes. Bordeaux are in Monaco and the whole picture could be shaken to bits this weekend. Lyon are only two off the top and are coming into the weekend off the back of dumping Real Madrid out of the Champions League. They're in derby action this weekend as St Etienne make the short trip to the Gerland as the most successful ever club in France take on the kings of the 21st century. Marseille are a point further back, also having played one game less than the rest. They're in Toulouse this week.

    Grenoble are 13 points from safety now and that's not likely to be reduced this week as they face Lille who come off the back of that win over Liverpool in the Europa League. Boulogne are now ten away from safety and look more doomed as each week passes. Much as they will this week too, Nancy their opponents. The big game at the bottom sees Le Mans take on Nice, the Riviera club having disposed of coach Didier Olle-Nicolle's services in the week.

    The PSG train wreck continues to fascinate and appal in equal measure. They're at home to Sochaux this week where all eyes will be on the conduct of rival sets of supporters. Elsewhere, Valenciennes take on Rennes and Lens go to Lorient.

    Bundesliga round 26

    Schalke v Stuttgart
    Bochum v Dortmund
    Hannover v Eintracht
    Monchengladbach v Wolfsburg
    Hertha v Nurnberg
    Mainz v Cologne
    Bayern v Freiburg
    Hoffenheim v Bremen
    Leverkusen v Hamburg

    Felix Magath, wily old master that he is, continues to play down title talk where his Schalke side are concerned. Yes, they're still in financial trouble and rely on goals from unlikely sources (i.e. Kevin Kuranyi), but they're second and will go top, for a day at least, if they beat Stuttgart at home in the Friday game. This time last season, Magath was playing down the chances of his Wolfsburg side winning the title and we all know what happened then. Bayern will probably go back to the top regardless on Saturday as they're up against lowly Freiburg. The Bavarians were lucky to get through in Europe in midweek, another Arjen Robben screamer to thank - that and a linesman not spotting Miro Klose being at least three yards offside in the first leg - and they've not been fluent in the last few weeks. Leverkusen, coming off the back of their first loss, face Hamburg. That's not going to be easy. Hamburg won well in Europe in the week and are going pretty well. How the erstwhile league leaders react to defeat is key.

    Massive game at the bottom for Hertha who have been drinking in the last chance saloon for so long now that they have their own stool and tankard behind the bar and the barman doesn't even have to ask what they're drinking. Nurnberg are their opponents this week and it's they that they need to overhaul if they're to get out of trouble. By the same token, a Nurnberg win will see them pull away, for now at least. Hannover are in rank form and face Eintracht this week. While the Frankfurters aren't a great side, they should have too much.

    Elsewhere, it's jockeying for position in mid-table. Bochum have a nice gap back to the bottom four and they take on European hopefuls Dortmund. Wolfsburg are putting a decent run together, at last, and face Gladbach. Mainz are at home to Cologne and there's an intriguing clash at the Rhein-Neckar Arena between Hoffenheim and Bremen.

    Eredivisie round 17

    Twente v Den Haag
    NAC v Groningen
    AZ v Waalwijk
    VVV Venlo v Utrecht
    NEC v Roda
    Feyenoord v Heracles
    Vitesse v Heerenveen
    Willem II v Sparta
    Ajax v PSV

    Sunday sees the latest instalment of one of the longest running rivalries in European football as PSV go to the Amsterdam ArenA with it's extraneous extra capital A and all. PSV come into the game in what for them represents poor form. One loss in a calendar year would suit most people, but bouncing back from defeat is something a lot of these players simply haven't had to do. How they react here is key. Conversely, Ajax had their wobble at the start of the season and stuck another three away last week despite the absence of their talismanic skipper Luis Suarez. Ajax are in no way out of the title fight, but even if they win here, the big winners could easily be Twente, in action in the Friday night game against Den Haag. The Tukkers retook the lead last week and, like PSV, have just the one loss on their record for the season. It's unthinkable, especially in Enschede, to see ADO spring a surprise and win. This is a pivotal weekend in terms of the championship.

