Ajax had a disappointing afternoon in Kerkrade. A lead through a goal by Klaas Jan Huntelaar was erased by an own goal by Olaf Lindenbergh and in the final minute Sonko gave Roda JC the victory: 2-1. Coach Danny Blind was sent off at halftime and Juanfrán after 78 minutes. Ajax stayed in fifth place - on goal difference, but will have to give it their all in the last three matches of the regular season to secure a place in the playoffs.
Danny Blind called the away match against Roda JC in advance 'difficult' but even he could not have predicted the level of difficulty that Ajax had to face this Sunday.
At first, all seemed fine. Ajax began the match well and put the home side under pressure. That resulted in a goal for Ajax after 18 minutes, when Klaas Jan Huntelaar headed in a fine cross by Mauro Rosales for his 30th league goal of the season.
Ten minutes later Roda came alongside with a little luck. In a crowded penalty area, Cristiano fired on goal, only to see Olaf Lindenbergh changing the ball trajectory and beating his own goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg: 1-1. ,,At that moment, we weren't in too much trouble, really'', said coach Danny Blind. ,,But it was iconic for our season, the way this goal was scored. But we picked it up after that.'' Ajax kept playing and had another chance to score, through Huntelaar. The striker's shot went against the crossbar.
At the close of the first half, Roda were on offence. Referee Luinge gave one minute of added time and the home side were awarded a corner kick in that time. A shot was blocked and Ajax went on the counter attack. Three Ajax players rushed to the Roda goal undefended when Luinge blew his whistle for the end of the first half. The Ajax players were steaming mad and Danny Blind ran onto the pitch, followed by his assistant Fred Grim. Luinge pointed at his watch and banned Blind to the stands for the second half. ,,I think you should never criticise a referee about a push or a free kick that was given correctly or incorrectly, those are interpretations. But you can judge a referee on the facts. At the moment the added time went in, I set my watch", said Blind. ,,At the moment Bodor took the corner kick, there was already one minute gone. It's unbelievable that play goes on for another 40 seconds in our box. We get the ball, have three players going at their goalkeeper, and then Luinge ends the half. Understandably in a way, because time was up, but then why let Roda keep playing? I said what I thought about the situation in a correct manner. I was emotional but I did not swear at him. I think I was sent to the stands because I came onto the pitch." Luinge himself offered a different version. ,,We were a little over a minute into added time when I ended the half. And the referee's watch is what counts. I saw that three Ajax players were free before the Roda goal. I had to stop the play or everybody would be duped. Of course Blind is entitled to ask what is going on. I had blown off the half and the coach is then allowed on the pitch. I can imagine him being emotional. But his words were unacceptable, he did not complain in a decent manner. A coach should also be an example'', said the referee.
But not only the moment at the end of the first half irked Blind. The coach thought that Luinge was picking on Huntelaar. The striker battled it out with defender Kah, but was called for a foul time and time again. Blind: ,,The way Luinge acted towards Huntelaar was a disgrace. Luinge really let himself go, he called everything against Huntelaar." Blind even thought it went so far, that he took off his forward. ,,If they make it impossible for him to play, it is no use keeping Huntelaar out there.''
Blind did not retun to the bench in the second half and assistants Gerard van der Lem and Ruud Krol took over. Neither team created good chances in the second half and a draw seemed in the cards. But Roda JC had a bone to pick with Ajax, after Huntelaar's late equaliser in the Cup semifinal ten days ago. In the 89th minute the home side got their revenge. Sonko found himself all alone and shot the ball in the far corner of Stekelenburg's goal. At that time, Ajax were already reduced to ten after Juanfrán had been red-carded for allegedly kicking in the direction of his opponent Van Dijk.
The term 'difficult' proved to be an understatement. Despite the loss, Ajax remain in fifth place. Groningen camer alongside in points, but Ajax have the better goal difference. Remaining in a playoff spot, and with that a chance to play for a place in next season's Champions League, is however all but certain. ,,I am realistic, but I think we can keep this place'', said Blind. With three matches to go (at home against AZ and Vitesse and away against RKC), it seems quite the task.