Ajax had a genuine off day on Sunday against FC Utrecht. The team from Amsterdam suffered a painful 1-2 defeat and saw their long home winning streak in the Eredivisie broken. This afternoon of football ended on several sour notes.
Ajax started this duel against Utrecht without the injured Vurnon Anita. Urby Emanuelson stood in for Anita, who was suffering a calf injury, on left defense. This freed up a spot on the squad for Miralem Sulejmani. The Serbian player took the role as left striker. Luis Suarez (on the right) and forward Mounir El Hamdaoui were charged with scoring goals for the home team.
The sunny football afternoon started off differently than expected. Very differently. It was as if Ajax had geared up for a Thursday night match, instead of a duel against FC Utrecht, who, on that evening, had played to a Europa League tie (0-0) against Liverpool. Two days before, Ajax had held AC Milan to a 1-1 tie in their Champions League game. The extra preparation time for this competition match seemed to favour Amsterdam. But in the ArenA, things took a different turn before halftime on Sunday. Utrecht played a well-oiled game, while Ajax was stiff, puffing and creaking along the way.
Two justified penalties brought the guest into a luxury position after fifteen minutes. First, at six minutes, Luis Suarez – from a corner from the left – stretched his hands towards the ball, committing hands. After the first fifteen minutes, Eyong Ehon hauled Edouard Duplan down onto the ArenA grass. Both incidents produced the same painful result: Ricky van Wolfswinkel mercilessly put both penalty shots past Maarten Stekelenburg. After a quarter of an hour of play, Ajax was 2-0 down. This halftime score was, historic. With a bitter aftertaste. Speaking of history, Utrecht’s last win in the ArenA had been on January 29, 2006. In the 2005 – 2006 season, Ajax – Utrecht ended with a 1-4 score.
“The way the first goal came about was annoying”, said Martin Jol about Suarez’s ‘hands on’ moment. “Of course you don’t get it, but these things happen. We’re not used to being down 0-2 at home. Or away, for that matter. Going down after two penalties just doesn’t happen in the ArenA. You just hope to score a quick goal, to make something happen. But our goal didn’t come until last. Utrecht defended well.”
There weren’t many opportunities for Ajax to repair de damage in the first half. They didn’t get much further than attempts from El Hamdaoui (into Michel Vorm’s hands), Siem de Jong (wide) and Emanuelson (past the goal). Ajax didn’t seem itself on Sunday afternoon, in a match where the Amsterdammers could have brought the important first phase of the season to a good conclusion. Had they won, they would have remained in first place in the Eredivisie. Looking ahead to the upcoming interland period, it would have been nice if Ajax could have closed the hectic, intense last few weeks with a good feeling. “You hope to get past a 0-2 deficit with the players’ class”, continued Jol during the press conference. “You also need to be creative. We missed the creativity today. At the end of the day, every match is a separate incident; you can lose any given match. I can’t say that we did everything we could today.”
Martin Jol made two changes to his team at halftime. Eyong Enoh was substituted by Christian Eriksen. Toby Alderweireld also stayed back in the locker room. The Belgian was substituted by a Swede, Rasmus Lindgren. He took on defensive duties, but also covered midfield. With an extra man at the middle line, Ajax tried to find a way in with FC Utrecht, a team which hadn’t won a single away game in Eredivisie this season.
These changes didn’t result in much better results, although Ajax did manage to push the visitors further back towards their own goal, and pressed with more scoring opportunities than before the break. Captain Suarez did the most hunting; the Uruguayan had the best opportunities on behalf of his team. Shortly after the break, the Ajax player saw his free kick end up on the crossbar above Vorm. Another attempt went into Vorm’s hands. Even with Florian Jozefzoon in for the unlucky Demy de Zeeuw, Ajax didn’t manage to break out of their negative cycle.
Shortly before the end, Suarez managed to hit the crossbar again; this time, his attempt sailed from the right, finding metal. Sulejmani was threatening too. He gave Vorm a hard time with a flying shot. The goalie rebuffed the shot, but collided with Suarez in the rebound. In the meantime, Utrecht could have scored the deciding goal. On a pass from Dries Mertens, Jacob Mulenga sent a header towards an empty goal. Despite Ajax’s sharper play, Utrecht remained in the lead. It was only in extra time that Ajax scored. Siem de Jong shot in from far, into the upper corner: 1-2.
Ajax, decidedly, had an off day, resulting in their first competition defeat at home since January 31, 2009. On that day, SC Heerenveen was too strong for them, 0-1. An impressive 21 month streak of Eredivisie wins was brought to an end on Sunday by FC Utrecht. Ton du Chatinier’s team ended a streak of 25 competition matches without a loss. It was FC Utrecht who defeated Ajax for the last time on December 6, 2009, in competition play. The score then was 2-0 in de Galgenwaard.
Stay tuned to Ajax TV and Premium TV for reactions after the match, and a summary of Ajax – FC Utrecht.