Ajax didn’t succeed in winning at home for the third time in a row on Saturday night. After a loss against ADO Den Haag (0-1) and a scoreless tie against PSV, both at home, Ajax once again fell flat in Amsterdam, this time against NEC. It was a disappointed Amsterdam ArenA which witnessed a 1-1 tie. Moreover, it doesn’t bode well for the upcoming Champions League duel against AC Milan.
After a miserable November, a win against NEC was desperately needed to start December off on the right foot. Leading up to the AC Milan game, in which Ajax can assure itself of a spot in Europa League, the match against NEC sadly seemed more typical of the November slump. The result cost Ajax dear points in a home match. One day before the Sinterklaas festivities, there was no holiday cheer in the air.
Ajax had a few surprised in its line-up. With Luis Suarez sitting out a suspension, and a not completely fit Siem de Jong remaining on the bench, both Mido and Aras Özbiliz were on the squad for the first time. Since his return to Amsterdam, Mido has predominantly seen action as a substitute, but this time he got his chance to show what he could do from the beginning. Özbiliz, after his debut against VVV-Venlo, received a starting spot directly for this match in the ArenA. Flanked by forwards Mounir El Hamdaoui (behind centre forward) and Miralem Sulejmani (on the right), the Ajax offense was the same as it had been during the last thirty minutes against VVV. On defence, Urby Emanuelson got the nod above Vurnon Anita at left back.
The supporters didn’t have much to enjoy during the first half. The best opportunities by far were NEC’s. Lasse Schöne almost scored the opening goal – twice – in the first thirty minutes. His free kick, in the thirtieth minute, sent shudders through the ArenA. Captain Maarten Stekelenburg’s excellent reflexes kept Ajax in the game during this phase. It wasn’t until the last minute before the break that Ajax posed any danger. Demy de Zeeuw had a chance at a clear shot, and El Hamdaoui was threatening on two occasions in front of the NEC goal.
The winter weather conditions resulted in a modestly filled ArenA on Saturday night. Despite the comfortable conditions in the ArenA, thanks to the closed roof, many obstacles faced supporters wishing to travel to the game. Problems with the railways made it difficult to reach Amsterdam. The 22.000 fans (47.793 tickets sold) who were in attendance in the ArenA saw their team struggle in the second half too. Jan Vertonghen’s free kick right after the break was Ajax’s only decent shot for a long time. The Belgian, who was honoured before the game for playing 150 official matches for Ajax, saw his attempt turned away by Cillessen. Former Ajax player John Goossens had a chance for NEC, but it was also turned away by the keeper.
Marvin Zeegelaar came in for Özbiliz for the last half hour. With Zeegelaar on the left side, Jol hoped to give Ajax a new push. Despite a good shot from Sulejmani (post), things remained tense in the ArenA until fifteen minutes before the end. After another good opportunity for NEC (Schöne’s shot hit the post), Ajax finally made good. A quick Sulejmani breakaway brought Mido into position. On Sulejmani’s pass, the tall Egyptian did what he does best, with his decisive header putting Ajax in the lead, 1-0. But the party came to an end soon after. A blocked ball wasn’t cleared properly by the Ajax defence, and Bram Nuytinck shot NEC to a tie: 1-1. The home team never recovered. Vertonghen made a last attempt late in the game, but his header hit the post.
“The first thirty minutes were almost unpleasant”, said Jol afterwards. “NEC didn’t let us build anything up. And our preparations in getting to the centre forward weren’t sufficient. We finally got control of the game during the second half, but we weren’t creative enough. In the end, you’re always dependent on your preparation, whether it comes from the flanks or midfield.”