Five minutes before the end of the match, the one thing that all Ajacieds feared came true. Uros Djurdjevic shot Vitesse to a well-deserved 1-0 win in the Gelredome. After this flop in the Gelredome, the national title seems further out of reach than ever before for an Ajax team whose game seems very much below par.
Davy Klaassen was fit enough for a starting spot in the Gelredome. The midfielder’s fighting spirit and ingenuity had been sorely missed in last week’s Classic (0-0 against Feyenoord). Thulani Serero embodied the Amsterdam team’s doom in this 20th round of play. The South African was in Sunday’s match selection, but at the last minute, was deemed unfit to play. Jairo Riedewald got the nod to be the starting midfield controller. Midfield was completed by Lucas Andersen. Lasse Schöne, Arek Milik and Anwar El Ghazi were the forwards in Frank de Boer’s line-up.
Both Vitesse and Ajax needed a win. Badly. Leader PSV increased the pressure on Ajax by defeating Willem II. In order to remain in the race, nothing less than a win in the Gelredome would suffice for the current title holder. Moreover, Vitesse had had the upper hand in the cup match in the Amsterdam ArenA earlier this season: 0-4. The disappointment at this glitch could be remedied against the same Vitesse team. The forward who had hurt Ajax with two goals during that cup match, Bertrand Traoré, returned from the Africa Cup last week. The international from Burkina Faso was in the starting line-up.
The Arnhem team started 2015 with dramatic results. During the entire season, except for a few exceptions such as the game in the ArenA, Vitesse has posted very unimpressive results. Vitesse thus have lost to PSV, FC Groningen (cup) and sc Heerenveen during this calendar year. The losses to the Groningen team (4-0) and the Fries team (4-1) cup Peter Bosz’s men deeply. Captain Guran Kashia’s suspension may as well have been a death sentence. The Georgian got a red card in the disappointing midweek game against Groningen. Bosz posted Israeli Dan Mori on the free position in the defensive heart. After three losses in a row, Vitesse was also desperate for a win. It was a recipe for a spectacular Eredivisie match in ‘the biggest theater of the Netherlands’ (as the Gelredome promotes itself).
The excitement in the ‘theatre play’ came from the home team before the break. The visitors provided only a very gloomy show. Klaassen did his best to give the necessary bite to the Amsterdam team’s play, but there were not many Ajax opportunities. Traoré had the first real opportunity; the African saw his attempt grabbed by Cillessen. Shortly after, a shot by Valeri Qazaishvilli went long. Niklas Moisander threw himself in front of a Davy Pröpper shot; the Finn thus saved Cillessen from having to take action.
Vitesse goaly Eloy Room had scarcely any contact at all with the ball in the first half. This illustrated how one-sided this Vitesse – Ajax match was. And it was equally telling that in before the break, the Ajax players barely got further than a blocked shot by Klaassen. Just like against Feyenoord, Ajax failed to impose itself. The play had no zest.
Things needed to change, but after the break things remained difficult for the visitors. Ajax didn’t appear for one moment to be capable of winning this match in the Gelredome. “Our last two matches didn’t give us much self-confidence”, had said De Boer prior to the match. The Ajacieds self-confidence even seemed to ebb away further with each Arnhem attack. Ajax was searching. Directly after the break, Vitesse pushed to solidify their dominance with a goal. It has been difficult for the Gelderland team this season to convert heavy possession into goals.
Ajax continued to struggle to create opportunities. El Ghazi (“the only Ajacied who was a threat”, according to De Boer) saw, in one of the few opportunities, his attempt blocked by former Ajax player Jan-Arie van der Heijden. Room was put to the test shortly after by the same Ajacied. Perhaps against his better judgment, he perhaps continued to hope for a last minute release; an uprising, such as PSV and FC Twente exhibited on Saturday. Both clubs secured their competition wins very late in the game.
It was the Vitesse team who decided the match. In the 85th minute, something happened that all 1200 Ajax fans who had made the trip had feared. Barely on the field for two minutes, Uros Djurdjevic outplayed his opponent Niklas Moisander. The Vitesse player struck coolly and precisely: 1-0. This blow proved to be the knock-out, although El Ghazi hit the post with a good shot in the final minutes.
The Amsterdam team can put a new championship out of their head for the time being. Their deficit on leader PSV is 9 points after the 20th round of play. The coming week will be exciting. What will Ajax do against AZ on Thursday in front of their home crowd? And will anything happen in the last days of the current transfer window? The transfer market closes on Monday at midnight.