Ajax go top with scrappy away win

Heerenveen 0 – 1 Ajax

Ajax travelled to the Abe Lenstra stadium to face a Heerenveen side whose form had been a bit unpredictable. A win would put Ajax at the top of the table for the first time in this season, with rivals Feyenoord playing later in the day.

Both teams began the match strongly, with a couple of chances early on at both ends. Nothing came close to beating either keeper, but it was clear that both sides were starting as they meant to go on, and both had the win in their eyes. Heerenveen almost punished a defensive error, but Ajax responded well, with Sinkgraven’s powerful shot being pushed wide.

Davy Klaassen came close to finding the opener, after Traoré lost possession, the Captain took the ball into the box but could only force a corner. The pace of the match continued to pick up, and Heereneen were knocking on the door. Sinkgraven allowed Van Amersfoort past him, but Onana came to the rescue to prevent the shot.

Sinkgraven picked up the first caution for a clumsy challenge on van Amersfoort.

The balance of the match began to shift in Heerenveen’s favour, as Ajax’s back four began to struggle with the long balls and the pace of their wingers. Reza Ghoochannejhad got the better of Viergever inside the box, but he should have done better with his shot, missing wide to the right.

Kasper Dolberg came agonisingly close to giving the Amsterdammers the lead in the 33rd minute, after a fantastic cut back from Amin Younes, but the young Dane’s shot was uncharacteristically poor. At the other end, Onana made a decent save to deny van Amersfoort. The match was still end to end, the action relentless, but neither side could find the breakthrough.

Chances continued to come and go at both ends, but the shots were wayward and ineffective. In the middle of the pitch it was foul after foul, and neither side could do much with the constantly switching possession. At the end of injury time, Klaassen tested Mulder with an attempt from close range, but the keeper saved well.

Half Time Score: Heerenveen 0 – 0 Ajax

Seconds into the second half, Namli took down Dolberg as he sprinted past, giving Ajax a free kick in a dangerous area. Ziyech came close to converting the free kick, but missed narrowly to the right. Heerenveen responded by putting together an attack thwarted by Schöne, who put it behind for a corner. Both sides had come out from the break with the same mindset as the first half.

A bizarre moment occurred when play had to stop to allow Namli to swap shirts, as he had the wrong number on his back.

Heerenveen began to control possession, and the Amsterdammers struggled to break out of their half. The home supporters in the Abe Lenstra stadium were loud and commanding, cheering Heerenveen with every attempt they had. Ajax on the other hand were providing nothing to cheer about. Even when they managed to create an attacking move, it was one sloppy pass, one mistimed run, one heavy touch after another.

Amin Younes’ meagre shot at the end of Ajax’s first positive attacking threat for ten minutes summed up their night. No conviction or quality. Bertand Traoré had his own terrible shot ruin an attack, getting the ball in space on the right, but his peculiar, wayward technique sent the ball sailing into the crowd. Never the one to be outdone, Younes provided what would be undeniably the worst attempt in the best opportunity for Ajax. After dribbling into the centre of the box, the German winger needed only to get it past Mulder from close range, but the ball went flying over the crossbar.

Despite the abysmal finishing, it was positive from Ajax, as they finally looked capable of creating chances. Donny van de Beek finally provided Ajax with the best chance yet, and Davy Klaassen delivered. The 23 year old dribbled around Mulder to take his shot, giving Ajax an undeserved lead.

Holding onto their precarious lead, Ajax slowed the pace of the game, but Heerenveen were still moving the ball well and creating chances. Younes found himself in space in the opposition box, but Mulder closed him down to take the ball. Traoré’s follow up shot may well have left the stadium. The Burkina-Faso winger didn’t have his shooting boots on.

Sinkgraven made way in the 83rd minute for youngster De Ligt, strengthening Ajax’s defence.

Ajax had a very strong shout for a penalty, when Marzo made contact with Klaassen in the box, but referee Danny Makkelie deemed the captain to have dived, despite the clear contact. Tensions began to rise on the pitch, with Younes, Klaassen, Simon Thern, and Joost van Aken all picking up yellows within eight minutes.

Traoré came off with what appeared to be a thigh/hamstring injury, putting to end a poor showing from the winger. Substitue Cassierra had a close shot saved by Mulder at the death.

Ajax looked exhausted as the minutes ticked away, struggling to create any space or deal with Heerenveen’s attacks. The Amsterdammers held out, however, managing to keep the ball in possession long enough for the final whistle to end a long fought and scrappy victory.

A poor performance from Ajax, but one just good enough to take the top spot of the Eredivisie. A resolute Heerenveen deserved more from the game, but they couldn’t the quality when it mattered. 

Full Time Score: Heerenveen 0 – 1 Ajax

Man of the Match: Davy Klaassen

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