Just a day after the conclusion of the previous round of action, the thirtieth round of Eredivisie fixtures got underway on Friday evening with visitors, Excelsior picking up three priceless points in their battle to avoid the drop against cross-city rivals and fellow strugglers, Sparta Rotterdam in a five-goal thriller at Het Kasteel.

Separated by just three points at the start of play and with both sides having suffered reversals in mid-week, each knew that a win was crucial, not least Mitchell van der Gaag’s men who, following a home defeat to FC Utrecht on Tuesday evening came into this encounter lying second off bottom in the standings.

Despite having lost three of their last four, it was the hosts who struck first through the unlikeliest of sources as Excelsior’s Ryan Koolwijk diverted a Martin Pusic effort into his own net with just ten minutes on the clock after a back-post scramble ensued following a Sparta corner from the right.

The home side could and should have doubled their advantage just two minutes later only for Paco van Moorsel to see his looping back post header cleared against the stranded Warner Hahn’s right hand upright by Jurgen Mattheij.

However, the visitors were undeterred and clawed their way back onto level terms thirteen minutes later through Nigel Hasselbaink who glanced the ball home from close range following a powerful back-post header from Mattheij after a Fredy Ribeiro corner from the left in the 23rd minute.

Coming into this derby clash, Excelsior had lost just one of their last five and hit the front a minute before the break – Stanley Elbers being played in by a glancing header from Mike van Duinen before slipping the ball between the legs of Roy Kortsmit to put the visitors into the ascendancy.

The visitors would extend their advantage three minutes into the second half – Hasselbaink bagging his second of the match and eighth of the season after being slipped in by an incisive through ball from Ribeiro.

Alex Pastoor’s troops rallied late in the match and found their way back into the contest three minutes from time through Pusic who, having seen Koolwijk take the unwanted credit for diverting the 29-year-old’s earlier effort into the back of his own net, the much-travelled Austrian forward bagged his third in Sparta colours following his January loan move from FC Midtjylland by stabbing the ball over the line after van Moorsel had drawn the attentions of Hahn in the 87th minute.

However, it was the away side who held on to ultimately take the local bragging rights as well as three vital points that saw van der Gaag’s side climb out of the bottom three and join their cross-city rivals on 28 points.

Saturday’s Eredivisie action got underway at the GelreDome where cup finalists, Vitesse Arnhem eased past visitors, Heerenveen thanks to a hat-trick from Ricky van Wolfswinkel.

The hosts were out of the blocks quickly with Navarone Foor bagging his second in as many games following a nice give-and-go with Chelsea loanee, Nathan with just five minutes on the clock before van Wolfswinkel headed home a Foor corner to double the home side’s advantage just short of the quarter hour mark.

Despite van Wolfswinkel rattling Erwin Mulder’s crossbar eight minutes later, it was the visitors who clawed themselves back into the contest just after the half hour mark – Luciano Slagveer sliding the ball past the exposed Eloy Room after latching on to an incisive through ball from Reza Ghoochannejhad.

Henk Fraser’s men had to wait until twenty minutes from time to restore their two-goal cushion – Van Wolfswinkel tapping home from close range following a marauding run by Alexander Büttner before the Dutch international claimed all three points and the match ball by sliding home a pinpoint cross from Milot Rashica fifteen minutes from time to make it 18 goals in the league this term and 19 in total for the 28-year-old who is now just a goal shy of Nicolai Jorgensen at the top of the Eredivisie goal-scoring charts.

A late Sam Larsson screamer came as scant consolation for Jurgen Streppel’s men whose push for a UEFA Europa League playoff place continues to falter.

Image result for NEC Nijmegen 1-5 AFC Ajax

With the first leg of their UEFA Europa League quarter final with Schalke 04 to come on Thursday evening at the Amsterdam ArenA, Ajax remained focused on the job in hand by hitting hosts, NEC Nijmegen for five on Saturday evening to move level on points with Feyenoord at the top of the standings ahead of the Rotterdam giant’s trip to Zwolle on Sunday afternoon.

When Wojciech Golla – with Bertrand Traore at his heels, slid a David Neres cross from the right into his own net with just four minutes on the clock the writing was on the wall for Peter Hyballa’s side who came into this encounter having lost four on the spin.

