Ajax posted a narrow win on Sunday against Go Ahead Eagles, but did very well in terms of the competition. The 0-1 win gave the Amsterdam team sole possession of the top spot in the Eredivisie. Super substitute Lasse Schöne was the match winner in the Adelaarshorst.
With this win, Ajax took full advantage of the loss of points suffered earlier that afternoon by fellow title contender Vitesse, at the hands of NEC (1-1). The lead against arch rival Feyenoord was also increased. The Rotterdam team, who saw their cup aspirations evaporate last Wednesday evening in the ArenA, lost at ADO Den Haag 3-2 on Saturday.
Was it the transition from top matches against PSV and Feyenoord to a game against the well-respected, but less compelling Go Ahead Eagles? The inferior form that, at times, haunted Ajax in Deventer, was difficult to explain after two top victories. The fact was that Ajax’s play was quite shoddy at times in the lively Adelaarshorst, the Eagles’ home of football. After a first half during which the necessary opportunities were created, an identical halftime score to the one from Ajax – Go Ahead Eagles earlier this season was on the scoreboard. At the end of September, a 0-0 halftime score ended up very well for Ajax. Nobody expected Ajax to go on to clobber the recently promoted team from the Jupiler League 6-0 in the second half.
Ajax was sloppy against the Deventer team, especially in the first half. With right winger Lesley de Sa as the surprise player in the starting line-up, and Bojan on the left, the current national champion was actually better. The passed-over Viktor Fischer (who had been sick for a few days in the past week) and Lasse Schöne watched Ajax nurse their ball possession. This resulted in a colossal opportunity for centre forward Kolbeinn Sigthórsson in the third minute. The Icelander shot right into keeper Eloy Room’s hands at close range. After attempts from De Sa (in addition to one which had been sent over by Room), Go Ahead bared their fangs at times. The Amsterdam team, and the fans who had come along to fill up the sold-out visitor’s stand, saw Jeffrey Rijsdijk almost take advantage of a Joël Veltman error. The midfielder shot the ball over Jasper Cillessen’s goal. A bit later on in the decently entertaining match, Sjoerd Overgoor’s attempt slid just wide. The fact that the last big opportunity of the first half was for Deventer spoke volumes.
“We were careless, or perhaps Go Ahead was simply better at that stage of the game”, said Frank de Boer realistically about the last half hour before halftime. “But we did create opportunities in the first fifteen minutes.”
Ajax was forced to approach the game differently in the second half. Its new tactic and execution needed to be more focused, less sloppy, and above all, more effective. The domination from the games against PSV and Feyenoord (demonstrated by Ajax in, at least, the last hour of the game) seemed to have disappeared from the Amsterdam team’s play here.
In any case, Ajax had been warned about Go Ahead Eagles’ power at home. The Deventer team has been virtually unbeatable in the lively Adelaarshorst. In nine home games, Foeke Booy’s brigade has only lost against Vitesse. The English-like, carefully cultivated football atmosphere, plus support from the loyal home crowd, served the home team well against Ajax. Just like Ajax has in the ArenA, Go Ahead’s home crowd also acts as an excellent twelfth man. “From my time as a player, I remember that we never won easily in the Adelaarshorst”, said De Boer beforehand, in the prelude to the first competition meeting in Deventer since September 17, 1995. Ajax won that day, with De Boer as a defender on the field, 0-4. The result in 2013-2014 was much less convincing for the current champions.
After the break, the hunt for a clear, effective Amsterdam play, or simply a carefully planned out and executed attack, was on. One minute after coming on (for De Sa), Fischer didn’t manage to immortalize himself. The Dane saw his header turned away by Room. Schöne had also come on to reinforce the offensive line. The Danish right winger replaced Kolbeinn Sigthórsson, who was having an unlucky day, for the last 25 minutes. Bojan continued the game as a brand new centre forward. In the closing minutes, Christian Poulsen came is as a trustworthy lock on the door.
The much-awaited moment of glory did come for Ajax. Super substitute Schöne helped his team to the 1-0 win fifteen minutes before time. The multifunctional Dane shot his free kick into the red and yellow wall first, after which Schöne scored in the rebound. The goal seemed to lift an enormous weight off of Ajax’s shoulders. Three minutes after the opening goal, midfield controller Daley Blind sent a shot just wide. Bojan hit the crossbar with his swipe.
It was sink or swim for the Deventer team. And, athletically, the latter applied. After a tough afternoon in the Adelaarshorst, Ajax was crowned as the weekend’s big winner. The leader put two points between itself and Vitesse, and also increased its lead on Feyenoord. Round 20 of Eredivisie play was, all things considered, a resounding success.
“Fortunately, Lasse scored the 0-1 goal, we deserved that”, said De Boer after Ajax’s tenth shutout of the season. “We made it unnecessarily hard on ourselves. And of course we could have done better, but this team deserves praise. We’re going home with three points and not many teams have managed to do that. That’s a great feeling.”