The result in Woudestein stadium had, in terms of results, quite some similarities with the way Ajax closed the first half of the 2013-2014 season. Last year, in the Roda JC away match, it was Jairo Riedewald who put the team on the winning path. On Sunday, it was Mike van der Hoorn who was Ajax’s super sub and raised his team to victory. “I think it’s great for Mike himself”, said Frank de Boer.
It was one year ago that Riedewald was hoisted onto his team mates’ shoulders after a winning goal in Kerkrade. Ajax was stumped against a 1-0 deficit but still won the game 1-2, earning the winter championship. At the end of 2014, it was Van der Hoorn who, right in front of the stands full of Ajax fans, could have been hoisted onto his team mates’ shoulders. But that didn’t happen – it would have been too much. But Van der Hoorn had been (nearly) as important to his team as Riedewald had been last year.
“You know it can be tough here, partly because the field is so small”, said Frank de Boer, looking back on the match at Excelsior with which Ajax ended 2014. “Excelsior really dug in, which is completely their right. It was up to us to find a solution. But we weren’t able to do that for a long time. Excelsior kept getting more dangerous. They could have, rightfully, taken the lead. Excelsior definitely had a one-hundred per cent chance.”
The Ajax coach was, from the start, very vocal. The verbal and non-verbal body language betrayed De Boer’s dissatisfaction. Until the closing phase, Ajax didn’t manage to poke a hole in the Rotterdam defensive wall. De Boer: “That’s why I went for broke: with three defenders, three midfielders and four forwards.” Mike van der Hoorn, a defender, was brought in as a forward. Earlier on, striker Richairo Zivkovic had also been brought in.
Van der Hoorn’s entry proved to be a golden substitution. The super-sub scored directly on his first contact with the ball. After the Rotterdam morale had finally been broken, Zivkovic brought the final score to 0-2. “Fantastic that Mike scored. This is great, especially for Mike. He hasn’t been having the easiest time of his career. And he was cheered on by the supporters afterwards. I haven’t heard that very often. Mike has done a good job in the past six months. He’s taken big steps.”
Ajax and De Boer finally got what they had been fervently wishing for: a win to end 2014 with a good feeling. The manner in which the win was secured was difficult, to say the least. De Boer was realistic: “You could say that this was a stolen win. Especially considering the opportunities that Excelsior had compared to the ones we had, ourselves. It was poor, today. Bad. In the end, I’m relieved that we’re taking three points back to Amsterdam. Right now, that’s the most important thing. I hope that we can re-charge our batteries for the second half of the season. Today, it was clear that we need to. It’s important to end the last match with a good feeling.”