In truth the visitors barely got out of second gear as they doubled their advantage just four minutes later when an Amin Younes through ball found Brazilian starlet, Neres who had the simple task of slipping the ball past the exposed Joris Delle as the home side’s beleaguered rear guard appealed in vain for a flag that never materialised before Chelsea loanee, Bertrand Traore then skipped through more shambolic defending to make it three for Peter Bosz’s men just after the half hour mark.

Having been played off the park in the first half the hosts emerged for the second stanza with renewed vigour and, having seen a potential fourth goal for the hosts chalked off by referee Bas Nijhuis who adjudged that the ball had actually gone out of play prior to Klaassen squeezing the ball past Delle from the unlikeliest of angles seven minutes after the restart, clawed their way back into the contest just three minutes later through Ferdi Kadioglu, who had the presence of mind to lob Andre Onana delightfully from the edge of the box as the Cameroon international rushed off his line in an attempt to narrow the 17-year-old’s angle after the substitute had been found in acres of space on the left by a pinpoint diagonal from Mohamed Rayhi.

However, any thoughts of a comeback were dispelled on the hour mark as Traore bagged himself a brace – Younes skipping around a number of challenges before squaring for skipper, Davy Klaassen who then teed up the Chelsea loanee for his third goal in his last two games.

Hakim Ziyech put the icing on the cake by evading the attentions of three players before prodding Ajax’s fifth of the evening past Delle twelve minutes from time to keep the visitor’s title challenge on track while condemning the out-of-form hosts to a place in the bottom three with just four games left to play.

While NEC Nijmegen seem unable to halt their downward spiral, ADO Den Haag continue to pull clear of the dreaded bottom three – Alfons Groenendijk’s rejuvenated troops making it four wins from their last five outings by seeing off visitors, FC Groningen on Saturday evening.

Danny Bakker set the hosts on their way by deflecting home Aaron Meijers’ wayward shot with the inside of his left heel following an ADO corner from the left just short of the quarter hour mark before Dion Malone then doubled the home side’s advantage eight minutes later – the 28-year-old firing the ball past Sergio Padt after the ‘keeper had initially denied Edouard Duplan just seconds earlier as a Sheraldo Becker cross from the left sparked chaos in the visitor’s area in the 21st minute.

Both Becker and Mike Havenaar have appeared reborn under Groenendijk and the two combined for the host’s third of the evening on 23 minutes – Becker floating over a well-weighted cross from the right for the unmarked Japanese international to head home his fourth goal in his last four outings.

Any hope Ernest Faber’s men may have harboured of making a comeback seemed to be extinguished just minutes after the restart when Malone notched his second of the evening with a cheeky flick from close range after his surging burst into the box was picked out by a pinpoint cross from Meijers in the 47th minute.

However, Faber’s troops rallied thereafter and five minutes later were gifted a way back in the game – referee, Jeroen Manschot pointing to the spot after Jesper Drost was pulled down in the box by Malone leaving , Mimoun Mahi to slot home his twelfth of the season from the resultant penalty.

Bryan Linssen then fanned the flames of an unlikely Groningen comeback by lashing the visitor’s second past Robert Zwinkels from just outside the area after the hosts failed to clear a corner from the right in the 64th minute.

With time running out, Linssen was on hand once more to provide a tense finish by rolling home his second from a similar range in the third minute of added time but it ultimately proved too-little-too-late to salvage anything for Faber’s men whose hopes of a UEFA Europa League playoff place are now a fading memory.

Meanwhile, by virtue of this latest triumph, ADO now find themselves just two points off Groningen and crucially, three points clear of the drop-zone.

Saturday’s Eredivisie action was concluded at De Adelaarshorst where a week that started so promisingly for hosts, Go Ahead Eagles ended in despair as the home side were hit for four in front of their own fans by local rivals, Heracles.

Having ushered in the Robert Maaskant era with renewed optimism following just their second away league victory of the season against another local rival – FC Twente last Sunday afternoon, the hosts had endured a miserable evening at De Kuip in mid-week – being hit for eight by their title-chasing hosts in a morale crushing defeat and, when Elvis Manu was shown a red card by referee, Edwin van de Graaf just twelve minutes in – the Brighton loanee having been adjudged to have handled a goal-bound Brandley Kuwas effort, things began to unravel once more for Maaskant’s men after Thomas Bruns subsequently put the visitors into the ascendancy from the spot in the thirteenth minute.

