Ajax fails to take the lead

Ajax fails to take the lead

This phase of the competition isn’t exactly inspiring. Two weeks ago, it was Vitesse, and last week PSV, who failed to grab the Eredivisie’s first place. This week it was Ajax’s turn, in the eleventh round of play, to squander their opportunity to grab the lead against RKC in a home match which didn’t go further than a 0-0 end score.

Before the game, the Amsterdam ArenA erupted in cheers when it appeared that leader FC Twente had lost their match on ADO Den Haag’s artificial turf, 3-2. That meant that Ajax was in a position to take the top spot. This should be possible to do in this home game against RKC Waalwijk, especially considering the history (22 games played, one lost). Moreover, Ajax had won the first five Eredivisie home games, why would there be any problem to do the same against the last placed team (after NEC’s win on Friday evening, RKC had sunk to last spot)?
The answer to that question came in the 93rd minute for Ajax. Before the match, Frank de Boer had declared that you could have a problem with an opponent like RKC if you weren’t in your best form. And this form was lacking on Saturday evening.

De Boer had altered his starting line – up somewhat after the mid-week Champions League loss to Celtic. The coach started Nicolai Boilesen again at Poulsen’s expense, and he passed on Ricardo van Rhijn. The unfit right back’s playing hadn’t been satisfactory to the technical staff, and that’s why Lasse Schöne had a starting spot in this match. The Danish all-rounder had played quite some minutes with this team by coming in as a substitute against FC Twente and Celtic. De Boer had Jasper Cillessen at his disposal after he’d had to leave training a bit early after suffering some slight flu symptoms.

RKC coach Erwin Koeman’s tactics when sending his team onto the field were as De Boer had expected. With a line-up which is common in handball, RKC waited for Ajax to make mistakes. De Boer had hoped beforehand that Ajax would score quickly, and with a bit more luck, Kolbeinn Sigthórsson would have done that, in the second and ninth minute. RKC answered with a dangerous breakout. In the 25th and 29th minutes, it was the keepers’ turn. Jan Seda made a save on a dangerous free kick from Stefano Denswil, and Cillessen ticked a header from Kenny van Hoevelen away from his goal. Ajax came closest to scoring an opening goal when Sigthórsson sent a header onto the post on a Lasse Schöne corner. Thus, to the crowd’s dismay, the score remained 0-0.

In the second half, Ajax was just as unsuccessful in surprising their opponent. With a yellow wall erected about thirty meters away from Seda’s goal, Ajax’s passing needed to be quick and surprising. Ajax did get a few opportunities, but they weren’t meant to be for Sigthórsson, De Jong, Serero or Andersen. The Czech keeper continued to stop these attempts with his gloved hand.

The substitution of Van Rhijn for the heavy-footed Schöne, Hoesen for Sigthórsson and Klassen for captain De Jong didn’t make a difference. In the final minutes – after Braber had missed a huge scoring opportunity for RKC – Denswil tried to force a goal with a low shot. But Seda’s right hand kept that attempt outside of the posts as well. De Boer was disappointed: “You know that RKC isn’t going to win any beauty contests, so you need to be prepared to put a dent into their wall. And we didn’t do that. It wasn’t due to the atmosphere. We should have been able to entertain the crowd, but we weren’t. We could have ended up with no points at all, but fortunately we were spared that.”