After winning the first two matches after the winter break, spirits were high at Ajax. But the club could not win against ADO Den Haag a week ago (0-0) in a home match and this Sunday, visitors FC Twente came away with three points: 1-2. Numbers two AZ now have a lead of eight points in the table and PSV ten. ,,After our good start after the break, we knew we had to get six points at home against ADO and Twente'', coach Ronald Koeman said. Ajax only gathered one point. ,,And that hurts.''
Early in the match, all seemed to go well. With Nigel de Jong replacing the injured Zdenek Grygera in the heart of the defence and Ryan Babel on the left wing instead of Nicolae Mitea, Ajax shot out of the gate.
After only six minutes, Ajax had the lead when Julien Escudé headed in a good corner kick by Rafael van der Vaart. The crowd sensed a high-scoring match and chanted 'ten'. But there would not even be a second Ajax goal. The home side lost the grip on the match, and Ajax lost Ryan Babel after 22 minutes with a thigh injury. He was replaced by Mitea.
Ajax's defence was out of position in the 36th minute and Blaisse N'Kufo was given an open path to the goal. The strong Twente striker does not miss those chances often and he made it 1-1. ,,That was a mental blow for us'', Koeman declared. ,,We were fighting against ourselves.''
And it got worse. After 67 minutes Twente made it 1-2 through a goal by Touma when Vonk could not clear the ball. Six minutes later, Koeman brought on Yannis Anastasiou and Steven Pienaar for Mitea and Van der Vaart. ,,We started playing better after that, but we could not convert the chances'', the coach said.
In the closing minutes, when Twente's Ramon Zomer had been sent off, Ajax almost forced a draw. But tries from Charisteas, De Jong, Rosales and Anastasiou all just missed the mark.
There is hardly time for Ajax to recover. Monday all the internationals leave to play with their national teams. Koeman has only a few days to prepare his team for the away matc against NAC. Rafael van der Vaart will sit out that match, as he was given his fourth yellow card against FC Twente.