Bettencourt falls on his Sporting sword as front two maintain momentum

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ROUND 16 RESULTS Fri 14 Jan Portimonense 0-3 Braga Sat 15 Jan Sporting 2-3 Paços Ferreira, Vitória Guimarães 1-0 Olhanense Sun 16 Jan Académica 0-1 Benfica, FC Porto 3-1 Naval, União Leiria 0-3 Beira-Mar, Vitória Setúbal 2-4 Marítimo, Nacional 1-0 Rio Ave 

My friends, is there a better way to start the second half of the season than with an Earth-shattering event? OK, hyperbole perhaps, but here’s the highlight of the weekend: shortly after his team lost at home against Paços de Ferreira, Sporting supremo José Eduardo Bettencourt announced he was stepping down from his post.

Ironically, that comes after manager Paulo Sérgio declared he wanted to win 46 points out of a possible 45. If that was a measure of his ambition and optimism, the good news is that according to that logic, it's still possible to get 46 points out of 42…

Clearly, at this stage, supporters will be glad to see the back of Bettencourt but there's less pleasure about the timing of the decision. Was it a carefully deliberated move or simply a knee-jerk reaction that will do more damage to the club?

It's up for grabs now: supremo-free Sporting

Meanwhile, front-runners Porto and Benfica did their job by winning against Naval and Académica, respectively, though the Eagles can count themselves lucky: the only goal of the game was both offside and handball. (Do double negatives cancel each other out?).

Moreover, they played against 10 men for 55 minutes, but failed to kill off the match and almost allowed Académica to score. Still, they retained their winning streak and kept their faint title hopes alive.

On the up
Naturally, we have to mention Paços de Ferreira because of the way they played against the Lions. It wasn’t the ‘hit them on the counter’ textbook win against one of the Big Three; Paços played well, created opportunities and even with the blatant dive that shouldn’t have gifted them a penalty, they were deserving winners.

Of course, one has to wonder: if Paços had played like that every weekend, wouldn’t they be higher up the table? Bear in mind that they've won six of their 19 points (31.5%) against Sporting!

Then there's Leonardo Jardim's outfit Beira-Mar, again impressive and looking a genuine top-half side. In a match between the two surprise packages of the competition, Beira-Mar went to Leiria and got the three points in style with a resounding 3-0 win.

Marítimo also grabbed a morale-boosting 4-2 win at Setúbal that will certainly restore some of their confidence. Having been treading water around the relegation zone for most of the first half of the season, they might be setting sail towards their usual mid-table position. They now have 19 points from 16 games and will next host Sporting in what will be a very interesting match.

Maritimo: Getting ship-shape

Going down
If the Portugeezer liked a good bet, he'd put all his money on Portimonense getting relegated. They hosted Braga on Friday and showed that they're quite frankly not top-flight material.

Sometimes, a bad position in the league can be attributed to poor team chemistry, bad management and off-the field distractions. Other times, it’s just a lack of quality, and their squad is not good enough. Even Naval, who have been basement boys for a while now, stand a better chance of staying up. The two teams will face each other next weekend: which one will get a lifeline?

Talking points
Sporting, Sporting, Sporting... They say that “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” and for José Eduardo Bettencourt the insurmountable pressure from the supporters surpassed his threshold after the shocking 2-3 home loss.

It’s difficult to rate Bettencourt’s job at Sporting as passable. Questionable decisions like selling Paulo Sérgio and selling João Moutinho weakened his position and the low standards of football played by the team ensured his departure would be more when than if.

But whether or not he’s the main responsible of what is happening at Sporting, there is one thing even the most ardent JEB backer will have trouble answering: why the heck did he bring José Couceiro to the club if his position was even more insecure than we thought? Costinha, Paulo Sérgio and Couceiro – all of them hand-picked by Bettencourt – are now scratching their heads over what to do next as the club tries to recover from this blow.

It’s a pity, because Sporting don’t deserve this. They should focus on the Academy formula once again, as two of the few bright spots this season have been two youngsters André Santos and Diogo Salomão. Hopefully, for the good of the club and the league, the future will be slightly greener….