Utrecht worsen Ajax's woes

After the deficit in Heerenveen last Wednesday, Ajax had to regain the winning feeling against FC Utrecht. The Utrecht team had not won a match in 2004, but Ajax themselves had not won in stadium Galgenwaard since 1997. Although Ajax were better than in Heerenveen, a late Stefaan Tanghe goal was enough to worsen Ajax's woes. The only solace came from Eindhoven, where PSV lost as well.

Ajax had lost to Heerenveen partly due to a lack of agression. That's why coach Ronald Koeman made a double change in the line-up. He left Hatem Trabelsi and Victor Sikora, starters against Heerenveen, on the bench and put Anthony Obodai and Nicolae Mitea on the pitch from the beginning. ,,I wanted to create more agression in midfield with Obodai. I did not think it appropriate to leave Nigel de Jong out. Before the winter break he showed that he can play very well as right back."

Wesley Sneijder, born and raised in Utrecht, also started. The young Ajax player did not make a strong impression the past weeks, but kept his friend and Ajax's vice-captain Rafael van der Vaart out of the squad. ,,Rafael indicated yesterday that he was not fit enough to start'', Koeman explained. ,,The race for the title is still completely open and we will need him badly in the remainder of the season. Rafael was not able to play much more than he has done today.''

After a messy start from both sides, Ajax started to dominate. Maxwell and Mitea were occasionally dangerous on the left flank. But virtually all of Ajax's offensive actions ended before the team could move into Utecht's box.

Obodai had a good chance when he rushed into the box but the ball went to far away from him and goalkeeper Terol could clear before the Ghanese could shoot. ,,We were battling today, I cannot criticise the team for that'', Koeman said. But apart from the moment with Obodai and maybe one more, we were powerless on offence. We had the ball a lot, but did not create much with it. And if we are powerless on offence, we have a problem.''

The second half showed the same picture. Apart from a few impulses from Maxwell, nothing was created. ,,Normally, whether we play good or bad, we create a few chances out of nothing. Today we did not even do that. Then you go for 0-0, which is disappointing but at least you keep a clean slate. But we could not do that either. Then the disappointment is even bigger'', said Koeman.

In the 76th minute suddenly Stefaan Tanghe broke through and with a bit of luck the Belgian managed to beat goalkeeper Stekelenburg: 1-0. With substitutes Sikora, Van der Vaart and Sikora Ajax's offence hardly got any better. The team kept on struggling to the final whistle and lost six points in five days.

,,Now it is important to remain calm'', Koeman warned. ,,That's not so easy, because other teams have seen that Ajax are not invincible. We have to remain a team and trust in our own abilities. We have to break the streak by winning.''

At least Ajax were left a cushion of six points with PSV. The only remaining contender for the title lost in Eindhoven with 2-1 to Roda JC.