After a scoreless first half, Ajax picked up steam in the second half of the game against NEC. After goals from Miralem Sulejmani (2) and Davy Klaassen, Ajax was smiling when they left NEC, whom they defeated 0-3.
On Saturday, PSV had made short work of FC Groningen (6-1). AZ opened the Eredivisie’s fourteenth round of play with a 2-0 win against FC Utrecht. In order to limit their point difference in the race for the title, Ajax knew what they needed to do in the McDos Goffert Stadium. Especially after the 2-2 disappointment last weekend at home against NAC Breda. For the Amsterdam team, it’s simply not done in times like these to squander points that way.
Among the starting eleven for Ajax was Ruben Ligeon. The right back stood in for the injured Gregory van der Wiel. Nicolás Lodeiro was centre forward again, and left winger Lorenzo Ebecilio was in for the injured Derk Boerrigter. These were the most notable names in Frank de Boer’s line-up. The Ajax coach didn’t make any more changes to his selection from the midweek match against Olympique Lyon (0-0).
In a less than spectacular first half, youngster Ligeon had ample opportunity to show what he can do. The right defender grabbed his chances to move with the attack, and stood his ground defensively just as well. The Ajax player, who made his debut earlier this season against AZ, faced two different opponents in the first half. Former Ajax player John Goossens played 25 minutes until his injury. Leroy George was the next attacker that Ligeon came up against.
Ajax was lucky enough to avoid going down early in Nijmegen. On a pass from a – still fit at the time- Goossens, Nick van der Velden needed too much time to (decide to) get the ball into Ajax’s goal. This was eight minutes into the game, and the first real scoring opportunity. Fifteen minutes later, Lodeiro made a counter move (on a Ligeon pass), but the low shot went wide. Theo Janssen was also in the mix. Five minute before the break, his shot was deflected wide by keeper Gabor Babos. Ajax had to wait until the second half for the much desired goals.
“You know that after a European match, NEC has been preparing for this match for at least one week”, said Frank de Boer afterwards. “In the beginning, we weren’t as sharp as we needed to be. There was lots of space, especially in transition to hurt NEC. We finally got more grip, but were still sloppy in our transitions. During halftime, I asked our first five especially to be more careful with that.”
The opening goal didn’t come right away. After a Janssen pass and attempt by Anita, Miralem Sulejmani was able to put the ball in from close by. Ajax definitely had luck on their side. The fact that Anita’s attempt was deflected in by Rens van Eijden, after which it was a piece of cake to finish to score the 0-1 goal, wasn’t a damper in the least. That bit of luck aside, Ajax’s lead was well deserved.
Soon after Ismaïl Aissati had made his re-entry for Ajax 1, replacing Ebecilio, Vermeer’s luck was against him. After a frontal collision with Kevin Convoy, the keeper left the field, injured. Jasper Cillessen – who was NEC’s keeper at the start of this season – was Vermeer’s replacement, who had little sensation in his leg. The damage, fortunately, was not very serious, as was apparent soon after the end. “He’ll probably be able to play again against Excelsior”, said De Boer.
In the last fifteen minutes, Ajax put convincing distance between themselves and Nijmegen. After 78 minutes, Sulejmani received the ball once again, this time from Ibrahim, and once again scored in a seemingly simple fashion: 0-2. Substitute Davy Klaassen needed little very little time to crown his entry with a goal. The centre forward hadn’t even been on the field for a minute when he scored the last goal: 0-3.
The way in which Klaassen, on a subtle pass from Eriksen, made his finish showed his class. The A junior showed his inner calm by not being flustered by the defenders around him, and finished off beautifully. Klaassen’s competition debut was thus finished a golden lining. “It’s amazing to score in your competition debut, on your first contact with the ball”, said De Boer. “It was a great moment for Davy. We deserved our win today.” And so Ajax’s football afternoon ended with a great smile, not the least of which was Klaassen’s.