Ajax celebrated its birthday on Sunday with a win against ADO Den Haag. On the club’s 112th anniversary, Frank de Boer’s Ajax team posted a 0-2 win. Jody Lukoki and Jan Vertonghen scored after the break. ADO was down to 10 men after the 25th minute after a red card for Ali Boussaboun. “A well-deserved win”, was De Boer’s rightful conclusion afterwards.
A difficult afternoon in the ADO Den Haag’s Kyocera Stadium seemed to await Ajax. The Amsterdam team’s play was flat before the break, and Ajax’s real opportunities were few and far between. Remarkably, the home team played with only ten men for three quarters of the match. Midway through the first half, Ali Boussaboun was sent off with a red card after a hefty charge on Vurnon Anita’s legs. The foul cost him a red card and was reminiscent of Ajax – ADO earlier this season. In the ArenA, Ramon Leeuwin put his team in a difficult spot by getting a red card early in the match for an unnecessary foul. Ajax subsequently went on to post a generous win in front of the home crowd: 4-0.
“Despite the lack of opportunities, ADO weren’t that threatening”, said De Boer afterwards. “After the red card, I thought ADO actually played better. Boussaboun’s move was dangerous for Anita’s limbs. You could actually hear the impact.”
In the capital, Ajax didn’t manage to find its groove despite its numeric advantage. The pace was slow, and from the flanks, very little feed came centre forward Siem de Jong’s way. Ajax’s biggest opportunity was for Jan Vertonghen, just before the break. On a Theo Janssen free kick from the right, the captain had a chance to tick in a goal, but was just too late to get to the ball. Ten minutes earlier, the home team had squandered a seemingly sure-fire 1-0 opportunity. On a pass from Tjarron Chery, centre forward Lex Immers sent the ball sloppily over Ajax’s goal. This threat from Den Haag illustrated the trouble that Ajax had with the Eredivisie’s number 14 for the entire first half.
De Boer chose for an almost identical line up as he had for the last match against RKC (3-0). Only the injured Lorenzo Ebecilio wasn’t available. Ismaïl Aissati did the honours as left forward. De Boer was clearly taking the upcoming match against PSV into account with the line-up he chose. Janssen, Vertonghen and Anita had to be careful: these players were one yellow card away from suspension, which would severely impair the upcoming home game. In the stride for the national championship, risks could not be avoided.
At halftime, De Boer substituted Aras Özbiliz for Jody Lukoki and Dico Koppers for Daley Blind. By bringing in the young Lukoki, Ajax gained playfulness and danger from the (right) flank. Lukoki’s first play brought Ajax into the lead in the 48th minute. Served nicely by Janssen, the sprinting right winger crowned with outstanding ball receipt with a goal: 0-1. The self-taught talent’s somersault afterwards was a jubilant celebration. Five minutes later, Aissati shot the ball, on an Eriksen pass, onto the post.
“During the break, the magic word was to lure”, said De Boer. “We needed to be patient and take the pace up in the second half. Just long enough to take the wind out of ADO. We had it under control earlier, but to get to 1-0 so quickly is great. Lukoki had a good impact.”
With renewed gusto, Ajax made simple work of the Den Haag team. After an hour of play, Vertonghen doubled his team’s lead. The Ajax captain’s seventh goal of the season was impressive. Vertonghen steamed ahead with long strides over the left side with the ball neatly at his feet. In the Den Haag box, Kenneth Omeruo, loaned out from Chelsea, was easily outplayed, after which the Belgian, with a subtle arc around keeper Gino Coutinho, placed the ball in the goal: 0-2. Power, class, overview and persuasion: everything came together in Vertonghen’s important goal.
However, Ajax didn’t leave Den Haag without some damage. Janssen’s yellow card deep in the second half means he will be suspended for the upcoming PSV match next Sunday. Pillars Vertonghen, and Anita, who had come in for Bulykin earlier, were spared that fate, meaning that Ajax will only have to do without Janssen. “It was a deserved win”, said De Boer. “The red card influenced the match, but fortunately, it was in our advantage.”
Ajax has the luxury on Sunday afternoon to see how the competition performs. The outcome of PSV – SC Heerenveen and FC Twente – Feyenoord may make Ajax the winner for the weekend. The club, celebrating its birthday, is still in the race to win its 31st title in 112 years of club history.
Keep watching Ajax TV for a summary of ADO Den Haag – Ajax, and reactions from Frank de Boer and goal scorers Jody Lukoki and Jan Vertonghen.