Ajax has already lost the territory they had gained last week on PSV and FC Twente. One day after their competitors for the title had both posted wins, Ajax stumbled against Roda JC, ending up with a 2-2 tie. “It was an annoying match”, said Frank de Boer, summarizing the difficult away match.
The day after PSV (3-0 win at AZ) and FC Twente (1-0 win against Vitesse) posted victories, the pressure was on Ajax to avoid losing points. One week ago, the situation had been reversed, and Ajax, after defeating De Graafschap, could sit back and wait for the PSV and Twente results. Ajax then fully took advantage of the points squandered by their competitors. In round 23 – this weekend – the tables had unfortunately turned, and the competitors for the national title both went up two points on the Amsterdammers.
Ajax got off to a glorious afternoon, experiencing a true dream start under the lead of Sulejmani, who was fantastic before the break. Sent in deep by Christian Eriksen, the Serb lifted the ball into the far corner of the goal: 0-1. ‘Micky’ thus rewarded his team, and himself, for his outstanding performance on field.
Right wing Sulejmani formed the attacking team with centre forward Siem de Jong and Mounir El Hamdaoui on the left. Coach Frank de Boer kept Lorenzo Ebecilio on the bench, while right back Vurnon Anita took over the honours from the suspended Gregory van der Wiel.
Before the break, Ajax left three good opportunities for a second goal on the table. Eriksen (shot), El Hamdaoui (shot) and De Jong (header) all missed the goal. The Amsterdammers’ plays just weren’t good enough, or weren’t precise enough in front of Przemyslaw Tyton’s goal. Twenty minutes after the 0-1 goal, the next one came. Unsurprisingly, Sulejmani played the starring role leading up to the goal. The right forward’s preparation was quick and well thought out, and De Jong’s subsequent header hit the mark (0-2). The Ajax players seemed to be headed for a win after the second goal. The Limburg natives needed to show their teeth, and Ajax could sit back and wait for a fatal third attack.
Ajax let go of the reins somewhat after the break. One minute after Robbie Wielaert (loaned out by Ajax to the Limburg team until the end of the season) kept El Hamdaoui from scoring, Mads Junker brought Roda JC within striking distance of Ajax. Janssen penetrated deep into the Ajax defence, landing the ball with the free Junker. The tension returned to the match in a heartbeat. “At that moment, Roda JC saw that they could make something happen”, said de Boer in retrospect at the press conference. “After the break, they went all out, and we were tense.”
Instead of having a tonic effect, the break didn’t do Ajax much good. Ajax’s promising start to the match wasn’t followed up in the second half. In fact, de Boer’s men seemed unsure, and even the excelling Sulejmani seemed to take a step backwards. There was only one team pressing forward, and that was Roda JC. Except for a few minor opportunities, Ajax couldn’t make much happen.
Sulejmani sent the ball wide, while Eriksen sent his attempt onto Tyton’s gloves. The hosts had much better opportunities. Two of their attempts were turned away at the goal line by Maarten Stekelenburg, and Eyong Enoh successfully threw himself in the path of a precise Ruud Vormer shot. This is just a small sampling of the many good opportunities that Roda JC forced. The team from Limburg dared to play one on one in the back, and Wielaert moved from defense onto midfielder Christian Eriksen. Thus, the supply towards the attacking Ajax line was partly cut off.
The 2-2 was bound to happen, but didn’t until the last phase. Anouar Hadouir showcased his not insignificant kicking technique and feel by firing a free kick beautifully into the upper corner. De Boer, once a free kick specialist himself: “A free kick like that should be applauded.” Mounir El Hamdaoui seemed poised to help his team to victory minutes later. The forward was allowed to take a kick from twelve yards out after a referee Jack van Huften handed out an easy penalty for hands. Ajax’s number 9 saw his shot blocked by Tyton.
Due to the loss of points, Ajax is now five points behind PSV and FC Twente. With eleven rounds of play to go, Ajax didn’t do itself any favours in Kerkrade.
“It was an agitating match”, said de Boer, summarizing the tough away match succinctly. “Unfortunately, it’s not what we wanted. We created many chances before the break, and we made several great attacks. That’s what brought us to 2-0. The 2-1 came at a bad moment. Roda JC saw that they could make something happen. But, when you’re put under pressure like we were, you know that you also get a lot of room to move. But we didn’t come out of this well. I can’t be upset with Mounir. I’ve missed penalty shots at critical moments as well. In the end, I think that we should all be satisfied with 2-2.”
Keep an eye on Ajax TV for a summary of Roda JC – Ajax and reactions afterwards.