DAVID SMITH - Friday, March 2, 2012
Jozy Altidore and AZ Alkmaar have a chance to jump back into first when they host Heracles while Charles Kazlauskas and Helmond look to keep their undefeated 2012 going against leaders Zwolle.
AZ Alkmaar - Heracles Almelo
After a strong showing for both club and country in the last week, Jozy Altidore will try to keep his momentum running on Saturday when AZ welcome tenth-place Heracles.
Altidore followed up his two-goal man of the match performance in last weekend's draw against Heerenveen with one of the biggest nights of his international career several days later, serving up the assist on Clint Dempsey's winning goal in the USA's shocking 1-0 victory over 2006 World Cup champions Italy.
AZ head coach Gertjan Verbeek's decision to bench the American several weeks ago after a run of poor performances may yet turn out to look like a clairvoyant move should it spark continued strong play by the young forward.
For AZ, Saturday's game is a crucial opportunity to perhaps move back into first place, with current leaders PSV Eindhoven hosting a red-hot third-place FC Twente team which will themselves have eyes on the Eredivisie lead.
AZ are currently two points off the lead, and can move back into first should PSV slip up later on Sunday afternoon.
They will need to overcome Heracles, who only last weekend saw their five-game unbeaten run finally come to an end at the hands of VVV-Venlo.
There are only a pair of concerns marks for AZ, with star midfielder Maarten Martens questionable after missing last weekend's game with a tight leg, and Charlison Benschop still working back to full fitness after suffering a thigh injury.
Heracles have defender Tim Breukers and midfielder Kwame Quansah both suspended alongside head coach Peter Bosz, and additionally will be without midfielder Marko Vejinovic, who is recovering from a knee injury.
FC Zwolle - Helmond Sport
Charles Kazlauskas will likely be in his usual starting spot on the right side of Helmond's midfield on Friday evening when they visit Eerste Divisie leaders Zwolle in a tough road encounter.
While far from a virtuoso performance, last weekend's scoreless draw at Den Bosch stretched Helmond's unbeaten run to a full seven games, and kept them within shooting distance of a potential spot in the promotion playoffs.
If their trend for bouncing between wins and draws should continue, then they will be in line to pull off the upset over Zwolle, however any positive result is certainly a tall order against a team which not only is leading the division by eight points, but is also the highest scoring and second-best defensive squad.
To their credit, they are responsible for one of Zwolle's two losses this season, a 3-1 victory in mid-September in which Kazlauskas managed to find the back of the net for one of his five league goals this season.
Neither team is reporting any injuries or suspensions.