    Things are equally unclear at the bottom except for one thing; Waalwijk are going down. They're 13 points from safety and don't look like picking up anything like enough. They face an improving AZ this week who themselves need the points to maintain what looks a forlorn pursuit of Feyenoord, third place and a Europa Cup spot. The play-offs look a more likely route back to Europe for the outgoing champions. Willem II and Sparta face off with the former desperate for points and the latter trying to avoid being sucked into the basement battle. Vitesse and Heerenveen are both just outside the drop zone and they're head-to-head as well this week. Everyone from tenth down in really not out of trouble with Roda heading that list and they face NEC, currently 12th, this week.

    Feyenoord look safe in fourth and avoiding defeat to one of their pursuers, Heracles, this week will all but seal it. Even if not, someone else will have to put one hell of a run together to unseat them. Utrecht could, theoretically, starting with an away win at VVV Venlo. NAC too harbour hopes of European football, but again look more like play-off contenders. They're at home to Groningen this week.

    Monday, 8 March 2010

    Referee blunders and magic goalkeeping deny Montpellier: Ligue 1 reviews

    Auxerre 1-0 Valenciennes
    Nice 2-3 Nancy
    Boulogne 0-0 Lyon
    Sochaux 1-0 Toulouse
    Rennes 1-0 Monaco
    Lens 1-1 PSG
    St Etienne 1-1 Lille
    Grenoble 1-1 Le Mans
    Marseille 1-1 Lorient
    Bordeaux 1-1 Montpellier

    Not many goals flying about in France this weekend and it was two misses from 12 yards out that made the headlines. Montpellier should have won it, but Cédric Carrasso pulled off two penalty saves to rescue Bordeaux in the crunch clash at the sharp end of the table. The first came just after the half hour after Michael Ciani was sent off for bringing down Victor Montano. Alberto Costa stepped up and Carrasso guessed right and pulled off a save. Montpellier got another chance nine minutes later, Mathieu Chalmé handling in the box to give away another penalty. Bizarrely, the referee decided not to bring out what would have been Chalmé's second yellow for reasons best known only to him. The same could be said of the decision to order a retake of Montano's successful spot-kick for encroachment.... by Bordeaux players. The injustice was further increased when Carrasso saved the retake. And then what do you know? Marouane Chamakh, bleating in the papers about moving to Premier League again in the week, putting Les Girondins ahead on the hour. Some justice was restored in the final minute when Costa atoned for his penalty miss by thundering in a stunning free-kick to rescue a point, but there's no doubt they deserved and should have had all three.

    Lyon could have drawn level on points with the leading duo, but were held to a goalless draw by lowly Boulogne who ended with ten men, Yoann Lachor sent off in stoppage time. Marseille, too, could only draw, pegged back by Lorient after Mamadou Niang's opener a couple of minutes from the break. Laurent Koscielny equalised just after the hour, tapping in from close range. Lille also drew, Stephane Dumont equalising after Emmanuel Riviere had put St Etienne in front and all that means the biggest winners of the weekend were Auxerre, the only one of the leading contenders to win. Predictably, it was Ireneusz Jelen who got the only goal, taking the ball round the keeper and slotting it into the empty net. What a player.

    Plenty of draws down at the bottom too, Grenoble blowing their first-minute lead which was handed to them by Nassim Akrour. Modbo Maiga drew Le Mans level five minutes after the break. Nice lost though, in the only game that mustered more than two goals. Twice they were behind and twice they levelled, only for Issiar Dia to break them with a late winner for Nancy. They'd been behind for just 12 minutes in the match. Renato Civelli got their first equaliser two minutes after Djamel Bakar had put Nancy ahead and ten minutes after Jonathan Brison had restored the lead, Chaouki Ben Saada brought it back to 2-2 before Dia's late winner.

    PSG needed a stoppage time equaliser from Stephane Sessegnon to rescue a point from their clash with Lens for whom Sébastien Roudet scored midway through the second half. There were home wins for Sochaux and Rennes over Toulouse and Monaco respectively and both by a single goal. Carlos Bocanegra struck halfway through the first half for Rennes while Sochaux left it late, Ryad Boudebouz striking six minutes from time to seal his side's first win in six.

