After a tentative start, Ajax turned the away match at Heracles Almelo around and ended the game on a positive note. The Amsterdam team struggled for some time with the artificial grass in Almelo. Nonetheless, the afternoon ended well for the team, with a 0-3 win.
On the artificial grass of the black and white team from Almelo, Ajax clearly still felt the effects of their trip to Slovan Bratislava. Bratislava to Almelo, Tehelné Pole Stadium to Polman Stadium. Ajax handled the transition hesitantly during this late afternoon match in Almelo.
Unlike in the Europa League win in Slovakia (1-2), Urby Emanuelson started at left full back. The lefty replaced Thimothée Atouba. The Cameroonian defender rested after his performance in Bratislava. Ismaïl Aissati was excused from the midweek trip due to Ramadan, but the creative midfielder was present at kick off in Almelo. He was backed by controlling midfielders Eyong Enoh and Demy de Zeeuw. The latter appeared only for the last fifteen minutes of play in last Thursday’s match. The Ajax attack was formed by Dennis Rommedahl, Miralem Sulejmani and captain Luis Suarez.
Ajax struggled during the first hour with Heracles. The Amsterdam team played on too low a tempo for the first half of the match. They struggled further by allowing themselves to occasionally get dragged into the rougher football practiced by the Almelo team. Captain Luis Suarez pushed the boundary, and nearly crossed it himself. A tick on Antoine van der Linden’s legs was could have called for a red card. Suarez got away with yellow.
Toby Alderweireld’s crosspass – the secret weapon of Ajax’s defence – wasn’t impactful enough during the first half. The Belgian central defender often searched for an opening with a long pass to the forwards. Too often, the frequently sought, but rarely reached, Aissati, Suarez en Sulejmani, were covered. It most likely didn’t surprise most of the 8500 ticket holders in the sold out Polman Stadium that the first half remained 0-0.
“We know that playing in Almelo can be troublesome” explained Martin Jol during the press conference. “In the first half, Heracles let Ajax take the initiative, and we had a hard time with that. We should just forget about the first half. Our intentions were good, but we should have kept possession for longer on attack. When we do that, we can get creative and make something happen.”
Ajax came back stronger in the second half. Dario Cvitanich, replacing Rommedahl after halftime, started the turnaround with a cunning effort that Pieckenhagen just managed to tip over. Earlier on, Suarez launched a low shot, which got lost in a sea of Almelo defenders. Toby Alderweireld was more successful in his close range attempt. The Belgian scored with a header via the crossbar off a corner kick: 0-1. The lead seemed to spur Ajax on and give them confidence. The second yellow card for Kwame Quansah gave Ajax an extra push. With the opponents one man down, the problems from earlier on seemed to melt away.
“We performed better during the second half” said Jol. “Quansah’s second yellow card was fortunate for us. In the end, we could turn the game around in our favour quite easily. “
An exceptional back pass from Mark Looms (which launched Suarez) didn’t do much harm to Heracles. Suarez missed the opportunity, shooting wide across. Tim Breukers contained the speedy counter from Aissati. The right back neutralised the attack by intercepting the pass to De Zeeuw. Substitute Kennedy (for Miralem Sulejmani) proved his worth later on by setting up the second Ajax goal. Kennedy found Suarez, who then brought Cvitanich into a premium position. The Argentinian forward was decisive: 0-2. Thursday was successful for Kennedy as well. The Swede hit a strong free kick directly into the Slovakian goal.
Aissati’s winner was almost beside the point in the last minutes of the game. It was the way that the midfielder scored that made an impression. After Suarez had lured keeper Pieckenhagen from under the crossbar, Aissati saw the wide open goal behind the German keeper. Aissati’s sharp chip brought the end score to 0-3. With this, a tough duel ended well for Ajax.