Ajax head and shoulders above NEC

Ajax’s win in Nijmegen was little more than a walk in the park. Quite literally.

NEC’s Goffert stadion home, situated amongst the forestry in the city’s Goffert Park, was the site of Ajax’s next comprehensive Eredivisie victory on Saturday night, as a sell-out crowd saw the Amsterdammers teach their local heroes a footballing lesson.

The Saturday evening start time was just one of several rarities to come from the fixture, though, for once, almost all worked in Ajax’s favour. The later kick-off certainly didn’t seem to affect the Ajax players though, as they raced out to a 3-0 lead inside the opening half an hour against their tired-looking opponents.

Peter Bosz made three changes to the side from the 4-1 midweek victory against AZ Alkmaar. Joël Veltman, suspended on Wednesday, returned to the squad ahead of the departing Kenny Tete. Daley Sinkgraven and Justin Kluivert dropped to the bench, David Neres and Matthijs de Ligt favoured instead. It was the Brazilian Neres that had the biggest impact in the early exchanges and played a pivotal role in the first two Ajax goals. First, his teasing low cross across the face of goal looking for the on-rushing Bertrand Traore was turned into his own net by the despairing NEC defender Wojceich Golla. 1-0 after only four minutes.

Then just four minutes later, Neres added his name to the scoresheet. The ball broke into the box following a tackle on Amin Younes, and the 20 year-old reacted quickest to ghost past the sleepy home defence and fire home.

If that upset the home crowd, then it was about to go from bad to worse as Ajax made it 3 and effectively wrapped up the game before the half time whistle had even sounded. That wasn’t before Younes had spurned an incredible chance though, improbably firing over an empty net after presented with another Neres cross from close range following more good link up play between him and Traore.

It was in the 32nd minute when the third goal finally arrived. Captain Davy Klaasen and Younes combined with a pair of one-twos on the edge of the area, before the former found Traore in the centre of the box. A quick turn later, and Traore had the simple task of rolling the ball beyond Joris Delle into the corner of the net. The NEC keeper was of more use in the final chance of the half, impressively keeping out Klaasen’s low drive to at least give the slightest glimmer of hope for his side at the interval.

That glimmer became a little brighter as NEC fought back to 3-1, nine minutes into the second half. The Ajax defence was caught lacking as a long ball downfield found substitute Ferdi Kadioglu in tonnes of space, and the teenage midfielder steadied himself before superbly lifting the ball over the onrushing Andrey Onana and into the back of the net, despite the best efforts of Joel Veltman on the line whose desperate header only served to divert the ball into the roof of the net.

However, any chance of a comeback was quickly snuffed out by Ajax who added their fourth on the hour mark. Younes jinked through the NEC defence before his cross was prodded into the path of Traore by Davy Klaassen and the striker netted his second.

The final 30 minutes of the contest were almost a non-event, with the intensity completely taken out of the game by the unassailable lead held by de Godenzonen. There was to be one more goal, however, as Hakim Ziyech did what he does best, weaving in and out of defenders with ease before poking past NEC keeper Delle to round off a great evening for the Ajax side.

Ajax’s margin of victory then was four, more than enough to ensure a happy return to Amsterdam and a confident start to preparations for a Europa League Quarter-Final with German giants Schalke 04. The mood was significantly improved some hours later though, as PEC Zwolle handed Ajax a huge favour by holding leaders Feyenoord to a 2-2 draw. The gap down now to just 1 point with 4 games to go. Peter Bosz and his side can truly believe that a chance at winning the Eredivisie title is possible.

Speaking after the game in Nijmegen, a beaming Bosz said, “I think that we did a great job. If you look at our third goal – how it started, how the attack flowed, how we played between the lines and finished off so beautifully. I really enjoyed that.” Even with several changes to the side, Ajax were able to completely outclass their opponent, something Bosz saw as a real positive sign. “Today, we showed that we have many very good players. For example, Jairo Riedewald came on as a substitute and performed very well. Neres also had a huge impact and played a role in the first two goals. But this is a great problem to have, isn’t it? It’s much better than having to scratching my head about who to put in the line-up.”.

The next few weeks will be perhaps the biggest of Bosz’s, and the members of his squad, careers. A historic double remains on the card, which will be decided over the course of the next few matches, both in Amsterdam and on the road. One thing is for certain, and that is it is sure to be one hell of a finish to the season!

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