Ajax is still looking for its first Eredivisie away win of the 2013-2014 season. The Saturday evening match at FC Twente ended in a 1-1 tie. After a tough battle, the Amsterdam team secured one point in the last minutes thanks to Kolbeinn Sigthórsson.
Ajax displayed a (partly) new face, shortly after the interland period, and on the eve of another Champions League match, this time in Glasgow against Celtic. Compared to the starting midfield for the last (home) game against FC Utrecht (3-0), now Thulani Serero and Daley Blind were on the starting line-up. Serero got the nod instead of Davy Klaassen, and Blind turned up in his old role. In the Ajax youth teams, in fact up until the Ajax Reserves, he mainly played central midfield. But he became known for playing on left back in the past few years. That position was assured by Nicolai Boilesen in de Grolsche Veld. “Blind has a future in this position. I let Daley play at midfield because talented Boilesen also needs to get playing time”, Frank de Boer explained his most surprising choice.
Joël Veltman – fortunately back after a long-term injury – and Stefano Denswil formed the heart of the Amsterdam defense. Niklas Moisander and Lerin Duarte’s injuries were party responsible for the changes in Frank de Boer’s team. Moisander will join the team on Monday’s trip to Scotland. The Fin was kept on the sidelines on Saturday mainly as a precaution. Duarte (and Bojan Krkic) won’t make the first group match against Celtic.
On offense, Lucas Andersen was the most surprising name. The young Dane played on right wing, and was secured by a confident Sigthórsson on his left as centre forward. The Icelander earned a spot (partly thanks to his goals) in the World Cup playoffs. A true top competition match was the perfect stage for Sigthórsson to make an impact in the Netherlands as well.
The guests struggled for a long time. In might have been an adjustment to the (partly) new line-up, and the principal danger was posed by the ‘Tukkers’. Centre forward Luc Castaignos was a handful for his guard Denswil. Let than a minute after former Ajax player Dico Koppers had neutralized an Amsterdam opportunity (a good pass via Blind and Fischer), Castaignos struck from nearby. The centre forward, who had never scored against Ajax until now, slid the ball easily past Jasper Cillessen: 1-0.
But it was only thanks to the Dutch national team’s latest keeper that the deficit didn’t increase before halftime. In terms of opportunities, Ajax didn’t manage to create any chances. PSV, who shares the league’s first place with Twente, had won just as many points until Saturday evening, and is on a roll this season. The Twente team has showed itself to be a confident contender for the championship in the first nine games of this season. That’s quite an achievement, considering the outgoing transfers of Lery Fer and individualist Nacer Chadli.
At times, Ajax struggled, and the passionate support from the sold-out visitors’ stand couldn’t change that. Siem de Jong proved to be one of the most dangerous Ajax players after the break (three failed attempts to score). The captain came close several times, but each time sent the ball just wide. This happened in a phase in which Ajax got more of a grip on the home team, who became sloppier and more anxious. “When we were on more solid footing, Twente barely got any more opportunities. We played the life out of them”, said De Boer in retrospect.
Lasse Schöne replaced the worn out Ricardo van Rhijn in the last fifteen minutes. The Dane had been key as a right winger in last season’s away match against Twente (0-2 win), but Schöne was decidedly less impactful on Saturday. Substituting in a struggling team is also a very thankless job.
Ajax seemed on the way to defeat, but it was Sigthórsson who, ten minutes before the end, changed that. In a typical case of ‘better late than never’, the Icelander showed his centre forward’s instinct by sending in a tricky – and bouncing- ball into the goal from nearby: 1-1. Only a few days away from the important Champions League meeting against Celtic, the Amsterdam team can now head into Tuesday’s match in Celtic Park with a centre forward brimming with self-confidence.
“The tying goal was well-deserved”, decided De Boer, looking back on the somewhat disappointing top match. “In the end, I’m happy with how we played, especially with so many new and young guys. In terms of field play, we were much better. Compliments to the team. But still, the overwhelming feeling afterwards is that we squandered two points.”
Ajax wasn’t always fortunate against Twente, and was sometimes downright sloppy, but saw their hard work rewarded with one point. Despite that, after this meeting in the Grolsche Veste, Ajax is still looking for its first competition win away.