In this dress rehearsal for the European duel against Saltzburg, Ajax posted a 3-0 win against sc Heerenveen. Lasse Schöne, who was brought to the Netherlands by Heerenveen when he was a teenager, single-handedly ensured the victory. With his hat trick, he provided Ajax with the win, enabling Ajax to distance itself even further from fellow title contenders Vitesse and Feyenoord.
Although Ajax’s recent results have been inconsistent, with a narrow win against FC Groningen and a tie against Utrecht and PEC Zwolle, the team remained the only one in the Eredivisie to be undefeated after the winter break. Ajax was intent on keeping this status intact after the match against Heerenveen. Moreover, a good result would be very welcome considering next week’s agenda, which contains matches against Saltzburg on Thursday and AZ on the weekend. Also, in the sold-out ArenA, the coach hoped to finally post a win against Marco van Basten, since the three previous matches with De Boer and Van Basten as head coaches have all ended in draws.
With the return of Nicolai Boilesen (just turned 22) at left back and Jasper Cillessen in the goal, coach Frank de Boer was once again able to start his ideal eleven. In contrast, Van Basten was forced to make do without four of his defenders, and again had to piece a solution together for his already vulnerable defense.
Ajax had a dream start. As in almost every match, coach De Boer’s team fanatically forced their opponents back into their own half from the very first whistle. In the third minute, the opening goal should have been behind keeper Kristoffer Nordfeldt when Niklas Moisander sent the ball, after an extended corner, onto the post. Shortly after, Viktor Fischer did score the 1-0 goal, but the Dane has the misfortune that the referee – unjustly – dismissed the goal at his linesman’s indication. “That was bitter”, said De Boer afterwards. “Because that goal came from the kind of football that we want to see.”
Five minutes later, Siem de Jong seemed to be on the way to scoring, but once in the penalty kick zone, Joey van den Burg hauled the captain down. Van Boekel pointed to the spot and Lasse Schöne sent Nordfeldt into one corner and scored into the other one, 1-0. Ajax doubled the score in the eighteenth minute. Again via a penalty kick – now after hands – and again via Schöne, who scored in the other corner this time, 2-0.
But the fans still didn’t dare to cheer completely. After all, it had been earlier this season in Heerenveen that the score had been 0-2 at eighteen minutes, too. And, by halftime, Ajax was down, 3-2. Fortunately, that scenario didn’t repeat itself in the Amsterdam ArenA. After the 2-0, the level of match certainly went down a notch, and there was a scuffle around Serero and Van Roon, but Ajax made it to the break with the lead intact.
In the second half, De Boer was forced to sideline Boilesen as a precaution. The left back, celebrating his birthday, was suffering from slight hamstring pain. Daley Blind took his position and Christian Poulsen came onto the field. In the 58th minute, hard-working Thulani Serero was substituted out in favour of Lerin Duarte. These were all of the changes.
Both teams had several opportunities, although Ajax came closest, via Serero. After an hour of play, Heerenveen took the initiative somewhat and had a few nice opportunities, where Finnbogason (wide long distance shot and header that went over) was the most dangerous man. The Icelander saw his countryman and fellow centre forward Kolbeinn Sigthórsson come in for De Jong. But it wasn’t Sigthórsson – although he did have the chance – who locked up the match, but Schöne. This time, the Ajax Player of the Match received the ball from Fischer and shot in directly, 3-0. “That’s a result that you can’t complain about”, said Heerenveen coach Marco van Basten. De Boer was quite positive, too: “I saw good football, but I want to see it for 90 minutes. You need to eliminate an opponent, and here Heerenveen still had hope that the ball would go in at some point.”