Ajax posted a disappointing 2-2 tie on Saturday evening. Three days prior to the important Champions League match against Lyon, Ajax squandered two points against NAC. For a long time, things seemed fine in the ArenA, but the home team gave away its 2-0 lead in the last five minutes. Moreover, De Boer lost another forward as Dmitry Bulykin sustained an injury.
The competition resumed with a match against NAC after an unsettling week in which the Advisory Board announced the impending arrival of new management members Louis van Gaal, Danny Blind and Martin Sturkenboom. Many reactions and much insecurity followed, and this was palpable in the stadium during the match. The situation surrounding Johan Cruijff and the Advisory Board was, obviously, a topic of conversation. However, the supporters rallied behind their team, who appreciated the support. Especially with the 6-4 loss to FC Utrecht from two weeks ago still in their memories.
‘Fifteen in five’ was the key message from Frank de Boer leading up to Ajax – NAC. With the full score from the last five matches leading up to the winter break, the deficit against league leader AZ couldn’t get any bigger. The return of the recovered Theo Janssen and Derk Boerrigter (who started on the bench) was a boost. But injury problems presented themselves again in the first half hour when Dmitry Bulykin left the field with a calf injury. With the absence of the injured Kolbeinn Sigthórsson and Siem de Jong, the vacancy at centre forward became even more urgent than it had been. Especially with the important UEFA Champions League match against Lyon coming up.
Fortunately for Ajax, Nicolás Lodeiro proved to be a good replacement for Bulykin. The Uruguayan hasn’t been getting many playing minutes and he saw his chance to prove himself on attack. Directly upon coming in, he showed his hunger with two half opportunities. Five minutes later, he played a part in Miralem Sulejmani’s 1-0 goal. With a sharp pass, he sent the Serb in deep. At full speed, Sulejmani trumped opponent Botteghin and keeper Ten Rouwelaar.
Under the watchful eye of the gold-minted baseball team, who attended the match as guests of honour, Ajax went hunting for more goals. Ebecilio and Vertonghen had good chances after the break to decide the match. On the other side, Anthony Lurling appeared dangerously in front of Ajax’s goal, but Kenneth Vermeer did what he needed to do. Especially with a meagre 1-0 lead, NAC’s few opportunities were a threat.
With substitutes Serero and Boerrigter, the Ajax attack in the second half had fresh ammunition. The latter reinforcement seemed poised to decide the match in the 84th minute, but one minute after Boerrigter’s goal (once again assisted by Lodeiro), everything fell apart. Santi Kolk’s goal appeared to be the catalyst for a successful NAC attack. Former Ajax player Robbert Schilder evened up the game for the visitors with a fiery shot: 2-2.
The game’s surreal end made for surprised reactions, both with NAC coach John Karelse and Frank de Boer. “I saw a very good Ajax for 75 minutes. We were dominant, had opportunities, and didn’t give much away. But we became sloppy and made the wrong choices in the last fifteen minutes. At 2-0, you obviously think that you’ve got it. And then it became 2-2. That’s the reality. And that hurts. Not only me, but the supporters and the players. But we need to face Lyon on Tuesday. Based on the good things I saw, we need to persevere.”