Even with ten men, Ajax remains on course for the title

Even with ten men, Ajax remains on course for the title

On the day that Ajax honoured its former Ajax 1 players with a reunion, the 113 year old club didn’t falter in its quest for the national title. Heracles Almelo was handed a 4-0 loss in the Amsterdam ArenA. The red card earned by Kenneth Vermeer was the only sour note of the afternoon.

At kick-off of Ajax – Heracles, title contenders PSV and Vitesse were even with Ajax in terms of points. The Eindhoven and Arnhem players had already won their Saturday matches. Last week, Ajax was able to take advantage of squandered points by PSV and Feyenoord. They did this by beating NEC. The Eredivisie leader increased its lead on its nearest competitors to three points. One week after meeting the Nijmegen team, the full lead needed to be restored. On Sunday at 4:30p.m., the first of the six remaining matches, which must result in the current champion winning its 32nd title, was kicked off.
Earlier this season in Almelo, the Amsterdam team had shown what not to do. A 3-1 lead was snatched away in the last half hour (3-3) by coach Peter Bosz’ team. On that particular Saturday in 2012, Ajax had suffered a costly loss of point on the artificial turf of Heracles. In the return match taking place in the ArenA, Heracles centre forward Geoffrey Castillion (loaned out to the Almelo team by Ajax this season) seemed poised to put his team in the lead. Kenneth Vermeer’s excellent reflexes prevented an early goal against.
Soon after, Kolbeinn Sigthórsson seemed ready to strike on the opposite end of the field. The Icelander came face to face with Remco Pasveer, but couldn’t convert his one hundred per cent opportunity into a goal. From the ‘Engelenbak’ – which was the special stand for the invited former players on the occasion of the reunion – Henk Groot and Ruud Geels must have been gritting their teeth as they watched. Ajax’s top shooters from yore would most likely not have wasted such a tremendous opportunity. There’s a reason why Groot and Geels are among Ajax’s most prolific scorers ever.
After Sigthórsson’s missed shot, it was Niklas Moisander’s turn. The Fin’s header, which had landed in the goal, was disqualified as offside. After Lasse Schöne had seen his first attempt bounce of Pasveer’s body, he (and Ajax) hit the mark three minutes later. An impeccable one-two with Kolbeinn Sigthórsson was coolly rounded off by the Danish Ajax player. Ajax also had many more opportunities in the remainder of the first half. Sigthórsson (shot over), Viktor Fischer (over) and Fischer again (save by Pasveer) were unable to increase Ajax’s lead before the break. Because Toby Alderweireld was able to stop a shot by Castillion at the very last moment, the goal count before the break remained at one.
The 1-0 halftime score formed a parallel with the Ajax – Heracles game from last season. At the end of last season, Ajax scored five goals after the break. The 6-0 win that day was played in a special Ajax jersey bearing the ‘Fonds Gehandicaptesport’ (Sports fund for the disabled). Just as in 2012, Ajax’s head sponsor AEGON relinquished its spot on the red and white jersey for this home game against Heracles to the fund which, among other things, enables people with disabilities to practice sports. At this home game, funds were collected for the organization.
The beginning of the second half was tumultuous. There was negative tumult when Vermeer floored Castillion, who had broken through. The Ajax keeper got to the ball too late and was punished with a red card for his error in judgment. Substitute keeper Jasper Cillessen made himself known immediately by grabbing solidly onto Lerin Duarte’s tricky free kick. The fact that the ten-man home team scored another goal directly was more than welcome. Sigthórsson was the author of the second goal: 2-0. Ajax’s second goal of the afternoon brought a positive charge to the sold-out Amsterdam ArenA.
One minute later, a slight panic broke out when Cillessen remained on the ground after a frontal collision with his right back, Ricardo van Rhijn. But the second goal keeper turned out to be fine. Cillessen played the match – despite his headache – without any problem. Substitute Ryan Babel also made his presence felt in a good way. After an hour, Babel came in for Sigthórsson. The Ajax man only needed about ten minutes before he struck. The rush over Schöne’s right was crowned with a good shot. Even with one man down, Ajax had sealed the deal.
Christian Eriksen’s goal was a wonderful treat. The Dane subtly curved the ball from the left side into the far corner behind Pasveer: 4-0. Last week, Fischer had given all Ajax fans and football lovers something to enjoy with his Bergkamp – like lob against NEC. It was also another Danish Ajax player who provided the highlight against Heracles.
Ajax thus travels as the league leader to Eindhoven next week for the competition top match against PSV. The lead against contenders PSV and Vitesse is ‘only’ three points. Who knows, perhaps Ajax can deal a deciding blow in the race for the title in Brabant.
Keep watching Ajax TV for highlights of Ajax – Heracles Almelo, and reactions from Frank de Boer and several Ajax players after.