A partly ‘renewed’ Ajax has won its first of two matches against Roda JC. Three days before the Roda JC-Ajax competition game, the Amsterdam team won the cup match version of the same duel, 2-4. “We deserved our win”, observed Frank de Boer after a lively cup game.
After a meek showing in the Klassieker (1-1 on Sunday), the question in Kerkrade was which face Ajax would show in this cup game. What would be the effect of Monday’s meeting between staff and players? Would the Ajax players finally be able to shake off their mediocre form and poor luck? “We need to be better than we’ve been these last few weeks”, evaluated Frank de Boer, leading up to the third round KNVB Cup match.
Two days after Ajax meeting, the Ajax coach took action with his Ajax team on a tactical level. Gregory van der Wiel wasn’t feeling one hundred per cent fit, and Toby Alderweireld got the nod to defend on the right side. Central defender André Ooijer was flanked by captain Jan Vertonghen (playing on left defence). For the three defenders, a four man midfield was set up. Anita started at right midfield, next to controller Eyong Enoh and left half Theo Janssen. Siem de Jong played as attacking midfielder in centre forward Dmitry Bulykin’s back. Christian Eriksen was also accorded an evening’s rest. Right winger Jody Lukoki replaced the mildly injured Miralem Sulejmani in southern Limburg. Would ‘new-style Ajax’ be able to provide a surprise on the field?
The start was surprising…surprisingly unpleasant. The new line-up was most probably to blame. The fact that Mitchell Donald scored at 2 minutes and 16 seconds was partly Ajax’s own fault. Of course, the former Ajax player’s one-two through Ajax’s defence was beautiful, but Donald was given a very simple and clear passage. The midfielder took advantage of Ajax’s still unsteady organization, and left Cillessen without a hope at close range: 1-0. But roughly a minute after the opening goal, the tying one came. Vertonghen’s header from Janssen’s free kick went straight in, erasing the deficit swiftly. “Going down a goal so fast isn’t exactly what we had in mind”, said De Boer. “Fortunately, we got on track soon after that. We were equal in the first half, but we were too restless in the last minutes. We need to keep cooler, to make good decisions.”
What ensued in the rest of the first half was a game of back and forth. Siem de Jong came close to ensuring a lead for Ajax, but his attempt ended up on Pawel Kieszek’s fists. Five minutes before the break, Sanharib Malki’s opportunity was even better. The current sensation of the Limburg team spiked the ball, on a pass from Mads Junker, onto the crossbar above Cillessen. Ajax had been duly warned of Roda JC’s potential. Last weekend the Limburg based team was impressive against leader AZ, despite a 1-0 loss.
The second half had many similarities with the first. After resuming play, Roda and Ajax bounced from goal to goal. And on Derk Boerrigter’s 1-2 (after about an hour, on a De Jong pass), another tying goal rapidly followed. Donald cleverly ticked the ball to Jonker, who, via an unlucky Cillessen’s body, made good: 2-2.
A place on the Dutch national team’s pre-selection can unleash extra powers, as Boerrigter proved with his second goal. The left winger started in Ajax 1 this season with agile play in the wings, and has more than held his own playing Champions League. RKC’s former player may see his efforts rewarded with a definitive spot in the Dutch team’s selection. In any case, Boerrigter definitely left a strong calling card with national team coach Bert van Marwijk in Kerkrade. Twenty minutes before time, the forward scored the 2-3 goal. This time, no quick reply was in the works. In fact, Jan Vertonghen decided the game before time with a precise header. The Belgian sealed the deal (2-4) by sending a spot-on header in from a Janssen corner from the left.
“In the end, we had, and kept, control of this match”, decided De Boer. “With the quick 2-2, we gave Roda the feeling that they could get more out of the game. That was bitter. We deserved our win. From this, we’ll draw confidence from next Saturday.”
Ajax therefore overcame all obstacles in this cup match, and earns a place in the next round, to be played in December. In a period where the end justifies the means, the 2-4 win is a welcome boost. To avoid any damage in the competition, only another win will do in the second Roda JC – Ajax match of the week.