    First loss signals the advent of the Neverkusen curse: Bundesliga reviews

    Freiburg 1-2 Hannover
    Eintracht 1-4 Schalke
    Hamburg 1-0 Hertha
    Bremen 2-2 Stuttgart
    Cologne 1-1 Bayern
    Wolfsburg 4-1 Bochum
    Dortmund 3-0 Monchengladbach
    Nurnberg 3-2 Leverkusen
    Hoffenheim 0-1 Mainz

    What a time for Lukas Podolski to find the net for just the second time this season. He's had an awful time of it since his €10m switch from Bayern back to Cologne. Half an hour into the game against his previous employers, he blazed in a tremendous free-kick to make a serious dent in Bayern's title ambitions. Even when Bastian Schweinsteiger equalised with a cross-shot on the hour, it looked like Leverkusen would seize the opportunity to open up a gap at the top. Instead, they froze like so many Leverkusen sides have done in the past. Could this be the start of the Neverkusen curse? The first half seemed destined to finish goalless, but Eric Choupo-Moting got two in the last couple of minutes of the first 45 and Mikael Tavares made it three ten minutes into the second half. The fightback began ten minutes later, Stefan Kiessling extending his lead at the top of the goal-scoring charts and Patrick Helmes got another seven minutes later, but Nurnberg held on. But the big winners of the weekend weren't Bayern, but Schalke who also move above Leverkusen after beating Eintracht 4-1. Joel Matip and Benedikt Howedes put them two up early on. Alex Meier pulled one back early in the second half, but late goals from Ivan Rakitic and Kevin Kuranyi wrapped up a thumping win and the Royal Blues are right in this three-way fight.

    Hertha lost again, Marcell Jansen with the only goal of the game as Hamburg maintained fourth place. Dortmund won big against Gladbach to maintain their European push with two from Mohamed Zidan who picked up where he left off against England in midweek while Bremen were held by Stuttgart. The Swabians led 2-0 at half-time, Pavel Pogrebnyak and Sami Khedira putting them in control, but they were pegged back by Hugo Almeida and a Torsten Frings penalty. Wolfsburg came from behind to win well at home to Bochum for whom Paul Freier put them ahead. They held the lead until the hour mark when Wolfsburg finally sprang to life, Edin Dzeko getting two as the champions won 4-1. Hoffenheim's recent revival same to an end, Aristide Bancé's goal snaring Mainz a rare away win.

    Hannover were grateful for a late own goal from Papiss Cissé to help them to victory over fellow strugglers Freiburg. Elson gave Hannover the lead just after the hour, but Yacine Abdessaki equalised seven minutes later. They were level for just two minutes, Cissé heading Arnold Bruggink's cross into his own net. Hannover jump above Freiburg, albeit on goal difference alone. It now looks to be one from four that will survive.

    First loss in a year for PSV sees it swing back to Twente: Eredivisie reviews

    AZ 4-1 Heerenveen
    Den Haag 1-1 Vitesse
    Heracles 3-2 Willem II
    NAC 2-1 PSV
    Roda 2-4 Feyenoord
    Sparta 0-3 Ajax
    Groningen 1-0 VVV Venlo
    Utrecht 1-0 NEC
    Waalwijk 0-1 Twente

    The Eredivisie must be one of the most static in Europe, if not the world. Only two sides ended up in a different league position at the end of the round compared to before. Crucially, however, those two sides are the top two. It was March 15 2009 when PSV last lost a league match, Leroy Fer with the only goal for Feyenoord at De Kuip. That time, Feyenoord were live title contenders, but this week, mid-table Roda finally made a sloppy PSV pay for their profligacy. An upset looked unlikely when Orlando Engelaar finished a superb solo move in the 18th minute and NAC keeper Jelle ten Rouwelaar denied Ola Toivonen at the back post, just tipping Ibrahim Afellay's cross away as the Swede lurked. Interplay between Donny Gorter and Edwin de Graaf saw the former chip Andreas Isaksson after receiving a return ball from the latter. Ten Rouwelaar kept out a Balazs Dzsudzsak free-kick to keep NAC in it, and a quickly taken free-kick at the other end fifteen minutes from time saw Tommie van der Leegte found Robbert Schilder who finished in style. Dzsudzsak curled a late free-kick wide, but NAC were worthy winners.

