Ajax was unable to get the better of Heracles’ defensive wall on Tuesday evening in the Amsterdam ArenA. Three days after a 1-0 home win against Vitesse, the home game ended in a disappointing scoreless tie.
Frank de Boer had made one change to his team compared to the eleven who had brought the home game against Vitesse to a winning conclusion. Daley Sinkgraven started on the squad, putting a definitive end to his injury. The midfielder, who has substituted twice in the past weeks, forced youngster Donny van der Beek off the squad. Van de Beek had replaced the injured Davy Klaassen against ADO Den Haag and Vitesse. The captain is on the road to recovery, but was forced to remain a spectator on Tuesday. De Boer said earlier this week that he’s counting on the availability of his pillar and ‘number ten’ for Sunday’s game against Roda JC.
On the subject of injury, Kenny Tete tore a ligament in his right ankle during the match against the Arnhem team. The right back is expected to be out of the rotation for ten weeks. Beforehand, the question was whom De Boer would select as the replacement of the unfortunate Tete. Ricardo van Rhijn had been the chosen one for the home game against Heracles. Van Rhijn started on the bench on Tuesday evening. Stand-in captain Joël Veltman had been Ajax’s starting right wing defender against Heracles. The Ajacied played this position as well after Tete had been forced to retire from the game.
Captain Veltman had a significant task prior to kick-off. The Ijmuiden native handed over a signed original Ajax jersey to a representative of VAK410, celebrating an anniversary. Veltman took on this role with gusto. VAK410 is celebrating its 15th year. Since the start of 2001, VAK410 has become instrumental in creating the atmosphere and being Ajax’s biggest supporter on the field. The huge banner printed with ‘A Never Ending Story’ promised great things for the future of Ajax.
The first half minute of Ajax’s home game remained scoreless this time. The optimists in the 44.517 strong ArenA had been hoping for a repeat (or even better, and surpassing) of Riechedly Bazoer’s feat against Vitesse. The midfielder’s goal, scored after just 26 seconds, was enough to ensure a win on Saturday. But both a kick-start and a win would remain out of reach for Ajax in this midweek game.
It was a unique event in this tenth home game of the season that Ajax was unable to score in the first half. Ajax has scored at least one goal in each of its prior 9 home games this season. Via Sinkgraven (shot stopped by keeper Bram Castro) and Van der Hoorn (header over), Ajax created two good opportunities in short succession. Bazoer saw the shot that he had fired land into the side net. The Almelo team, currently number 4 of the Eredivisie rankings, limited themselves to the necessary restraining of their opponents. Jasper Cillessen was not even tested once in the first half.
Sinkgraven was one of the home team’s players who stood out the most in the first half. Ajax’s number 8 exhibited beautiful football feats, and at times was unstoppable. Sinkgraven played with guts and flair, which were exactly the ingredients that Ajax needed against a defensive Heracles.
Weakening the Almelo team’s defensive wall was a tough job on Tuesday evening. Cillessen had very little work to do after halftime as well. The match was limited to playing balls back and hoping for success on the opposite side of the field, in front of keeper Castro. It spoke volumes about the relative strength of each team on field that Cillessen didn’t need to stand up and pay attention until the 64th minute, when Brahim Darri made an attempt to score, which went wide.
In the last half hour, Viktor Fischer came in for the exhausted Amin Younes – the German has been exhibiting great form in the past weeks. Fifteen minutes later, Lasse Schöne (for Sinkgraven) and Van Rhijn were the fresh reinforcements for De Boer’s team. Ajax sought offensive opportunities. The pressure to score increased with each passing minute.
Heracles defender Mike te Wierik seemed poised to create a sensation in the final minutes. The central defender approached Cillessen, but slid down onto the grass at the last moment. The Amsterdam team replied with a final offensive attack. Fischer and Schöne had both opportunities and possibilities, but were either unfortunate in finishing or a Heracles player impeded the substitutes from striking.
So for the first time since April 19, 2015 (Ajax – NAC), Ajax was unable to score for its home crowd in an Eredivisie game. Looking at it positively, Ajax won one point against sub-top team Heracles. Title competitors PSV (Wednesday, away against Excelsior) and Feyenoord (Thursday, against Heerenveen) see action later this week. It will become clear on Thursday what the real impact on the rankings will be.