Ajax lost precious points on Sunday. Frank de Boer’s team couldn’t do better than a 2-2 tie while visiting VVV-Venlo. Ajax was even 2-0 midway in the second half. Theo Janssen and Kolbeinn Sigthórsson finally managed to secure one point.
The tie in Venlo marks Ajax’s first loss of points of the season. After convincing wins against De Graafschap (1-4) and sc Heerenveen (5-1), things didn’t go quite as well in the north of Limburg. In steamy Venlo, Ajax didn’t succeed in beating VVV. Frank de Boer saw Ajax come out of the starting block very poorly twice. “Both before and after the break, we brought in on ourselves that VVV could create good opportunities.”
Jan Vertonghen made his return to the squad against VVV. Ajax’s captain played his first official minutes of the season in De Koel. The Belgian had been side lined by a groin injury for the matches against FC Twente (Johan Cruijff Plate), De Graafschap and sc Heerenveen. Vertonghen’s return didn’t come at the expense of Daley Blind, who had been replacing him. Frank de Boer chose to play Blind on left back, giving him the nod instead of Nicolai Boilesen. “I think Daley’s been doing a good job these last weeks. True, that was as a centre defender, but I didn’t feel that Boilesen deserved to replace Blind in this match. It was also good to help Blind’s self-confidence”, De Boer explained his decision afterwards.
Ajax didn’t manage to make the difference during the first half. The forwards and midfielders all have several opportunities, but there was a lack of sharpness, precision, or luck each time. There was a flutter of activity around Gentenaar’s goal around the 30th minute, but, typifying the afternoon’s missed opportunities, all of these attempts were either too high or wide. VVV was ultimately happy with this scenario, especially as it enabled the still goal-less team from Limburg to remain in the race for an upset.
It became clear early in the second half how costly the lack of scoring in the first forty five minutes was going to be. VVV forward Michael Uchebo escaped the Ajax defence and kicked the ball past keeper Kenneth Vermeer. The tall African player didn’t get credit for the goal, as Ahmed Musa gave the ball a final tick at the goal line: 1-0. This goal made Ajax realise that it needed to be more dangerous and decisive if it wanted to avoid losing precious points in the competition. Ajax became more dangerous after that, but a Boerrigter shot and a menacing header from Sigthórsson were saved by Gentenaar. De Boer: “Due to the warm weather, you know that making up a deficit will just be that much more taxing. Although I must say that the players all were quite resilient.”
Despite this resistance, things went south again for Ajax fifteen minutes after they went down 1-0. Scorer Musa wasn’t stopped effectively by Daley Blind, and the small Nigerian player scored his second goal of the afternoon: 2-0. With a brisk sprint, he made his way to his coach Glen De Boeck, who, despite the forward’s recent participation in the World Cup U-20 in Columbia, had given him a direct spot on the squad again. His choice paid off royally with two goals. Moreover, he put Ajax into a tough position. About Blind’s unfortunate performance, Ajax’s coach said: “He had a difficult time with Musa. He gave him too much space, and he would have been better off keeping him out of the box. In this case, VVV was able to attack via Musa.
Ajax finally had some answers midway through the second half. Theo Janssen led the charge with his team. He sent a decisive shot from his left foot past Gentenaar. One minute later, Sigthórsson neutralised the second VVV goal. On a pass from Toby Alderweireld (from the right), the Icelander made good from close by: 2-2.
Ajax had another twenty minutes to completely reverse the damage they’d suffered. The rain shower, which had given the field in steamy Venlo a welcome refresher, was in Ajax’s favour. Their speed picked up. With the mobile Thulani Serero in as a substitute, Ajax’s attack was given a new push. However, the reigning national champion wasn’t able to threaten VVV. Except for one good shot from Sigthórsson, Ajax didn’t come close to a third goal.
De Boer: “We were much too sloppy, especially in the last twenty minutes. We were too rushed in trying for the 2-3, and that’s exactly when it doesn’t work. It’s a real shame to have wasted two points today. Of course you know that you’ll have setbacks during the season, but it really didn’t need to happen today.”