    That handed a superb opportunity to FC Twente who were playing rock bottom Waalwijk on Sunday. They were strangely subdued without talismanic skipper Blaise N'Kufo. They did have the ball in the net twice, Douglas and Bryan Ruiz both heading in from offside positions. They almost paid for their sloppiness when Derk Boerrigter had an effort cleared off the line, but Twente were in front almost immediately after as Ruiz crossed for Kenneth Perez to head home and send Steve McClaren's side back to the top of the standings. Ajax remain a threat as the top two have dropped points recently and they stuck another three away this weekend, Siem de Jong again the star as Sparta were brushed aside. Gregory van der Wiel continues to impress as well and those two gave Ajax a half-time lead, de Jong curling a beauty inside the far post and van der Wiel blasting one home on the half hour. In the absence of Luis Suarez, Christian Eriksen was given a chance to impress and he did, whipping in a pacy, curling cross for Dennis Rommedahl to volley home.

    Feyenoord remain fourth - there's a phrase that will continue to crop up as they're going nowhere - after an entertaining game against Roda. Sekou Cissé put the Rotterdammers on a quarter hour before Ruud Vormer was sent off, reducing Roda to ten. They held out for 40 minutes before Cissé made it two, but Jeanvion Yulu-Matondo pulled one back quickly. Luigi Bruins and Roy Makaay made the game safe before Darley was sent off five minutes from time and Boldiszar Bodor grabbed a consolation from the resulting free-kick. Late drama at Utrecht as well where a poor game was heading for 0-0 until Bram Nuytinck got himself sent off and Ricky van Wolfswinkel made NEC pay by nabbing a late winner. Heracles stay in European contention after beating Willem II for whom Gerson Sheotahul scored twice. Everton's 50th minute strike ended up the winner. AZ look back to something like form after all the trials that this season has thrown up. They came from behind to see off Heerenveen for whom Filip Djuricic put them ahead on 20 minutes. The lead lasted just 2 minutes though, Maarten Martens with the equaliser and Mounir El Hamdaoui had them in front by half-time. Jeremain Lens made it three early in the second half and it was wrapped up in the last minute by Brett Holman. Tim Matavz got the only goal as Groningen beat VVV Venlo and in the big game down at the bottom, Den Haag drew with Vitesse, Christian Kum pegging back Lasse Nilsson's opener.

    Thursday, 4 March 2010

    Ligue 1 round 27

    Auxerre v Valenciennes
    Nice v Nancy
    Boulogne v Lyon
    Sochaux v Toulouse
    Rennes v Monaco
    Lens v PSG
    St Etienne v Lille
    Marseille v Lorient
    Grenoble v Le Mans
    Bordeaux v Montpellier

    Massive clash at the Chaban-Delmas this week where Montpellier are looking for the win that will take them top. Bordeaux have missed the last two weeks due to postponements as storms lashed the Atlantic coast. That can go both ways. Either Les Girondins will turn up refreshed and ready to go or they may have gone stale. It'll be fascinating to find out which. Lose it and it won't be over by any stretch of the imagination, but win it, and Bordeaux can start thinking about another championship.

    The headlines this week have been dominated by PSG. You may recall that trouble flared in Marseille when PSG's trip there was called off due to an outbreak of swine flu. Marseille went up to Paris without any fans last week, so what did the PSG fans do? That's right: fight among themselves. Nicolas Sarkozy has vowed to rid the game of these "thugs", though he stopped short of calling them "scum" like he did when interior minister describing rioting youths in les banlieus. Goalkeeper Grégory Coupet went so far as to suggest the team are in some way responsible for the trouble, frustration at the ineptitude of the side boiling over in spectacular fashion. He is maybe half right. There's now a ban in place on travelling fans whenever PSG are in action away from home imposed by the club, possibly as a pre-emptive action against sanctions from the league. PSG go to Lens this week, normally a game where tempers fray anyway. Nobody will miss the PSG fans at this one.

