Ajax’s defence ensured a spectacular evening. Although they made some critical mistakes on defence, enabling Vitesse to hope for an upset, they more than made up for it by being a force on attack. With goals from Jan Vertonghen, Gregory van der Wiel and Vurnon Anita, the defenders showed their offensive attributes. Their goals propelled Ajax to a 4-2 win.
With a loss and three tied games, Ajax’s ambition for this match was clear: to win. Roly Bonevacia earned a starting spot at midfield due Enoh and Lindgren’s absence. This marked the official debut in Ajax 1 for the physically strong eighteen year old.
But the rookie must have had an odd feeling as the team retreated to the locker rooms at halftime. Although Ajax was stronger than Varese, their pace was too slow to break through the Arnhem team’s defence. As a result, the midfielders often attempted long range shots, which lacked the strength and punch to faze keeper Eloy Room, standing in for the injured Velthuizen.
But Vitesse didn’t lose their focus, which they proved in the fourteenth minute. Lasse Nilsson passed to Wiljan Pluim. The star from the Vitesse youth training program had a clear path, but Stekelenburg boxed the ball away, with the rebound landing beside the goal. Ajax should have been warned and seemed to pick up their pace, but the guests went ahead in the 26th minute. Davy Pröpper broke free of the Ajax defence and made it 0-1 with his header. After this, Ajax transitioned to a higher gear, with Siem de Jong getting an opportunity to even it up, but his header went over. Vertonghen made good in the 37th minute on a free kick. Gregory van der Wiel, looking fitter after enjoying three days of rest, briskly made it 2-1 before the break. But the defenders, who were outstanding on offense, made a few key errors in the back. As a result, Marco van Ginkel received the ball squarely at his feet and made the score 2-2 two minutes before the break. “This is our sixth match in fourteen days”, counted Jol during the press conference. “And to come back in a game like this and score twice so quickly…in retrospect, it went well, but we need to do something about the defensive mistakes, otherwise we’ll have problems against other teams.”
Ajax managed to defeat the young Vitesse team, whose average age was two months younger than Ajax’s, thanks in part to another rookie. After the break, Jol brought Florian Jozefzoon in to replace Urby Emanuelson, out with back problems. Within his first minute on the field and with his first ball contact, the nineteen year old forward made a superb pass to Siem de Jong, who kicked the ball in behind Room, 3-2. But Ajax remained vulnerable on defence, and in the 57th minute, they gave Vitesse an easy access to the penalty area. Stekelenburg came to the rescue and Ajax transitioned quickly. It was Anita who impressively shot in the last goal high into the ropes behind Room, making it 4-2. After this, the match slowed, stopping to a still stand too often to remain interesting. In the closing minutes, Mounir El Hamdaoui seemed poised to score his first Ajax goal in the ArenA, but the ball went just wide of the post, and his attempt was turned away by Room. This time, it wasn’t the forwards who stood out, but the defenders who played the starring role in the season’s first win.