,,You will probably write it anyway", coach Ronald Koeman said to the reporters after Ajax had defeated FC Groningen 2-1. ,,But today we really were Lucky Ajax." Ajax won through a late goal by Johnny Heitinga, who was off-side according to both coaches.
FC Groningen had come to Amsterdam not to lose and kept virtually all players behind the ball. But not only the defensive way in which the visitors played, was the reason for the trouble Ajax had. The home side's mental attitude also played a part. ,,That is also because we missed sixteen players last week who were all away with their national teams'', Koeman said. ,,You notice that on training and in the match.''
Ajax did not start badly and managed to find a few gaps in the defence of Groningen, but when it came to finishing chances, Ajax were not sharp enough. There were boos and whistles from the crowd when both teams left the pitch at halftime with the score 0-0.
Not much happened in the second half either, until Maxwell combined with Nicolae Mitea on the left and the ball was touched to Rafael van der Vaart. The captain made it 1-0 and he enthousiastically celebrated his first goal of 2004.
Ajax should have pushed on to make it 2-0. Van der Vaart seemd on his way just to do that when he was grabbed by goalkeeper Lambers. Referee Oskam however, saw nothing.
Shortly after Koeman brought on Yannis Anastasiou and Victor Sikora for Zlatan Ibrahimovic - who had to suffer many an attack by his opponent Melchior Schoenmakers - and Nicolae Mitea. Ajax again created some chances, but Heitinga and Anastasiou lacked precision.
On the other side Ajax gave substitute Martin Drent the possibility to head the ball to Glen Salmon and the wide-open South-African scored: 1-1.
Ajax had little time left to restore the margin and keep the difference with PSV on twelve points. But in the 85th minute Van der Vaart took a free kick which was headed in by Julien Escudé. Johnny Heitinga came rushing in from off-side position and gave the ball the last touch with his head: 2-1. This time the linesman saw nothing.
,,We are happy with the win'', said Koeman. ,,If you also win bad matches, you win the championship. Next week it will be easier to be motivated. Then we play at Feyenoord and I assume that everybody will be eager and awake for that match.''