Four goals, three points in Wednesday night’s fightback victory

“Doing it the hard way.”

Regardless of where Ajax end up finishing in May, the review of their 2016-17 season will hang under a similar banner.

10 minutes into the second half of Wednesday night’s clash with AZ, Wout Weghorst was left all alone to chase down a long ball over the top of the defence and head beyond the oncoming Onana to draw the Alkmaar side level.

The inconsistency that has plagued Ajax’s season was threatening to strike again. Just days after a monumental victory in De Klassieker, Peter Bosz’s men were now staring down the barrel of a result which, with Feyenoord putting poor Go Ahead Eagles to the sword over at De Kuip, would yet again undo all the hard work of the past week.

Unsurprisingly, the news did not escape those of a different persuasion 50 miles or so South of the ArenA. As Ajax supporters at Groningen last month had learnt though, and were- in light of Wednesday night’s events- hypocritically being criticised and mocked over, it’s better to leave the celebrating till after the games are finished. He who laughs last, and all that.

Ajax were not about to give up their last hopes of stealing the Eredivisie title from their Rotterdam rivals, and in the last half an hour turned up the dial and put the pedal firmly to the metal to return to their blistering best. Goals from Davison Sánchez, Lasse Schöne and Amin Younes secured a 4-1 win, keeping de Godenzonen within striking distance of the leaders just 3 points behind.

Settle down, Rotterdam.

Brimming with confidence from their derby win on Sunday, Ajax pinned AZ into their own half in the first period and took just 16 minutes to race into the lead. The returning Justin Kluivert fired in the perfect cross from the right and Bertrand Traore smashed home his seventh goal of the season beyond Tim Krul, who of course began the season as an Ajax player himself.

Kluivert, giving the side much needed energy so shortly after such an intense Klassieker, nearly doubled the lead before the break but saw his effort kept out by Krul after a fine solo run. Traore then headed a good chance wide, and Ajax- even without captain Davy Klaasen who had to leave the field after suffering a bad knock to the leg- were in cruise control.

Yet 10 minutes into the second half, out of nowhere Ajax hit a major bump in the road. Perhaps in disbelief that AZ had even bothered to cross the halfway line at last, Ajax’s defence completely stopped as a long through ball sailed over their heads. Andre Onana came rushing out to meet the ball, but could not get their ahead of familiar nemeses Weghorst who nodded beyond the Ajax keeper and into an empty net. That was Weghorst’s third goal of the season against the Amsterdammers, after netting twice in the 2-2 reverse fixture earlier in the season.

Moments later Onana denied Alireza Jahanbakhsh at full-stretch, and incredibly- after the most comfortable of first halves, Ajax were now on the back foot and in dire need of some reinvigoration.

That warning served to awaken Ajax from their slumber, and under strict order of Peter Bosz, played the remainder of the fixture at full throttle. Davinson Sanchez eased fears in the ArenA by restoring the lead on 71 minutes with a sublime overhead kick, the defender’s celebration sadly not quite as impressive as his finish.

It was 3-1 shortly after, as Traore was brought down in the box and Lasse Schöne made no mistake with the resulting penalty. Ajax were not finished there though, and Amin Younes added the icing on the cake in the 88th minute, finishing coolly beyond Krul after latching on to a sensational downfield punt from Onana, his first assist of the season to add to an incredible catalogue of clean sheets and saves.

Ajax had once again shown the determination and resilience needed to grind out 3 points against stubborn opposition, leaving coach Peter Bosz a very happy man.

Speaking post-match, he said, “We were initially on top, we had many chances and scored. Then you hope that it will become 2-0 or 3-0, but after the break we became messy and AZ started to play better.”

“We reacted very badly to the setback, that was not a good phase. But after that we took control, and in the end deserved to win. I’m pleased that this ended well and overall I’m a satisfied coach.”

Ajax now enter the final stretch of the season with 5 league games, as well as a Europa League quarter-final tie with Schalke, remaining. The season has reached its most critical point, and at this stage every match is a cup-final. If Ajax are to take home some silverware, then they must continue to perform with the same spirit and fight that led them to Wednesday’s 4-1 win.

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