Ajax won its 300th game in the Amsterdam ArenA. Thanks to a successful penalty kick by Lasse Schöne, the home team opened the score, but saw FC Groningen tie the game before halftime. Substitute Kolbeinn Sigthórsson decided the game in the 83rd minute, 2-1.
Ajax – Groningen was the last midweek game from the 22nd round of play. In this round, Vitesse had squandered points once again, and FC Twente took the lead in the rankings and – until this duel in the ArenA – no team had won at home. Time for Ajax to be the first, and to beat FC Groningen.
That was meant to happen in a somewhat altered line-up. Due to an injury to his chest, keeper Jasper Cillessen was unable to play and Kenneth Vermeer played his one hundredth Eredivisie match, and his 133th in total, for Ajax. Nicolai Boilesen had not been included in the selection, and Jairo Riedewald made his debut in the squad. Midfield had been left as is, but in the front place was made for captain Siem de Jong. He was returning after being out with a thigh injury. This came at Viktor Fischer’s expense.
It was clear that De Jong needed some time to adjust when he got into a good position several times, but didn’t manage to score. In the thirteenth minute, Joël Veltman found Ricardo van Rhijn, who was clear on the right side, and served him with a good cross-pass. Former Ajax player Lorenzo Burnet prevented Bojan from scoring. Fifteen minutes later, Bojan played an important role in the opening goal. The loaned out Barcelona player was held by Botteghin and received a penalty kick from referee Özübüyük. This was converted into a goal by Lasse Schöne.
The Danish all-rounder had several opportunities after that. First, he took a hard shot onto Bizot’s fists, after which Klaassen sent a header onto the crossbar and, two minutes later, shot the ball onto the upper corner. In the meantime, Serero and Bojan both had opportunities to lift Ajax to 2-0. The South African outplayed Bizot, but didn’t manage to put the ball into the goal, after which Bojan’s shot was turned away. And, as it goes in football – ie, if you don’t take advantage of your opportunities, the opponents will – Groningen scored the tying goal out of the blue. Filip Kostic turned away and curved the ball out of Vermeer’s reach. Thus the game was tied, but the score didn’t at all reflect the relative strength of the two teams.
In the second half, Ajax had an early opportunity to score a second goal. Van Rhijn made a beautiful pass, which was shot just over by De Jong. After that, Ajax was lucky when Chery sent a shot, from a free kick, onto the crossbar. The metal stood in the way of success on the other side as well for substitute Kolbeinn Sigthórsson. Fresh onto the field, he shot the ball onto the post in the 68th minute.
In the following phase of the match, Vermeer proved to be the hero on the field by turning away an attempt by Zivkovic from under the crossbar. As the fans held their breath, fearing the worst, it was the substitutes who saved Ajax. Christian Poulsen sent a good pass from the left and Sigthórsson sent a good header into the goal, 2-1. It remained tense, but Ajax won this meeting with FC Groningen and ended this anniversary match in the ArenA in victory. Ajax thus expands its lead on Vitesse and on number two FC Twente to four points. The Tukkers still have a match in hand against FC Groningen.
Frank de Boer was pleased with his substitutes. “Today, it showed that we’ve been managing this season with 24 men. We really need everyone badly, whether it’s a keeper or a player who may be disappointed, but substitutes well. That’s nice for him personally and great for the team. I’m very pleased.” On the match: “Considering the second half, Groningen deserved more, but we should have put more distance between us in the first half.”