    Down at the bottom, Grenoble take on Le Mans. While GF38 have only won three all season, two of those have come in the last four games. Le Mans come off the back of win number five, mind that came against Boulogne, a truly awful side who are on for a hiding at home to Lyon. Nice and St Etienne, both above the drop zone, are both at home, Nice against Nancy while Les Verts take on Lille who are looking to get back to winning ways after coming unstuck against Auxerre last week. AJA themselves aren't completely out of the title equation and take on fading Valenciennes. Marseille still have a game in hand on everyone at the top end bar Bordeaux and are still very much a threat and they welcome Lorient to the Vélodrome this week. Elsewhere, it's mid-table honours up for grabs as Toulouse go to Sochaux and Monaco go north to Rennes.

    Bundesliga round 25

    Cologne v Bayern
    Wolfsburg v Bochum
    Freiburg v Hannover
    Eintracht v Schalke
    Hamburg v Hertha
    Bremen v Stuttgart
    Dortmund v Monchengladbach
    Nurnberg v Leverkusen
    Hoffenheim v Mainz

    Bayern hit the top last week, but were hit by an injury to Martin Demichelis in the international friendly against Germany. The Argentine international suffered a broken jaw as his side beat a below-par German side 1-0. With his experience absent, Holger Badstuber gets the chance to stake a claim and maybe a late berth on the plane to South Africa. One thing Badstuber doesn't suffer from is the brain farts that occasionally blight Demichelis's game and while the defence may not suffer immediately, the reduction in depth might. They face Cologne this week and a lot of focus lately has been on Cologne's ex-Bayern striker Lukas Podolski. He's stinking the place up and hasn't scored in 1400 minutes of play now. Another dispiriting international performance has really put the spotlight on the ex-Pole. If ever there was a time for him to begin to deliver, it's now.

    Bayern went top after Leverkusen drew for the eleventh time this season a week ago, though they remain unbeaten. They take on Nurnberg this week, the side that, while still struggling at the foot of the table, drew with Bayern a couple of weeks ago. Schalke remain in the hunt and they go to Eintracht.

    The rest are some distance away from the top three. Hamburg head the chase and take on rock bottom Hertha this week. The Berliners are getting closer and any slip from Hamburg will be seized upon now. Dortmund are in a battle of the Borussias with Gladbach, a game which promises entertainment as does Stuttgart's trip to Bremen. Both sides have picked up lately, Stuttgart after an atrocious start and Bremen after a wobbly middle. The form of Mesut Ozil is a worry for both Bremen and the national side - it's disappeared - but the likes of Marko Marin and Aaron Hunt have come to the fore while he's been out of sorts. Ozil is too good a player to be in poor form for long and when he fires, he's tremendous to watch. Hoffenheim seem to be going in the right direction and they welcome Mainz to the Rhein-Neckar Arena and it's Mainz's away form that is stopping them from being realistic European contenders. Bochum go to Wolfsburg who seem to have found their mojo. Way too late for a title push, of course, but there's an outside chance of European football should they continue current form.

    The big six-pointer at the bottom sees Hannover go to Freiburg as the worst side in the league on current form. Freiburg are outside of the bottom three, but that can all change in a heartbeat.

    Eredivisie round 26

    AZ v Heerenveen
    Den Haag v Vitesse
    Heracles v Willem II
    NAC v PSV
    Roda v Feyenoord
    Sparta v Ajax
    Groningen v VVV Venlo
    Utrecht v NEC
    Waalwijk v Twente

    Dare we suggest the Eredivisie is a bit stale this year? Well it is. The table barely changes week to week and while it's intriguing, it's not exactly thrilling. After two weeks with the top three - and they will be the top three come the end of the season - all played at home, they're all away this week. Twente go to Waalwijk where something amazing would have to happen for them to lose, likewise Ajax at Sparta. PSV have it slightly tougher in going to Breda to take on NAC and, while they've lost Danko Lazovic to Zenit St Petersburg, they've been able to bring in Andy van der Meyde as a free agent to the end of the season. Any slip-up by the leaders and it could all swing back to Twente, while for Ajax, the big challenge is making it a hundred league goals. They need to go at three per game.

    Feyenoord will finish fourth. There, I've said it. Miles behind Ajax and miles ahead of AZ, they are as lonely as it gets. Whatever happens against Roda JC this weekend won't make much difference to them. AZ have improved lately and sit in fifth, the top of the Europa League play-off places. They take on Heerenveen this week with the Frieslanders also looking to make those play-offs. Groningen and VVV Venlo are also in the hunt and face off up north and Utrecht, for so long in genuine European contention, look to get back to winning ways against improving NEC.

