Ajax has won its game at Heracles Almelo. The current national champion thus prevented PSV from securing the championship on Saturday evening. Goals by Kolbeinn Sigthórsson and Lucas Andersen gave the team a 0-2 win.
One year ago, the circumstances were completely different for Ajax in Almelo. Back then, the game ended in a 1-1 draw against Heracles and the club celebrated its fourth championship in a row, and its 33rd. Now, Ajax could not afford to lose, as that would mean that PSV would win the championship this weekend. Moreover, Ajax’s second place would be in danger.
Coach Frank de Boer was forced to leave out the injured Arek Milik, but had Daley Sinkgraven at his disposal. Because the coach had also left Richairo Zivkovic at home, it was Kolbeinn Sigthórsson who was charged with creating danger in the opponent’s box. Compared to last week’s away game at Utrecht, Lasse Schöne and Thulani Serero were relegated to the bench. Sinkgraven and Ricardo Kishna were in instead.
These last two were expected to provide creativity. But no matter how hard they tried, they weren’t able to give Ajax wings. The start in the Polman Stadium was offensive, with a resulting corner after only two minutes. But Ajax didn’t get any further. Heracles had a few opportunities via headers by Wout Weghorst and a solo from Brahim Darri, who, just like Weghorst, found Jasper Cillessen in his way.
In the first 45 minutes, Ajax didn’t have many replies. Only Anwar El Ghazi tried to get past keeper Bram Castro with a low shot. The keeper wasn’t fazed. But that was different in extra time. After Davy Klaassen had been floored, Van Rhijn set up for a free kick. A few minutes earlier, he had sent an uncontrolled ball over the goal, but this time he hit the mark. Castro didn’t clear the ball properly, after which Kolbeinn Sigthórsson scored his sixth goal of the season, 0-1.
With the wind in their sails, Ajax began the second half. But they didn’t radiate much energy, as they also failed to put a clear distance between themselves and the Eredivisie’s number fifteen team. A Sinkgraven shot at a backwards header by Sigthórsson were, however, heartily cheered on by the away fans. Heracles had the best opportunity via Denni Avdic, but his header went over the goal.
With fifteen minutes left on the clock, PEC Zwolle coach Ron Jans – who will be Ajax’s opponent in two weeks’ time – left the stadium. He had seen enough. But he hadn’t counted on Lucas Andersen. Kishna’s substitute shot four minutes before the end from the edge of the penalty kick area, scoring the 0-2 goal, Ajax’s 2000th Eredivisie goal.
Thanks to Ajax’s three points, the difference with leader PSV is ten points with four games left. Third placed Feyenoord is nine points behind, but plays on Sunday and can gain three points.
Coach Frank de Boer didn’t have much to say about the win: “As I said during Friday’s press conference: ‘If it can’t be pretty, then ugly will do.’ That’s what it was today. It wasn’t good. I don’t want to say that we stole the win, but a tie was possible too. We had a hard time with Heracles’ compactness at midfield. We waited for a nice combination to break through that, but it was poor today. Winning three points is the most important, because we need to hang on to second place and play the match of the year on July 24 to try and qualify for the Champions league. It would be strange to not finish in second place, because that would mean we’ve been disastrously bad. But we need to stay focused, and the team we’re playing also has something at stake. They want to stay in the Eredivisie.”