Wiljan Vloet and Danny Blind were clear about the poor match that was Sparta - Ajax. ,,If we could have beaten Ajax once, it was today", said Sparta coach Vloet. Ajax coach Bind was happy with the win, but disappointed about his team's play: ,,For an hour we played terribly." Two goals by Nigel de Jong gave Ajax the hard-fought three points: 1-2.
Especially the very pooor first half of Ajax, hurt coach Blind. ,,It's bad enough that we play bad football, but with all the injuries we have - Ajax missed ten players - at least that is understandable."
The coach was particularly displeased with the attitude and morale of his men. ,,Working hard is also part of the game. During halftime, we did not talk about football at all.''
Particularly in the first half, goalkeeper Hans Vonk had to do more than expected. The Ajax goalie kept a clean sheet in sometimes miraculous fashion.
Just when Ajax seemed to get more grip on the match, shortly after halftime, Sparta took the lead when former Ajax player Anthony Obodai found Sjaak Polak who finally defeated Vonk: 1-0.
Shortly after, Blind brought on Nourdin Boukhari and Yannis Anastasiou for Ryan Babel and Markus Rosenberg. But the coach did not think it were the substitutes that turned the match around. ,,Only after the 1-0, the team realised that things weren't going well. It were mainly the circumstances that triggered something."
Luckily, Ajax always have one player who takes the team on his back during difficult times. Nigel de Jong gave his team the necessary boost. A minute after the Sparta goal, the midfielder made it 1-1. De Jong put a cross from the right flank past Sparta goalie René Ponk. The midfielder dedicated his goal to his recently deceased friend Luciano van den Berg, who was killed in a car crash. De Jong's hand signs toward the heavens were telling and emotional. After his second goal, he repeated the ritual.
,,Nigel is a guy who finds the positive in everything'', said Blind. ,,He is a player with a lionheart, who has a tireless drive to get into the box. We were lucky he saved the match for us.''
Ajax gained momentum from the equaliser and went on the offensive. Steven Pienaar provided the cross and De Jong headed it in: 2-1.
,,Luckily, and I say this with all due respect, we played Sparta today", Blind said. ,,Another opponent could have ended our title hopes. Our problem is mainly a lack of experience and scoring ability. We are very aware of that.''