    The big game at the bottom sees Vitesse go to Den Haag while Willem II take on Heracles in Almelo with the home side still chasing Europe and the Tilburg side in terrible form.

    Monday, 1 March 2010

    Points on the board for Montpellier: Ligue 1 reviews

    Lorient 1-0 Sochaux
    Nancy 0-2 Grenoble
    Monaco 1-0 Boulogne
    Lyon 2-0 Nice
    Toulouse 1-0 Lens
    Valenciennes 1-0 St Etienne
    Montpellier 3-1 Rennes
    Le Mans P-P Bordeaux
    Lille 1-2 Auxerre
    PSG 0-3 Marseille

    Another week without a game for Bordeaux as storms lashed the western side of France over the weekend. 45 people died as hurricane force winds battered the Atlantic coast and a national emergency was declared. That only one game of football was cancelled was a big surprise. For football's sake, it was fortunate that the majority of matches were away from the western seaboard.

    With Bordeaux sitting it out yet again, Montpellier took advantage to draw level on points at the top of the table after beating Rennes. Joris Marveaux struck twice in the first half to give the southerners the lead. Jimmy Briand pulled one back with 20 minutes to go, but Souleymane Camara made it safe eight minutes from time. Kader Mangane was sent off for a second bookable offence in stoppage time and Asamoah Gyan was sent off for foul and abusive language after the final whistle. Lyon move into third after beating Nice. Lisandro Lopez gave Les Gones an early lead and a late own goal from Onyekachi Apam sealed it. Lille lost ground to Auxerre, Roy Contout getting both for AJA either side of an Eden Hazard tap-in after Yohan Cabaye's initial shot was saved. Marseille heaped more misery on PSG with a convincing win which upset the local fans, mainly due to the insipid performance from the Parisians. Haten Ben Arfa put OM ahead on 10 minutes and Lucho Gonzalez and Benoit Cheyrou wrapped it up after the break.

    Yoric Ravet struck in both halves as Grenoble scored a rare win, though they remain 13 points from safety. Boulogne remain second bottom after defeat to Monaco, Moussa Maazou with the only goal of the game. St Etienne remain the target for those below after they lost again, 1-0 to Valenciennes for whom Johan Audel proved the winner. Kevin Dupois was the matchwinner for Toulouse over Lens and Sigamary Diarra did likewise for Lorient against Sochaux.

    Eleventh Leverkusen draw lets Bayern go top: Bundesliga reviews

    Schalke 2-1 Dortmund
    Hertha 0-2 Hoffenheim
    Mainz 1-2 Bremen
    Monchengladbach 1-1 Freiburg
    Bochum 0-0 Nurnberg
    Stuttgart 2-1 Eintracht
    Leverkusen 0-0 Cologne
    Hannover 0-1 Wolfsburg
    Bayern 1-0 Hamburg

    While Leverkusen remain unbeaten this season, they have drawn eleven times now. The latest came this week against near neighbours Cologne. The leaders couldn't break down some determined defence while Cologne's Sebastien Freis carved out the two best openings of the game. That gave Bayern the chance to take over at the top and they did thanks to a thunderbolt from Franck Ribéry. With him and Arjen Robben running the show, Hamburg had it all on to contain the Bavarians. They almost managed it, but with precious little backlift, Ribéry smashed one in from the edge of the box with 12 minutes left.

    Dortmund blew the chance to get one over their big rivals on Friday night. Nuri Sahin's penalty early in the second half gave them the lead, but Benedikt Howedes equalised just after the hour and Ivan Rakitic curled in a stunning winner two minutes from time. That sees Schalke remain well and truly in the title chase, two points back from Leverkusen. Cacau is a man in form and added another two to his tally as Stuttgart came from behind to beat Eintracht. Benjamin Kohler put the Frankfurters ahead late in the first half, but not late enough for Cacau to first equalise and then give Stuttgart the lead. Bremen remain in the hunt for European football after beating ten man Mainz who played all but the first 14 minutes without Florian Heller. They held out until the half hour when Tim Borowski broke the deadlock, but Aristide Bancé levelled it up just before the break. Mainz couldn't hold out though and Sebastien Prodl's goal five minutes into the second half proved the winner. Wolfsburg continued their new found winning habit, sneaking past Hannover thanks to Zvjezdan Misimovic's header late on.

