Utrecht skins Ajax in the Arena

Utrecht skins Ajax in the Arena

Ajax didn’t manage to win its first Eredivisie home match of 2012. The Amsterdam team was once again defeated by FC Utrecht. After a 6-4 win for the home team in Utrecht, the Sunday early afternoon match ended at 0-2, thanks to two goals from Edouard Duplan.

An extensive program was planned around the first home game of 2012. About 170 former Ajax players had registered for the second reunion, and watched the match from the ‘Engelenbak’, which is a stand where the players’ wives used to sit. The former Ajax players must have been left cold by the game that took place before their eyes. In fact, FC Utrecht coaches Jan Wouters and Rob Alflen were also entitled to sit in the Engelenbak, but they were, obviously, otherwise occupied. They needed to lead their team to a victory, which is just what Ajax needed. They succeeded, meaning that after the game, Wouters and Alflen were two of the only former Ajax players to leave the ArenA with a smile on their faces. “We needed this win badly”, said Wouters. “Although Ajax played the field better, we deserved to win.”

Utrecht had two centre forwards at kick-off, as Wouters knew that Ajax would be playing with an inexperienced defence. De Boer was forced to improvise again. After the Klassieker, both Jan Vertonghen – suspended – and Miralem Sulejmani – with a knee injury – joined the already long list of unavailable players. “Injuries are not an excuse”, said Siem de Jong on Friday. “Ajax always needs to win.” But on defence of Ajax stood Jong Ajax players Ricardo van Rhijn and Dico Koppers, and Daley Blind stood in for Jan Vertonghen. Eyong Enoh played close to defence to support the inexperienced duo. Midfield was unchanged from the last few weeks, and Aras Özbiliz replaced Miralem Sulejmani in front.

Under the watchful eye of several former Ajax players, neither team made much impact in the first half. Loaned out Ajax player Rodney Sneijder, who had been passed over many times but appeared on the starting line-up today, saw his team almost score in the third minute via Alexander Gerndt, but his attempt went wide. Ajax had the most possession, but didn’t do much with it. Random attempts by Eriksen or De Jong were stopped easily by the opposing defence, and Özbiliz’s beautiful pass in the 30th minute was just too short for Ebecilio to convert. The greatest threat came after that, when Theo Janssen had a free kick. The acting captain’s shot went over. At the end of the first half, it seemed that Ajax was fired up, but it was exactly in this phase that Utrecht took advantage of a Kenneth Vermeer mistake. The keeper made a save from the left but didn’t play the ball away properly, and it landed at Duplan’s feet. The Utrecht player didn’t hesitate to put it in the goal in the fortieth minute, 0-1.

Theo Janssen remained in the locker room after the break with a groin injury. Nicolas Lodeiro replaced him, and Siem de Jong moved back a line and wore the captain’s band. “Utrecht has two tall players at the back, and we thought they may have problems with Lodeiro, who’s smaller”, explained De Boer of his decision for Lodeiro instead of Bulykin. To Ajax’s frustration, Utrecht did everything they could to stretch the game out; the keeper came out too much, forcing referee Makkelie to send him back, and Mark van der Maarel waiting so long to throw the ball back in that Makkelie had no choice but to give him a yellow card.

Utrecht waited for opportunities, relying on its closed defence, and Ajax stumbled on its opponent's closed wall. The home team lacked creativity in the second half, and when Ajax became sloppy after an hour, the guests came out of their shell again. Ajax got its best chance in the 68th minute via Siem de Jong and Lodeiro, as keeper Fernandez had abandoned his goal, but once again, nothing came to fruition. With twenty minutes left on the clock, Miralem Sulejmani came in for Ebecilio. The forward could only play for twenty minutes. In the 78th minute, it was all over for the Amsterdam team when Duplan pulled the trigger again, 0-2. Daley Blind went to the locker room, as Dmitry Bulykin had come in for him. The Russian forward did his best, coming close to a goal with a hard header, but couldn’t make the Engelenbak, or the rest of the stadium, cheer. Ajax lost again, and is still waiting for its first win of 2012. “We need to put our heads together, regroup and pull our sleeves up. We desperately need a win and will be working hard towards that, starting tomorrow.”