Most supporters would barely bat an eyelid if their club went two matches without a win. For some, it is even routine.
Ajax, however, are not any old club. It is written in the DNA of every player, manager and supporter of this great club that the most im. So when de Godenzonen go two matches without tasting victory, it constitutes somewhat of a mini-crisis.
It was imperative, therefore, then that Ajax got back to winning ways this Sunday on home ground, against an FC Twente side simply playing for pride, with a ban on playing European football hanging over them for next season due to last season’s financial troubles.
After last weekend’s disappointing draw in Groningen, and Thursday night’s defeat in Copenhagen (the first of 2017), the supporters were naturally more nervous than usual, and the atmosphere in the ArenA was more restive than raucous.
On the field, Joël Veltman and Davinson Sánchez came back into the side after seeing out suspensions for the Europa League tie, their absence especially evident in the goals conceded against the Danish outfit.
Manager Peter Bosz also restored Hakim Ziyech to the starting line-up after he missed the loss in Copenhagen, but the midfielder couldn’t inspire the opening goal in a first half that Ajax dominated, but failed to net in.
It was almost immediately clear that Twente were to deploy a gameplan adopted by so many opponents now in the ArenA- frustrate, defend deep and then counter at speed. Ajax struggled with their opponent and, except for a few scarce moments, were unable to impose themselves.
Veltman and Ziyech twice linked up to create opportunities for the other, the latter seeing a near-post shot saved well by Twente keeper Marsman before the Dutch defender volleyed onto the roof of the net.
Bertrand Traoré received perhaps the biggest opportunity of the first half, but the African forward, who struggled all afternoon, wasn’t able to capitalize on a taylor-made pass from Younes and shot well wide. At the other end, Twente created just a couple of first-half opportunities; Bersant Cerlina’s header and a shot by Kamohelo Mokotjo both failing to seriously trouble Andrey Onana in the Ajax goal.
Ten minutes into the second half, with the nerves beginning to increase amongst the Ajax support, it was the returning Younes who finally broke the deadlock as he swept home Davy Klaassen’s pull back. Twelve minutes later, Younes then turned provider as he set up leading scorer Kasper Dolberg, who skipped past Marsman to slot home his 13th goal of the league campaign.
— AjaxDaily (@ajaxdailydotcom) March 12, 2017
With Twente’s resistance finally broken and the game effectively over as a contest, Bosz turned to the bench and brought on youngsters Justin Kluivert, Matthijs de Ligt and Donny van de Beek for another chance to impress on the first team stage.
It was to be the more experienced Ziyech though who produced the game’s last moments of magic inside the final 5 minutes of the contest.
Firstly the Moroccan picked up the loose ball 30 yards from goal after great defensive work by van de Beek, setting off an a mazy run beyond 4 Twente defenders before seeing a well-struck shot superbly pushed wide of the far post by Marsman.
3 minutes later, he again found himself in the box after ghosting past Joachim Andersen, this time squaring with a delightful chip over the goalkeeper for Dolberg to bag his second of the afternoon, and put the icing on the cake.
In the end, it was a comfortable win for Peter Bosz’s men to keep them within 4 points of leaders Feyenoord with 8 games of the season remaining. The boss, however, was again left frustrated with his side’s first half-performance which he described as ‘awful.’
Speaking after the game, Bosz said, “Today, luckily we only needed one half to win this game.” He added, “Our first half was horrible. I was so angry and I hope I never have to see that again. We turned it around in the second half. That’s when I saw the Ajax we all want to see, with venom in our eyes and real aggression.”
Praising the returning Hakim Ziyech, Bosz commented, “I thought he was having a hard time at the start, but he picked up really well after that. He was outstanding in the second half. I’m maybe preaching to the choir here, but he made a great impression.”
Next up for his side, a trip to Rotterdam to face lowly Excelsior. With Feyenoord also facing a tough trip north to Heerenveen, it could again prove to be an exciting matchday with important consequences for the Eredivisie title race.