    After giving their supporters hope they could get themselves out of the mire, Hertha reverted to type by succumbing meekly to Hoffenheim. Demba Ba and a late one from Vedad Ibisevic did the damage while the other two clubs in the bottom three both drew. Nurnberg survived against Bochum despite Albert Bunjaku's late dismissal while Freiburg couldn't hang on at Gladbach. Demba Cissé had put Freiburg ahead, but Roel Brouwers levelled it midway through the second half.

    Ton still on for Ajax: Eredivisie reviews

    Den Haag 1-2 Roda
    Heerenveen 1-2 Heracles
    Vitesse 0-3 AZ
    Willem II 2-1 VVV Venlo
    Ajax 4-0 Utrecht
    Groningen 2-3 Feyenoord
    PSV 5-1 Waalwijk
    Sparta 2-2 NAC
    Twente 2-1 NEC

    Nine games to go now in the Eredivisie and the latest round of fixtures saw Ajax notch another four. That's 73 league goals now. They'll have to go at three per game to reach the hundred, but the way they're going, it looks possible. They were being held by Utrecht for half an hour, but when Jan Wuytens was sent off for a bad challenge on Siem de Jong, the game turned. Luis Suarez deflected Jan Vertonghen's piledriver for the first just before the break, Gregory van der Wiel converted Dennis Rommedahl's cross for the second just after the hour and the third followed two minutes later, Suarez bamboozling the defence before sticking it away. Suarez laid a fourth on a plate for Rommedahl a couple of minutes from time.

    And still they trail the top two by some distance. PSV are still undefeated and still lead by a single point from Twente as both sides win. Bryan Ruiz won it for Twente five minutes from the end after NEC came back from Luuk de Jong's early opener with a Bjorn Vleminckx equaliser. Ruiz notched his 17th league goal of the season, taking the ball round the keeper and slotting it home. PSV were busy thrashing rock bottom Waalwijk at the time. It was 4-0 by the break, Balázs Dzsudzsák with an early penalty setting the ball rolling and Ibrahim Afellay, Danny Koevermans and Nordin Amrabat settling the match. Koevermans added a fifth following Charlison Benshop's consolation.

    Willem II picked up a valuable three points with a win over VVV Venlo in a bad tempered match. After Gonzalo Garcia had given VVV the lead, Willem II were reduced to ten when Daan van Dinther was sent off. VVV couldn't take advantage and Sandro Calabro followed van Dinther to the dressing rooms on the half hour. This had a greater effect on VVV than van Dinther's dismissal did Willem II. Jan-Arie van der Heijden brought the Tilburgers back level before the break and Frank Demouge won it ten minutes after the restart. They're within three points of safety as Vitesse lost 3-0 to a Mounir El Hamdaoui hat-trick which came in eleven minutes. Den Haag are still in the bottom three after a Friday night defeat to Roda. Kees Luickx brought them level after Roda went ahead through Mads Junker, but Anouar Hadouir nicked all three points two minutes from time.

    Heracles got back to winning ways over Heerenveen, Everton with the winner after Gerald Sibon had equalised Bas Dost's opener. Sparta and NAC battled to a 2-2 draw, Rydell Poepon with his second stoppage time equaliser in the space of a week. Matthew Amoah put NAC in front early on, but Milano Koenders sent Sparta in level. Czaber Feher restored the lead three minutes after the restart, but Poepon denied them at the death. Ron Vlaar scored a rare goal to win it for Feyenoord against Groningen who had staged a late fightback. André Bahia put the Rotterdammers ahead early in the second half and Diego Biseswar looked to have won it ten minutes from time, but back roared Groningen. Tim Matavz and Andreas Granqvist struck in the 83rd and 88th minute to peg it back to 2-2, but Vlaar blazed one in from 25 yards two minutes into stoppage time.