Ajax take important step with 'new' team

Whether the desired turning point has been reched, will have to be proven next week, when Ajax play Feyenoord. But the 3-1 win in Tilbrg against Willem II was a good step in the right direction. Ajax played with a team that was changed in eight places from the squad that played against Maccabi Tel-Aviv last Wednesday. After an ealy goal by the home team, the side from Amsterdam had little to fear. ,,I am relieved'', coach Ronald Koeman admitted. ,,I think everyone at Ajax is.''

Something had to happen, that much was certain after the poor results of late. But hardly anyone could have expected that Koeman would change his team so drastically. From goalkeeper to striker, in every line there were victims. Six players who started against Maccabi Tel-Aviv were now on the bench or altogether left out of the squad.

Maarten Stekelenburg, Nigel de Jong, Wesley Sneijder and Nicolae Mitea were still in the 18-man squad, but they started on the bench. Johnny Heitinga and Anthony Obodai were left out, as were Wesley Sonck, Tom Soetaers and Stanley Aborah. Young striker Ryan Babel was added to the group.

,,We are in a difficult situation. There is a lack of confidence and of leadership. The young guys are fighting against themselves. But it is a general problem. We need experience and that starts with the goalkeeper'', Koeman explained his choices. ,,Johnny Heitinga did not play because he is going through a difficult period and we were already thinking of resting him. That's why we left him out of the squad.''

John O’Brien was back in the starting line-up. The match in Tilburg was his first of the season. His last league match was on 8 February 2004. With O'Brien back, Maxwell could move to his favourite position of left midfielder. Unfortunately, O'Brien did not make it to the end of the match. He had to leave with a hamstring injury after 77 minutes. ,,O'Brien played well", Koeman said. ,,But now he is injured again. It is a shame that he is injured so often''

With only Hatem Trabelsi, Steven Pienaar and Mauro Rosales on the same positions as last Wednesday, it was logical that the Ajax players had difficulty finding each other. Lack of communication caused that Willem II scored first. Goalkeeper Hans Vonk wanted to grab Jos van Nieuwstadt's header but he was obstructed by the back-pedalling Zdenek Grygera and the ball went in off the Czech's behind.

After 30 minutes the Ajax players seemed more comfortable with each other and the visitors firmly took the initiative. Mauro Rosales, after a good touch by Rafael van der Vaart, made his first goal for Ajax, in his sixth match for the team: 1-1.

And that was not the end of it in the first half. Again Rosales scored and the 1-2 was a beauty.

The only disappointment was that Ajax did not score much more in the second half, when the side were superior to Willem II. Maxwell made it 1-3 after Yannis Anastasiou gave a good cross from the baseline. The Greek striker worked, as did Boukhari, very hard but did not get the goal he so deserved.

With 20 minutes to play Tomás Galásek made his return after a back injury. When Nigel de Jong (for Maxwell) and Wesley Sneijder (for O’Brien) also came on, the familiar Ajax patterns also returned. Ajax had more chances, but did not score again. ,,It was necessary to win here”, said Koeman relieved. ,,We are going through a difficult time, especially after Wednesday. A shock effect was needed. If you make the changes that I made today, you have to win. I realised that, and it happened. You cannot say that all is well after one match, but it gives some confidence for the match against Feyenoord.''