Alderweireld keeps Ajax in the race

Alderweireld keeps Ajax in the race

Ajax wobbled dangerously against ADO Den Haag, and almost fell. A goal in extra time helped the Amsterdammers get the result they desperately wanted. ADO Den Haag – Ajax was a lively duel, with Toby Alderweireld as the team’s saving grace.

The relief must have been intense in the locker room, after the game against ADO. Thanks to Alderweireld’s goal, Ajax takes three precious points home from the The Hague’s Forepark. Often, the game seemed to go against Ajax. Still, after a mediocre afternoon of football, Ajax still goes home with the prize thanks to Alderweireld’s goal.

The team from Amsterdam needed to win in order to stay on track to catch up to FC Twente. The league leader from Enschede had edged out a 2-0 win against VVV Venlo the previous night, after a tough game. ADO Den Haag – Ajax, besides being a national football classic, pitted a candidate for the championship against one for degradation. The club from The Hague has been having difficulties for quite some time. And in order no avoid a tricky situation their four point deficit couldn’t increase.

For ADO Den Haag, a home match against Ajax qualifies as the most exciting match of the year. Hosting Ajax was also the chance for ADO to present themselves in a positive light. The Den Haag natives would rather forget last week. After a drawn out soap opera, coach Raymond Atterveld was dismissed, and club icon Lex Schoenmaker was brought back to support the interim duo Maurice Steijn en Bob Kootwijk.

The new influence of the interim coaching duo and Schoenmaker seemed to be yielding results before the break. The yellow and green clad hosts had the best opportunities. Six minutes before halftime, ADO rightfully should have taken the lead. Jens Toornstra avoided an offside on the right side, and Karim Soltani got a golden opportunity. The forward missed his chance by kicking over the ball instead of against it, scarcely one meter from the Ajax goal.

Until their big break came, Ajax had to make do with smaller chances for Luis Suarez, Marko Pantelic and Siem de Jong. They couldn’t make much happen during the first half. The only Ajax players who stood out were De Jong (exceptional preparation work), Eyong Enoh (tireless controller) and Maarten Stekelenburg (sharp and reliable as always). The keeper had been an obstacle for Andres Oper earlier. The forward was freed up beautifully by Soltani, but “Steek”got to the ball sooner than the former Roda JC player.

Stekelenburg was equally exceptional after the break. The Ajax player threw himself onto substitute Lex Immers’shot. It said a lot that the keeper had another chance to show what he can do. Dennis Rommendahl (for Pantelic) and Christian Eriksen (for Anita) brought fresh blood to Ajax. The team tried to get ahead, but kept running into trouble, such as Enoh’s yellow card. The Cameroonian will therefore be suspended for the home game against VVV Venlo.

Rommendahl almost became the ‘golden substitute’ player. The right forward’s shot ended up on top of substitute keeper Barry Diteweg’s goal. Soon after, De Jong and Suarez put the opposing keeping under fire, but the critical first goal still didn’t come. Ditewig personified the problems that the home team experienced. The keeper earned a red card after colliding with De Zeeuw. Ditewig, who had replaced an injured Zwinkels moments earlier, had to leave the field. As ADO was out of keepers, Ricky van den Bergh put on the keepers’ shirt and gloves.

“ADO just didn’t let us get into a rhythm”, said Martin Jol in retrospect. “We knew that ADO could be tough, and we could have made things easier on ourselves, at the right times. Ricky van den Bergh is no Jan van Beveren. But once he was in the goal, I didn’t see a single shot on goal for seven, eight minutes. We just kept attacking over the flank. Sometimes, our shot was blocked. You actually need a shot from a creative player.”

During extra time, which was seven minutes long, Toby Alderweireld’s header’s was blocked at the goal line by Toornstra. Then Eyong Enoh’s header went over. The Ajax defender from Belgium had luck on his side soon afterwards. Not even one minute after his header, Alderweireld shot the ball straight into the upper corner. Ajax’s finally got their desired lead: 0-1. Forepark stadium, which until then had been lively, became quiet.

“Fortunately, Toby’s goal came through”, continues Jol. “In the end, we scraped by. ADO could also have won. But realistically, if you look at the opportunities and corners...ADO played mostly to keep us in check. Luckily, Toby nailed the ball into the upper corner. We don’t win very many matches with a 1-0 score, unlike some other teams.”

The small celebration afterwards in the Ajax locker room showed relief and happiness. Ajax is still in the championship race. With four matches to go, anything can still happen.

Take a look later at the summary and reactions from Ajax after the game at ADO Den Haag on Ajax TV.