The home side’s brittle confidence was all too visible thereafter as John Stegeman’s men proceeded to pull the home defence to pieces – Samuel Armenteros – who had earlier escaped punishment following what appeared to be a blatant hand-ball in the visitor’s area minutes before Manu’s dismissal for a similar offence at the other end of the field, doubling the away side’s advantage from close range after home ‘keeper, Theo Zwarthoed could only parry a Kristoffer Peterson strike before Peterson made it three with just 21 minutes on the clock – the 22-year-old Swede gliding past two defenders before curling the ball into the top left hand corner of Zwarthoed’s net from the edge of the box.

With Wednesday’s capitulation still fresh in the mind, the home side rallied thereafter and clawed their way back into the contest just a minute later through a spectacular strike from Arsenal loanee Daniel Crowley – the 19–year-old cutting in from the left before evading the attentions of Tim Breukers and curling the ball delightfully into the top left hand corner of the net with visiting ‘keeper, Bram Castro left rooted to the spot.

However, any hopes Maaskant’s troops may have harboured about making a comeback were dispelled just before the interval when Sander Fischer was adjudged to have brought down Robin Gosens in the host’s area by referee, van de Graaf – leaving Swedish hot-shot, Armenteros to add a killer fourth from the spot by sending Zwarthoed the wrong way.

The home side tightened up following the resumption and could have made a game of it had a Sam Hendriks’ free kick cannoned off the inside of Bram Castro’s left hand upright as opposed to the outside eighteen minutes from time.

Meanwhile, at the other end, despite failing to add to their lead the away side continued to threaten – Reuven Niemeijer hitting the base of Zwarthoed’s right hand upright with a quarter of an hour to go.

Having conceded twelve goals in their last two outings, Maaskant’s men are now staring relegation square in the face as the Eagles now find themselves five points adrift at the foot of the standings with time and games quickly running out to preserve their top flight status.

Sunday’s Eredivisie action got underway at the AFAS Stadion where visitors, Roda JC earned another vital point in their battle to avoid the drop at the expense of hosts, AZ Alkmaar.

Despite dominating the opening period and deservedly taking the lead just after the half hour mark through Iranian international, Alireza Jahanbakhsh – who cut in from the right and  turned Ard van Peppen inside out before slamming the ball past visiting ‘keeper Benjamin van Leer from the tightest of angles, the hosts then found themselves back on level terms with their struggling guests just six minutes later when 22-year-old centre half, Daryl Werker escaped the attentions of his marker to head home a Mitchel Paulissen corner from just inside the box six minutes before the break.

However, John van den Brom’s side should have sealed all three points twenty minutes from time when referee, Martin van den Kerkhof awarded the home side a penalty after Wout Weghorst’s shot from just outside the area was unwittingly handled by van Peppen. However, van Leer pawed away the former Heracles marksman’s resultant spot-kick to ultimately preserve a priceless point for Yannis Anastasiou’s side.

Having seen Ajax draw level on points at the top of the table following their thrashing of NEC Nijmegen on Saturday evening, league leaders, Feyenoord failed to back up their eight-goal demolition of relegation-threatened Go Ahead Eagles in mid-week with a second win in the space of five days but did come away from a potentially tricky trip to the MAC3PARK Stadion with a point thanks to a double from Watford loanee, Steven Berghuis.

Things got off to the worst possible start for van Bronckhorst’s title hopefuls – Ajax loanee, Queensy Menig racing onto an incisive through ball from Youness Mokhtar before bypassing the onrushing Brad Jones and rolling the ball into an empty net with just three minutes on the clock to put hosts, PEC Zwolle into the ascendancy before Bram van Polen then doubled the home side’s advantage ten minutes later – the 31-year-old defender beating Jones from a tight angle after Danny Holla’s penetrating through ball had seen the visitor’s rear guard turn to dust in the 13th minute.

With the away side faced with what would have been just their fourth league defeat of the season and their second in the space of seven days, Berghuis cut the home side’s advantage in half on 26 minutes – the 25–year-old playing a neat give-and-go with Bart Nieuwkoop following a quick throw-in on the right before cutting inside and beating Mickey van der Hart with a low drive that the home ‘keeper got a hand to but couldn’t prevent ending up in the bottom corner of his net .

