Ajax displayed two faces in the away game against Roda JC. Fresh and cunning play gave Ajax a 0-2 lead in the first half. In the second half, Ajax’s play was listless, and this led to serious consequences. Roda JC pulled even in extra time: 2-2. Frank de Boer’s team has thus lost its top position in the Eredivisie.
Ajax was forced into a position of catch-up at kick-off of the away game at Roda JC. The Amsterdam team has held the top position in the Eredivisie all season, without interruption. After squandering points last Tuesday against Heracles (0-0), PSV gained ground on Saturday. The Eindhoven team defeated De Graafschap at home (4-2) and passed the Amsterdam team in terms of points. In Kerkrade, Ajax had the chance to regain top position. Unfortunately, they didn’t manage to do this.
Ajax’s lacklustre play in the past weeks forced Frank de Boer to intervene tactically against Roda JC. The Ajax coach started off Anwar El Ghazi as centre forward. Arek Milik – normally the starting number 9 – operated from the right this time. Daley Sinkgraven circled around El Ghazi from midfield. Left winger Amin Younes also often found Sinkgraven at his side.
Ricardo van Rhijn stood in for the injured Kenny Tete in the Parkstad Limburg Stadium. Van Rhijn thus appeared at an Ajax kick-off for the first time since August 23, 2015. Davy Klaassen returned to the selection after an ankle injury. The midfielder started the game on the bench.
After his team’s home performance against Heracles, De Boer was hoping to see more opportunism in his Ajacieds. The starting eleven seemed to have learned their lesson from the scoreless home game. Long balls were often played in the first half of the game in Parkstad Limburg Stadium. This resulted in several dicey situations in front of Benjamin van Leer’s goal. The first real Ajax opportunity illustrated this. Younes picked up a pass from Nemanja Gudelj and manoeuvred himself into a good scoring position. The German’s shot was blocked. Several minutes later, Kristoffer Peterson seemed poised to help Roda to an early lead. The imported Limburger was offside.
Ajax took a well-earned lead within half an hour of play. On Gudelj’s corner, Milik sent a header cleanly in from nearby the near post: 0-1. Two minutes later, centre forward El Ghazi punished the home team’s sloppy loss of possession. The Ajacied picked up and sent his shot beautifully into the far corner. After the first half hour of play had been completed, Ajax was enjoying a comfortable 0-2 lead.
The next goal from Roda centre forward Rydell Poepon gave the club a new burst of confidence. The former Ajacied slid Peterson’s assist slyly past Jasper Cillessen. The 1-2 halftime score was the same one as the end result of five of the last six editions of Roda – Ajax. The Limburgers have been waiting for a victory at home against Ajax since February 10, 2008. But with a save at his own goal line, Sinkgraven prevented a tying goal at the halftime mark.
Klaassen returned to De Boer’s team 60 minutes into the match. The midfielder has been struggling with a knee injury since the winter break. In Limburg, he came in for Sinkgraven. Viktor Fischer came in for the battle-weary Younis for the final thirty minutes. Even with fresh reinforcements, Ajax couldn’t create any opportunities. Compared with the first half, the Ajacieds seemed listless in the last 45 minutes. There wasn’t much left of the opportunism they had exhibited in the first half.
Since there were very few good opportunities in the second half, the big question was whether the slim lead would be enough for a win, which would put Ajax back into first place. It was a nail-biter. Ajax was vigilant for a counter-blast from their Limburg opponents. Poepon came close to scoring the tying goal five minutes before the end. The centre forward saw his volley disappear wide of the goal. The Ajacieds didn’t have any reply to this single Roda opportunity.
Top position squandered
In extra time, things turn a turn for the worse. Substitute Maecky Ngombo scored with a header from a corner. The last minute tying goal was the signal for a genuine party to break out in the crowd, something of a pre-Carnival. The disillusioned Ajacieds retired to the catacombs. At the same time, AC DC’s Highway to Hell blasted from the stadium speakers. Hopefully this is not an indication of things to come for the remaining Eredivisie season. But one fact has unfortunately become reality as of this weekend. PSV has passed Ajax in the rankings. The Eindhoven team have one point more from 21 rounds of play. The race for the title is far from over.
“It seemed as though all was fine at 0-2. But in a moment of inattention, the score became 1-2”, said a disappointed Frank de Boer in retrospect. “We brought too little in the second half. You could almost count on the fact that the ball would go Roda’s way at some point. It was mediocre, poor. 2-2 is a rightful score. But it’s very disappointing considering we were ahead 2-0.”
Score summary: 27. Milik 0-1, 29. El Ghazi 0-2, 35. Poepon 1-2, 90+2. Ngombo 2-2
Ajax: Cillessen, Van Rhijn, Veltman, Riedewald, Dijks, Bazoer (78. Serero), Gudelj, Sinkgraven (60. Klaassen), El Ghazi, Milik, Younes (60. Fischer).