Davy Klaassen set the foundation for a nail-biting last minute 1-0 victory against ADO Den Haag. The Amsterdam pillar decided the game with a spot-on header, which touched ADO player Xander Houtkoop on its way into the goal. Despite the difficult football afternoon, Ajax came out well in terms of Eredivisie.
Disappointment at the midweek elimination from European play by Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk could potentially be washed away in the home game against ADO. Extra inspiration, if needed, came shortly before kick-off in the form of news from Rotterdam. Earlier that afternoon, PSV had lost its competition match to Feyenoord: 2-1. This gave Ajax another opportunity, in addition to shaking off the midweek hangover: one to decrease the Eindhoven team’s lead to eight points.
It wasn’t an easy football afternoon in the Amsterdam ArenA. Ricardo van Rhijn’s long-distance shot in the 45th minute (stopped by ADO goalie Martin Hansen) was the highlight of the first half. Ajax didn’t even manage a single shot on goal in the first thirty minutes. This has only happened five times before in this Eredivisie season. After exactly half an hour, Niklas Moisander came closest to scoring with a header. His attempt went long.
De Boer had drastically changed his line-up after the fatal Europa League match against Dnipro. Moisander returned as central defender. The Finn had watched the entire 120 minutes of Thursday’s game from the sidelines. Moisander took over the captain’s band from Nicolai Boilesen. The man who had been captain against Dnipro was missing in Sunday’s match selection. Nick Viergever was the starting left back against ADO.
The Amsterdam midfield consisted of Davy Klaassen, Thulani Serero (substitute on Thursday) and Lucas Andersen, who didn’t play in the midweek game. He replaced the injured Daley Sinkgraven in this match. Riechedly Bazoer also found himself relegated to substitution on Sunday. In terms of offense, De Boer called on Lasse Schöne (who watched the entire 120 minutes of the Dnipro match from the bench, but replacing Anwar El Ghazi on Sunday), Kolbeinn Sigthórsson (substitute on Thursday) and Ricardo Kishna.
After European elimination, premature elimination from the KNVB Cup tournament, added to the large deficit on PSV, these final weeks are all about looking forward for De Boer and his Ajax players. The battle for second place needs to be won by Ajax. Who knows, perhaps there is more in store after the Eindhoven team’s defeat in the Kuip. “It depends on PSV how exciting it will be”, said De Boer after the win against ADO. “Who knows, perhaps they will feel pressure if, for example, they blunder against FC Twente.”
The choice to put Donny van de Beek into the match selection was nod to the future. The youngster played ninety minutes on Friday with the Ajax under 19s against their AZ counterparts. On Sunday, the up and coming talent was a substitute player. With fellow talent Abdelhak Nouri, Van de Beek had also joined Ajax during their winter camp in Qatar.
With substitutes El Ghazi (Kishna was forced to abandon the game due to knee problems), Arek Milik (in for Andersen for the last fifteen minutes) and Jairo Riedewald (replacing the injured Viergever after halftime), Ajax had a difficult time turning the tide. A hefty and unlucky collision with Roland Alberg was the cause of a slight ankle injury for Viergever.
On a Schöne pass, target man Sigthórsson saw his header, via opponent Gianni Zuiverloon, sail wide of the goal. Soon after, an attempt from ADO player Mike van Duinen went just wide of the Ajax goal. Riedewald finally decided this mini parade of attempts with an attempt that went wide. This phase of the match, during which Ajax has struck the most often this season (61st to 75th minute; 15 Ajax goals) remained pointless.
It was Davy Klaassen who put his team on the right trick after eighty minutes. The midfielder extended a free kick by Schöne, via Houtkoop and the post, past Hansen: 1-0. The sheer luck of the shot took nothing away from the Ajacieds’ joy and relief.
It is a pity that the goal officially was creditied to Houtkoop. Klaassen has scored in his, and Ajax’s, three last meetings against the Den Haag team. The team’s pillar would have enjoyed extending his streak with a fourth straight goal.
Sunday thus ended well for the Ajacieds. The team is eight points down on PSV with six matches to go. Ajax has a stronghold on second place. Who knows, perhaps the gap on PSV will close even more…
“Today, only one team deserved to win: Ajax”, decided De Boer. “However, we didn’t do enough with our ball possession. Our approach was good, but the point is to create opportunities and score goals. We weren’t able to break through the ADO wall today. Our play wasn’t varied enough. That’s a shame for the crowd, of course.”