Having last tasted the glory of a league title all the way back in 1999, the away side emerged with renewed vigour following the half time interval and clawed their way back onto level terms nine minutes after the restart – Berghuis taking advantage of the hospitality of the Zwolle backline and Feyenoord loanee, Calvin Verdonk in particular to once more cut in from the right before lashing the ball past van der Hart from the edge of the area to edge De club aan de Maas a point clear of bitter rivals, Ajax atop the standings and that little bit closer to ending the long suffering Rotterdam giant’s eighteen year wait for a fifteenth Eredivisie crown.

Elsewhere, FC Utrecht continued their relentless push for a place in the UEFA Europa League by putting FC Twente to the sword on Sunday afternoon to move five points clear in fourth.

Despite going in at half time empty handed following a dominant opening display, Utrecht eventually hit the front shortly after the hour mark with 21-year-old, Gyrano Kerk heading home from a pinpoint cross by Nacer Barazite.

The roles were then reversed as the former Arsenal man doubled the host’s advantage three minutes later – the 26-year-old squeezing the ball between Nick Marsman and the visiting ‘keeper’s near post having been teed up by Kerk.

Ajax loanee, Richairo Zivkovic then sealed the win for Utrecht twelve minutes after replacing Kerk – beating Marsman from just inside the area after being slipped in by the marauding Yassin Ayoub twelve minutes from time.

The thirtieth round of Eredivisie action was concluded at the Philips Stadion where reigning back-to-back champions, PSV Eindhoven put the disappointment of seeing their hopes of third straight Eredivisie crown disappear following a frustrating draw in Enschede on Thursday evening by hitting visitors, Willem II for five on Sunday afternoon.

Despite the emphatic nature of the eventual score-line, Erwin van de Looi’s men should have taken the lead ten minutes before the break when, despite replays clearly showing Thom Haye’s long range strike to have landed a substantial distance behind the line after coming off the underside of Jeroen Zoet’s crossbar, with no goal-line technology available to referee, Pol van Boekel, the visitors saw their appeals waved away after the official consulted with his assistant.

Having seen their grip on a third successive Eredivisie title begin to slip from their grasp when a similar situation had resulted in victory for Feyenoord after Zoet had unwittingly carried the ball over his own goal line in the two side’s ultimately decisive meeting at De Kuip at the end of February, the hosts capitalised on their good fortune on this occasion by taking the lead a minute into time added on at the end of the first half when Nicolas Isimat-Mirin ghosted in to head the home side ahead from an Andres Guardado corner.

Ten minutes into the second half the hosts doubled their advantage in carbon copy fashion – the unmarked Marco van Ginkel heading home another Guardado corner in the 55th minute.

Gaston Pereiro made it three for Cocu’s men fourteen minutes from time – bending the ball beyond the reach of visiting ‘keeper, Kostas Lamprou from close range after waltzing through the away side’s static rear guard to bag his tenth of what has been a prolific season for the 21-year-old Uruguayan before Mexican international, Guardado claimed a much-deserved goal of his own by unleashing a rocket from the edge of the box.

Van Ginkel then illustrated why Phillip Cocu is so eager to see the Dutch international return to Eindhoven on loan for a third time next term by putting the icing on a comprehensive victory for the home side with his seventh goal in eleven Eredivisie outings since his return from Stamford Bridge in January – beating Lamprou from the edge of the area after Guardado had slipped the 24-year-old in having dispossessed Erik Falkenburg deep in the away side’s half to leave Cocu’s men five points off the summit with a decisive meeting with second placed, Ajax on the horizon at the end of April as the dethroned champions look to take the solace of UEFA Champions League qualification from what has proved a disappointing campaign thus far.

Results: Week 30

Sparta Rotterdam 2-3 Excelsior

Vitesse Arnhem 4-2 SC Heerenveen

NEC Nijmegen 1-5 AFC Ajax

ADO Den Haag 4-3 FC Groningen

Go Ahead Eagles 1-4 Heracles

AZ Alkmaar 1-1 Roda JC

PEC Zwolle 2-2 Feyenoord

FC Utrecht 3-0 FC Twente

PSV Eindhoven 5-0 Willem II


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