Eagles Grounded – the demise of Go Ahead’s season

As the final whistle brought an unceremonious end to Go Ahead Eagles’ two year stay in the Dutch top flight, a defiant chant of “EAGLES TIL’ I DIE!” filled the early afternoon air at De Adelaarshorst. Muted applause mingled with jeers and whistles greeted the deflated players who made a sheepish lap of the pitch before taking refuge in the relative safety of the dressing room. The fans exchanged rueful glances and disbelieving shakes of the head; the Eagles would embark on their first campaign in European club competition since 1965-66, earned by virtue of a UEFA Fair Play place, as an Eerste Divisie club writes Steven Davies.

A 2-0 aggregate defeat over the two legs of the promotion/ relegation playoffs against De Graafschap, a side that could only finish sixth in the Eerste Divisie table, was too much for some fans to take; many letting their heroes know exactly what they thought.

The fans demanded far more from those who pulled on the famous red and yellow jersey.

The 2014/15 Eredivisie season had promised much for the Deventer club after a fairy tale first season back in the top flight since 1996. An impressive 13th place finish in 2013/14 had few putting the Eagles down for relegation with many backing the usual suspects: Willem II; the epitome of a yo-yo club if ever there was one, back in the top flight once more, Excelsior; perennial overachievers and largely dependent on the good graces of their bigger Rotterdam neighbours, Feyenoord, and FC Dordrecht; a team with a meagre budget, as most likely to be making the return journey to the Eerste Divisie come May.

The Eagles had defied the critics with a number of shrewd loan signings, a strong team spirit and crucially, a great home record. The club had lost a number of key individuals in the form of Jarchino Antonia, Erik Falkenburg and Xander Houtkoop, who collectively had netted 22 goals between them, but with the addition of Alex Schalk from NAC Breda, Giliano Wijnaldum from FC Groningen along with loan signings Lesley de Sa and Mickey van der Hart from Ajax; manager, Foeke Booy’s young team seemed well stocked for the season ahead.

This optimism was soon dispelled however as an opening day 3-2 home defeat at the hands of Groningen was followed swiftly by a similar reverse away from home at the hands of newly promoted Excelsior before the stuttering Eagles’ attack drew a blank in a frustrating home stalemate with nailed on relegation certainties, FC Dordrecht. One point from a possible nine after three fixtures that included two at home served as a dark portent of things to come.

A surprise 2-0 victory in the KNVB Beker at De Adelaarshorst against Feyenoord at the end of September was only the second success in the opening eight games of the season for the club in all competitions and swiftly followed by a reality check in the league as the Rotterdam giants returned a few days later, soundly thumping their cup conquerors 4-0.

The fact that the team mustered just nine goals in its opening eight games in all competitions was no doubt a worry to Booy and goal scoring would prove to be their Achilles heel as their strike rate over the course of the remainder of the season failed to improve. In all, the Eagles netted just 29 league goals while conceding 59; the 22 goals scored over the course of the previous campaign by Antonia, Falkenburg and Houtkoop were sorely missed.

Three wins in the remaining eleven games prior to the mid-season break did little to dispel the growing air of disquiet amongst those on the terraces; the Eagles’ once intimidating home had become anything but with only four wins, two draws (one of which was actually a defeat on penalties to FC Twente in the KNVB Beker) and four losses in all competitions prior to Christmas. Meanwhile, results on the road proved even harder to come by with the solitary victory at Utrecht in October their only success away from de Adelaarshorst; the Eagles losing five and drawing the remaining three.

The New Year brought renewed hope in the form of a pair of high profile loan signings; Glynor Plet, returning to the Netherlands from exile at Zulte-Waregem in Belgium and Wesley Verhoek, similarly on the outer at Feyenoord under Fred Rutten. Yet time would prove neither to be the answer to the Eagles’ attacking woes; a dismal 3 goals scored in 28 games between them. Verhoek, would be remembered as much for becoming the subject of the ire of the travelling Eagles’ support following the 1-0 reverse in the away leg of the promotion/ relegation playoffs against De Graafschap in Doetinchem, as having his block knocked off by Plet’s wayward howitzer against parent club, Feyenoord in De Kuip.

The second half of the season rapidly became something of a nightmare for the Deventer club with just three wins, two draws and an astounding twelve (fourteen, including the two legged promotion/ relegation playoff) defeats. In that time just seven goals were scored and a whopping twenty five conceded.

De Adelaarshorst became a welcome destination for visiting teams as the home side crumbled under the weight of expectancy of a demanding home support. This was illustrated most notably in the form of Mickey van der Hart’s air-swing clearance against reigning Landskampioen and parent club, Ajax; the ball bobbling awkwardly under the young goalkeeper’s left foot from team mate, Verhoek’s innocuous back pass and trickling into the back of the net.

With the fans patience wearing thin, things became increasingly hostile; left back Giliano Wijaldum was involved in an angry altercation with fans outside de Adelaarshorst in the wake of a home defeat to FC Twente, accused of not showing enough commitment to the cause as the Eagles nose-dived towards the promotion/ relegation playoff places.

Fleeting glimmers of hope came and went; a solitary home victory over ADO Den Haag in January, away successes against Zwolle the following month and the miraculous victory at De Kuip against Feyenoord in April.

Following the inevitable sacking of Foeke Booy as manager in March, Dennis Demmers oversaw the unprecedented victory in De Kuip; his only success while at the helm. The unexpected win which followed a seven match losing streak proved ultimately to be a false dawn. Even with the added support of former Bondscoach, Bert van Marvijk, who returned to the club in an advisory capacity, the club amassed a measly four points from its last six Eredivisie games; only NAC Breda and Excelsior, who themselves each garnered just three points, performed worse over the same period.

Overall the club won just seven games, drew six and lost an incredible twenty one amassing just twenty seven points; only FC Dordrecht had more defeats inflicted upon them over the course of the league season with twenty two. The fact that Alex Schalk finished the season as the club’s top scorer with a paltry four goals to his name told its own story.

The future now appears to be one of rebuilding both on and off the field for the club as they prepare to host European club competition at their adopted home, the Jens Vesting Stadion in Emmen (De Adelaarshorst undergoing a belated 21st Century face-lift over the the summer) as a second tier club once more.

Name-StevenDavies

Click on Steven’s name above to follow him on Twitter

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