Ajax fails to win again

Ajax fails to win again

Ajax has, once again, left points on the table in their quest for the national title. Visiting NAC Breda, the crowd had no reason at all to cheer: 0-0. Six rounds before the end of the Eredivisie 2013-2014, Ajax remains the leader by far. “This is very disappointing. We could, and should, do better”, concluded Frank de Boer.

Ajax has, once again, left points on the table in their quest for the national title. Visiting NAC Breda, the crowd had no reason at all to cheer: 0-0. Six rounds before the end of the Eredivisie 2013-2014, Ajax remains the leader by far. “This is very disappointing. We could, and should, do better”, concluded Frank de Boer.

Ajax needed to redeem itself against NAC Breda, if only for an energizing boost of confidence. One week after a tie with SC Cambuur in the ArenA (1-1), a brave, new step towards winning the title could have been made in the Rat Verlegh Stadium. Title competitor Vitesse had lost to PSV on Saturday. The lead on the Arnhem team, and FC Twente (who won a close 2-1 game against AZ) could be increased to 9 points. So there was much to be gained by a win against NAC, the opponent that Ajax has fond memories of.

Earlier this season, the Breda team were dismissed, 4-0, in the Amsterdam ArenA. Davy Klaassen, with his hat trick, was the undisputed hero of the last game against NAC. Last season, the Amsterdam team, with a 2-0 win in Breda, was on the threshold of winning its 32nd national title. This win had been the last true obstacle to winning the championship. The new edition of NAC-Ajax had a less flourishing finish. With a tie, the current champion took only a tiny step towards the desired match point and finish line. “Today, we lacked the conviction to make this match go our way”, said Frank de Boer in retrospect. “We lacked the will to destroy the opponent. It’s very disappointing that we’re leaving here with one point. It should have been three.”

Christian Poulsen playing at central midfield and Daley Blind therefore as the starting left back were the most remarkable Ajax pawns. De Boer was forced to change his line-up after only eight minutes of play. Siem de Jong retired in the early minutes with a hamstring injury; Kolbeinn Sigthórsson came in for him as centre forward. Afterwards, the captain was quite demoralized due to yet another injury this season. “Siem wants to be important and he kept feeling better about it. It’s tough” said De Boer.

His starting sport at right back was the silver lining of NAC – Ajax for Ricardo van Rhijn. The defender played his one hundredth official match for Ajax in Breda. It could also have been a golden afternoon for De Boer personally. Had he coached his team to victory, De Boer would have earned his one hundredth win as coach. But it wasn’t meant to be in Breda. The next opportunity to reach this milestone will be at the cup duel against AZ. After a football free weekend (RKC – Ajax has been moved due to the nuclear conference in The Hague) the North Holland derby awaits on March 27.

Ajax seemed to still be in the same mediocre shape (with resulting poor play) as they had been in Leeuwaarden for the entire first half of this match in ‘Rat Verlegh’. Against a home team which was anything but imposing or opportunistic, only one real opportunity was created before the break. In the 34th minute, Sigthórsson missed Ajax’s best chance until that point. Eye to eye with Jelle ten Rouwelaar, the Icelandic substitute saw his attempt sail past the wrong side of the post.

The first and best Breda answer created fireworks in front of Jasper Cillessen’s goal. Great perseverance by NAC wing defender Sepp de Roover brought the player himself into the Amsterdam goal area. After Thulani Serero had been in the way before, Cillessen now appeared to be an unmovable obstacle.

Shortly before the break, Ajax forced out one last chance to take the lead. NAC remained unscathed when first Serero (on Ten Rouwelaar) and then Sigthórsson saw their attempts turned away. The Icelander saw his shot blocked by Henrico Drost right in front of the goal line. At the break, left winger Ricardo Kishna’s attempt sailed wide.

The Ajax players should have created more opportunities before the break, or been sharper in finishing off. The match remained tense for a long time – too tense. It was as though the proud leader saw its pride ebb away bit by bit. After three successful second halves of the season in a row (in which Ajax started as a contender but ended as champion), this big lead sometimes seems like a weight on the leader’s shoulders.

After the break, it remained difficult to create opportunities in the Rat Verlegh, the stadium which is so beautifully named after NAC icon and former international Antoon ‘Rat’ Verlegh. With newcomers
Lesly de Sa (for Kishna) and Bojan for Poulsen, the guests weren’t convincing. After opportunities, great and small, for Schöne (free kick over), De Sa (wide shot) and Blind (blocked shot), time was running out for the leader.

Ajax lost the match against the clock. At least, that’s how the tie must have felt, in the locker room. The big lead on the teams tied for second place, FC Twente and Vitesse, is still seven points after this weekend. Six rounds before the end of play, Ajax may be in mediocre shape, but they’re still on course for the championship. “We can be, and need to be, better”, said De Boer. “Our team can play better. We’ve shown that often. We have ten days to talk about it and train.”