On Sunday, Ajax didn’t manage to close 2012 on a high note. Despite having had many opportunities, Ajax didn’t get further than a 0-0 tie while visiting FC Utrecht. Ajax therefore goes into the winter break with three points less than league leaders PSV and FC Twente.
The sight of Siem de Jong shaking his head spoke volumes halfway through the match. As the players retreated to the locker rooms, the big story was Ajax’s missed opportunities. Despite the fact that Ajax had had the upper hand for forty-five minutes, the scoreboard was still all zeroes. Just like last Thursday in Groningen, Ajax played dominant football and created a battalion of opportunities. The only thing missing was a goal. And that would be costly for Ajax. After the 1-1 game in the Amsterdam ArenA, Ajax squandered points against FC Utrecht for the second time this season. Last month’s good cup win thus seemed to be an exception to what has been the rule in the last few years – Ajax routinely squanders points against Utrecht.
Notably Siem de Jong, Viktor Fischer and Derk Boerrigter appeared before Robbin Ruiter’s goal regularly before the break – with each opportunity being better than the one before. De Jong had the opening goal at his feet after a badly played back ball by Jan Wuytens. Ajax’s centre forward didn’t manage to crown his free passage towards Utrecht’s keeper with a goal. Boerrigter also had the 1-0 goal at his feet a couple of times in the first half. He came closest to scoring in the first half with his shot against the crossbar. And, except for a small attack midway through the first half, Utrecht didn’t have much of a response to Ajax’s attacks. Their only dangerous moment occurred on an Adam Sarota free kick, but Kenneth Vermeer reacted alertly.
Frank de Boer: “Despite the fact that we didn’t score, I’m happy that we completely outplayed Utrecht in the first half. But it’s discouraging when one scoring opportunity after another fails. We easily had six to seven one hundred per cent opportunities. That’s when you need to score. We kept making the wrong decisions. We passed the ball when we should have been taking the shot, and vice versa.”
Ajax needed a goal in the second half to prove the difference in strength between the teams in numbers. Despite the fact that FC Utrecht is in a decent sixth place in the competition, this was Ajax’s afternoon to win. At least it was based on the first 45 minutes of play. Their last away win in the competition dates back to March 2009. Ajax hasn’t managed to win in Utrecht since then, with the low point being last season’s dramatic 6-4 loss.
Although Ajax had breezed through the first half, the second half proved to be more difficult. After substitute Edouard Duplan came in, Utrecht suddenly seemed more like the team that Ajax normally faces in De Galgenwaard. But things went downhill for Ajax. Except for two opportunities for Viktor Fischer, it was Utrecht’s turn to take charge. And Vermeer’s. Ajax’s keeper reacted exceptionally well when Duplan fired a dangerous shot after an hour of play. Six minutes later, Vermeer again did well when Kali made an attempt to score.
With the clock and Utrecht keeper Ruiter being the biggest obstacles, the match finally ended in a 0-0 stalemate – a score than very few people would have predicted midway through the match. With Danny Hoesen coming in for the battle-weary Fischer, De Boer gambled on a closing attack in the last minutes from Ajax. But it didn’t bear any fruit. And when Utrecht was down to ten men in the last few minutes (two yellows for Bulthuis), Ajax wasn’t able to make anything happen. All of the applause afterwards was directed at the home team, and Ajax found itself stonewalled once again in Utrecht. But De Boer didn’t leave Utrecht with a bitter taste in his mouth. “I’m pleased with the way we played today. The fact that the score is 0-0 means that we sold ourselves short. When you play this way for ten games, you’ll win nine of those games. I’m convinced that we’ll make it to the highest podium if we continue to play this way. That’s why I’m heading into the winter break feeling positive.”
Just like Utrecht coach Wouters, De Boer was pleased about the atmosphere in the stadium. Beforehand, both clubs, in cooperation with the supporters, had made a big effort to ensure that, in the stands, the game would unfold normally. Wouters and De Boer both expressed how they had enjoyed the atmosphere afterwards: “It should always be the way it was today.”