In the end, the way in which Ajax defeated FC Utrecht didn’t matter much to the fans. The Ajacieds transformed a 0-1 deficit into a 3-2 win. An own (tying) goal by Ramon Leeuwin, a penalty shot goal by Lasse Schöne, and a goal by Hakim Ziyech helped Ajax win full points on Sunday afternoon.
Ajax thus concluded a week in which first PEC Zwolle (5-1), and then Standard Luik (1-0), were defeated, with a big smile after their duel against the Utrecht team. But this winner’s smile was preceded by a tough afternoon of football.
The match against FC Utrecht, which is always heavily charged, offered plenty of entertainment this time as well. The show even started before kick-off. The F-Side celebrates its 40th birthday this month, which was reason enough for Toekomst coach John Heitinga to ask to congratulate the F-Siders from the field. Nice words, a beautiful banner, plus deafening fireworks set the tone in the ArenA.
Shortly after kick-off, Ajax had its first opportunity. Lasse Schöne’s shot went wide of the goal, after which Davy Klaassen also failed to strike. The captain saw a sharp pass from Amin Younes roll just beyond his reach.
It was Utrecht that took the lead in the 27th minute. Kevin Conboy sent a header from a far distance beautifully into the goal: 0-1. Former Ajacied Yassin Ayoub’s pass had landed perfectly on the head of the defender, who was surrounded by opponents. The 0-1 score at that moment was, to say the least, surprising.
Courage and strength
Erik ten Hag’s team drew extra courage and strength from their surprising lead. Ajax was thrown off balance momentarily. The Utrecht attacking Haller – Zivkovic duo came close to scoring the 0-2 goal, but fortunately, not close enough. Sébastian Haller shot wide and sent his header straight into keeper Andre Onana’s hands. Richairo Zivkovic, loaned out to Utrecht, stormed towards the Ajax goalie ten minutes before halftime. Defender Davinson Sanchez prevented the worst with his perfect sliding. A bit later, Nick Viergever was able to stop the loaned out Ajacied at just the perfect moment.
Ajax picked itself up in the final minutes of the first half. Robbin Ruiter was a roadblock for Amin Younes and Hakim Ziyech. The first saw his attempt get deflected wide by the goalie, performing well. Ruiter deflected a razor-sharp free kick of Ziyech’s over the bar in spectacular fashion. The Utrecht goalie thus kept his team in the lead going into halftime.
Regardless of how good Ruiter had been been before the break, he was left hopeless in the 47th minute. Ajax sought to attack when play resumed. After Younes had shaken off the grabbing claws of his guard Giovanni Troupée, his shot disappeared, via Ramon Leeuwin, into the Utrecht goal. Ruiter saw the ball sail over him in a perfect curve. Own goal, and 1-1.
Following that, Ziyech attempted to help Ajax score its own goal. This time, Ruiter was ready with his reply. A few moments later, the keeper and his defender saw, to their relief, that Klaassen didn’t strike from close range. Thus this match, which had ended in 2-2 last season and provided so much discussion material afterwards, remained both exciting and unpredictable.
In the final minutes, the guests once again gave Ajax a helping hand. This time, they did this quite literally, with Rico Strieder’s hand-ball. The German blocked a hard shot by Viergever with his hand in his own box. Schöne took the penalty and sent the ball flawlessly into the goal. Ten minutes before time, the home team finally was on the right side of the score: 2-1.
Ziyech seemed to decide the game. The Moroccan international struck on a pivot and scored the 3-1 goal in the 87th minute. Substitute Mark van der Maarel brought the excitement back into the ArenA with his 3-2 goal. It was a true nail biter in the end, but Ajax’s win wasn’t in danger.
The Amsterdam team thus took full advantage of PSV’s loss of points. On Saturday, the title contender from Eindhoven left points on the table at sc Heerenveen: 1-1. Leader Feyenoord started their away game at Willem II later on Sunday afternoon.