After four away matches without a good result, Danny Blind must have had enough: for the first time since he was appointed, Ajax's coach threw his team's chracteristic playing style overboard. In Arnhem he fielded four midfielders and two strikers. It had an immediate effect, because although Ajax hardly shone against Vitesse, they did not falter either: 0-2.
,,Of course this is a very welcome result for us'', said Blind. ,,Our total perfomance has been better this season, but with worse results.'' It was an understatement after a match in which Ajax never reached great heights, but never faced any serious difficulties. Especially after halftime, Vitesse had the most possession and initiative, but the home team could not create any danger before Maarten Stekelenburg's goal.
Blind had seen his team faced with the same problem in earlier matches. Ajax played some good matches, without reaping the rewards of the artistic achievement. Mainly in away matches the team did not succeed in putting the opponent's defence under much pressure, reason for Blind to change tactics. ,,I figured that with an extra striker, we could keep the ball in the team better.'' Markus Rosenberg was therefore joined up front by Angelos Charisteas, the Greek forward who finally came back from a concussion that kept him sidelined for over two months. On the midfield flanks Blind posted Steven Pienaar and Nourdin Boukhari, with the idea that they would move forward when Ajax were in possession. ,,Pienaar and Boukhari are guys that can fulfill such a role well and they did'', Blind said.
But the real stars in the Ajax ranks were not up front, but in the last line. Central duo Thomas Vermaelen and John Heitinga played a flawless match. Vitesse never managed to get through Ajax's defence. Vitesse coach Edward Sturing complimented Vermaelen and Heitinga. ,,We created pressure, but no chances. Maybe that was our fault, but also Ajax's central duo's achievement. We kept running into a concrete wall. Defending is an art, that was proven today''
With that, Sturing also hinted at Vitesse's own defending. His team brought itself into hot water when after sixteen minutes Ruud Knol took a quick free kick before his own goal. Ajax intercepted the ball while still in the box and Stijn Vreven brought down Nourdin Boukhari. No doubts for referee Vink: penalty. Tomás Galásek calmly converted the spot kick: 0-1. Sturing about Knol's howler: ,,That, you normally only see in amateur matches.''
The quick lead did not do Ajax much good. The team left the initiative more and more to Vitesse, but failed to benefit from the huge space behind the home team's last line. Only fifteen minutes before the end, Charisteas doubled the margin from a cross by his fellow striker Rosenberg: 0-2. Blind: ,,We neglected to make it 0-2 quickly and then 0-3. If you succeed in doing that, you make it a lot easier on yourself.''