Ajax scraped by to defeat RKC Waalwijk on Sunday. While visiting Waalwijk, Ajax won 0-1 thanks to an own goal by the home team. Davy Klaassen was among the starting eleven for the first time. RKC played the last half hour with ten men after Sigourney Bandjar’s red card.
The contrast in Waalwijk was big. Four days after the dramatic elimination from the UEFA Champions League, the setting of Mandemakers Stadium was different in every way than the sold-out ArenA and the pomp of the prestigious tournament. But, there were some similarities with other ‘post Champions League’ matches. Just as they had earlier this season, Ajax struggled with their opponent a few days after playing a European match. Although this time, it didn’t cost the current national champion any points.
The fact that Ajax needed RKC’s help to take the lead summed up the first forty five minutes in Waalwijk. Shortly before the break, RKC defender Guy Ramos put a Christian Eriksen pass behind his own keeper, giving Ajax the lead after a meagre first half.
Theo Janssen wasn’t in Waalwijk. The midfielder was sick, and was thus added to the growing list of unavailable players. The absence of these many injured players gave Davy Klaassen, among others, the chance to make his debut with the starting eleven. After 32 Eredivisie minutes split over matches against NEC and Excelsior – as well as two substitutions in Champions League – the youth academy’s star was on the field in Brabant for the first time at kick off. Frank de Boer put him in the 3-4-3 set up in his favourite position; at the centre of midfield, behind centre forward Nicolás Lodeiro.
The most dangerous opportunities came at first from Ajax’s defenders. After a first attempt from Ismaïl Aissati, it was Gregory van der Wiel and especially Jan Vertonghen who came closest to a goal. Vertonghen’s shot missed the Waalwijk goal by a hair via keeper Jeroen Zoet’s hand. On the other side, the Eredivisie’s number 14 team provided the required excitement, with the attacking duo Ricky ten Voorde (Vermeer save) and Ajax loaned-out Geoffrey Castillion (shot wide) both making good attempts. Castillion’s opportunity illustrated Ajax’s sloppy start. After a badly played back ball by Daley Blind, the centre forward was poised to give his temporary club a dream start to the match after two and a half minutes. De Boer: “Castillion’s opportunity was typical of our terrible start in the first 17 minutes. We were absolutely unfocussed and made several stupid mistakes in the opening phase.”
Although Ajax picked itself up as the match progressed, the second half wasn’t much better. The meagre halftime score was, despite two almost goals, the end score. And that was only because Lodeiro saw his goal unjustly disqualified as offside six minutes after the break. Blind made the pass, and according to the assistant referee, he was offside, making a second quick Ajax goal evaporate into thin air. A similar scenario repeated itself in the 64th minute, when Miralem Sulejmani took a penalty shot after a foul on Klaassen. But, once again typically of this match, the club’s top scorer missed his mark from twelve yards out.
Ajax’s numeric advantage (red for Sigourney Bandjar) didn’t bring any improvement to the last thirty minutes. Even with an extra man, they were barely able to even make a scoring attempt worth noting. On a good Klaassen shot, Ajax came close to a second goal. The RKC players had hope for an upset until the very end. Mark Janssen had the 1-1 goal on his head, but fortunately for Ajax, the RKC substitute sent the ball over. Ajax thus preserved its three points, but that’s all. It was a forgettable afternoon. “The most important thing is that we won”, said De Boer afterwards. “And despite this stressful last minute, I wasn’t panicking. I’ve been confident all afternoon that we would come out on top. From that perspective, I think we deserve our win.”