Ajax looked like a punchdrunk boxer after the match against NEC. The 1-0 defeat in Nijmegen is yet another setback for coach Danny Blind's team. The loss was not undeserved. The Ajax players were powerless against NEC, and failed to score in a Dutch league match for the fourth time in a row.
One look at the standing says it all. Ajax are in seventh place, with the disappointing numbers: 15 points from 11 matches, 15 goals scored, 12 allowed.
,,Working very hard is the only remedy to get out of this slump'', said Blind.
Easier said than done. Blind put his finger on the sore spot after the match. The coach wondered aloud why his players start playing harder only when they are facing a deficit. ,,If you look at the league table, you would expect an earlier reaction.''
The Ajax boss went even further. Blind: ,,I miss a certain drive with some players. The drive to win the ball. We have only ourselves to blame for this.''
Without the suspended Steven Pienaar, he was replaced by Mauro Rosales, and with Thomas Vermaelen for the injured Tomás Galásek, Ajax had a difficult afternoon in Nijmegen. The home team had dangerous strikers in Romano Denneboom and Andrzej Niedzielan.
After a handful of chances in the first half for NEC, one minute into the second half Denneboom scored from an assist by Niedzielan: 1-0. Ten minutes later, Yannis Anastasiou missed the ball by a toe-length, or he would have scored from cross by Mauro Rosales.
With Markus Rosenberg and Nourdin Boukhari as added firepower up front, Ajax tried to avoid another loss. But to no avail. Gabor Babos saved well on a header by Rosenberg and a minute later, Rosales saw an attempt saved by the goalkeeper. Hedwiges Maduro headed a ball just over the cross bar. Nothing worked and Ajax failed to win yet another league match.