Ajax missed out on a great opportunity to increase its lead on fellow title contender Vitesse. Ajax once again failed to win a competition match away at FC Utrecht: 1-1. The missed point aside, Siem de Jong’s comeback was a highlight in Utrecht.
The mission facing Ajax on Sunday morning, heading to the Galgenwaard, was crystal clear. One week after the victory against Go Ahead (0-1), and two days after the tie between Feyenoord and Vitesse, the top spot in the Eredivisie should have been secured. The opportunity to create a bigger gap (currently only two points ahead of close competitor Vitesse) was there. And the chance to take-off was too great to pass up on.
The statistics were heavily in Ajax’s favour beforehand. The Amsterdam team had been enjoying a series of undefeated competition matches. As of kick-off, the Utrecht team had been markedly less successful in the Eredivisie. The team of former Ajax man Jan Wouters had lost its four previous games in the national football competition. But the statistic that shows that Ajax simply can’t win in Utrecht was very motivating for the home team. Ajax’s last competition win in the Galgenwaard dated back to March 2009. In summary, it was time to end this unfortunate series with a win.
The 2013-2014 show-down in the Galgenwaard was just as charged as it is each season. Utrecht – Amsterdam is always the match of the year for Utrecht natives, and it shows, season after season. With the Amsterdam team visiting, the home team seems to raise their game just that little bit more than against other competitors. Utrecht – Ajax was thus a great opportunity for the hosts to put an end to its series of bad results. FC Utrecht was hungry for a win.
Wouters saw his team make a furious start. Mark van der Maarel had the game’s first scoring opportunity, saved flawlessly by Jasper Cillessen as he ticked the ball over. Two minutes later, Jens Toornstra took a shot which went wide. The first Ajax opportunity didn’t come until nine minutes later. On a Lasse Schöne pass, captain Niklas Moisander saw his header turned away by Robbin Ruiter. The Finnish Ajax player wore the captain’s band because Siem de Jong started the game on the bench. The (normally) first captain made his comeback to the match selection in Utrecht. De Jong has recovered from a thigh injury; the Ajax player is hoping that he’ll be physically fitter in 2014 than he was in the second half of 2013. In the first half of the season, the Ajax player has been plagued with one injury after another. De Jong came in for centre forward Bojan Krkic after one hour; the substitute celebrated his comeback and immediately reached a milestone, as it was his 160th competition game.
Ajax started out somewhat restlessly in the chaotic but lively Galgenwaard. The current national champion took the lead after 25 minutes. Daley Blind displayed his laser eye, scoring with a long distance shot with his left foot: 0-1. The Amsterdam team then went on to miss out on great opportunities by left winger Viktor Fischer (shot saved by Ruiter) and left back Nicolai Boilesen (shot onto Ruiter’s fists). This ended up being costly for the visitors, when Steve de Ridder evened up the score for FC Utrecht before the break. The centre forward was able to break free of Joël Veltman, after which De Ridder outplayed Cillessen and scored the tying goal. This was a disappointment for the team that had been looking like it was getting back on track after a mediocre opening phase.
With Bojan Krkic as a mobile (and regularly dropping back to midfield) centre forward and flank forwards Fischer and Schöne, Ajax started off when it had ended in Deventer. Visiting the Eagles, the victory hadn’t been assured until the two Danes took to the field. Super sub Schöne was the match winner with his winning goal. But this time, Schöne (or any team mate) wasn’t as crucial as he had been in the Adelaarshorst. Although the right forward did come very close to scoring in the last fifteen minutes, but his shot hit the post.
After the break, the match seemed to veer out in every direction. The second half was only two minutes old when De Ridder sent a hard shot onto the crossbar. On the other side of the field, Fischer had a perfect opportunity, outstandingly sent to him by Thulani Serero, but sent it wide. Christian Poulsen (who replaced Boilesen shortly after the break; Blind continued as left back) and De Jong came in as fresh legs to help re-energize Ajax.
But even with new energy, Ajax didn’t manage to succeed in its mission. Ajax and Utrecht remained in their anxious balance. The lead on Vitesse remains at ‘only’ two points. “That’s why I have mixed feelings”, said De Boer, putting into words the feeling that his players are surely experiencing, in the player’s bus back to the ArenA. “Everyone seems to think that we’ll just become champions again…but here, traditionally, it’s been difficult. We dominated the duel for a large part. It’s only the last eight minutes – the last five, plus three – during which we were sloppy. We could have lost the game during this time. The ball just needed to fall right. And it did, a couple of times, but we just didn’t manage. The team deserves a compliment for dominating. On Thursday, we already have a home game against FC Groningen.”