The thirty first round of Eredivisie action got underway on Friday evening in Almelo where cup finalists, AZ Alkmaar got their pursuit of a UEFA Europa League playoff place back on track at the expense of hosts, Heracles.

Having gone three games without a win prior to this encounter at the Polman Stadion and with their cup final date with Vitesse Arnhem looming at the end of April, John van den Brom’s men were determined to find their form and, following a goalless opening period, took the lead seven minutes into the second half – former Heracles striker, Wout Weghorst coming back to haunt his old club by slamming the ball past Bram Castro from a few yards out after it fell at his feet off Joris van Overeem who intercepted Justin Hoogma’s attempted clearance from a Ridgeciano Haps cross that was originally intended for the big AZ forward.

The former home favourite then slipped Iranian international, Alireza Jahanbakhsh in on the right who, having escaped the attentions of Thomas Bruns, doubled the away side’s advantage eight minutes from time.

Having seen Dabney dos Santos nearly make it three for the visitors – the 20-year-old rattling Castro’s left hand upright with a hopeful outside of the boot attempt in the 90th minute that left the home ‘keeper rooted to the spot, the hosts did eventually claw their way back into the contest but Brandley Kuwas’ spectacularly struck free kick from mid-way inside the visitor’s half in the dying seconds proved too-little-too-late for John Stegeman’s side – whose quest for a UEFA Europa League playoff place of their own now appears to be faltering.

Elsewhere, the Eredivisie welcomed back a familiar face for 2017-18 as VVV Venlo sealed a return to the top flight of Dutch football at the fourth time of asking following victory over RKC Waalwijk at the Mandemakers Stadion on Friday evening.

Needing a win to secure a long-overdue Eredivisie return following their demotion in 2013, Maurice Steijn’s side hit the front seven minutes before the break through a Clint Leemans penalty – Evander Sno sending Vito van Crooij tumbling in the home side’s area to leave referee, Jochem Kamphuis with little option but to point to the spot from which Leemans sent RKC, ‘keeper, Tamati Williams the wrong way.

However, the promotion party had to be temporarily put on hold when Peter van den Berg’s men drew level through a spot kick of their own – Johan Voskamp restoring parity ten minutes into the second half after Kenny Anderson had been felled just inside the visitor’s area by a rash challenge from Jerold Promes.

But, just when it seemed the game would end all square, a Leemans free-kick from just outside the area in the last minute of normal time left Williams rooted to the spot to ultimately earn the win the visitors required to secure their return to the elite of Dutch football after three long years in the wilderness.

With promotion already assured, VVV now turn their attention to securing the Eerste Divisie title – with eight points separating Steijn’s men from Jong Ajax (who cannot be promoted) in second – who they entertain at De Koel on the 28th April, and just four games to play.

Saturday’s Eredvisie action got underway at the Parkstad Limburg Stadion where hosts, Roda JC took a big step towards ensuring their top flight status by seeing off last season’s Eerste Divisie champions, Sparta Rotterdam.

Coming into this encounter Yannis Anastasiou’s men trailed their visitors by a point and knew anything less than victory over their relegation rivals would likely condemn the home side to the lottery of the promotion/relegation playoffs.

With that in mind the hosts were the quicker out of the blocks and took the lead just before the quarter hour mark through a near post header from Abdul Ajagun following a Mikhail Rosheuvel cross from the right.

The hosts could have doubled their advantage just prior to the half time break but Tom van Hyfte saw his blockbuster from just outside the area cannon back off Roy Kortsmit’s crossbar in the first minute of added time.

The home side did eventually make it two on the hour mark when Ajagun was left with just Kortsmit to beat a few yards from goal after the ball broke in his direction following a poor attempted clearance of a Dani Schahin downward header by Mart Dijkstra – allowing the 24-year-old Nigerian to claim his second of the game and fourth of the season for the hosts.

Having seen Paco van Moorsel rattle Benjamin van Leer’s left hand upright with a speculative effort from the left in the 72nd minute, Alex Pastoor’s men did eventually claw their way back into proceedings twelve minutes from time through substitute, Thomas Verhaar who – having replaced injured top scorer, Loris Brogno – the Belgian having been carried from the field after going down under a clumsy challenge from Chris Kum just after the half hour mark, curled the ball into the top right hand corner of van Leer’s net after having been found in space on the edge of the box by Ryan Sanusi.

However, any hopes that the visitors harboured of making a comeback were dispelled by Mikhail Rosheuvel – veteran centre half, Kum capping a marauding run deep into enemy territory by first playing a neat give-and-go with Schahin on the edge of the area before hitting the by-line and cutting the ball back for Rosheuvel to tap into an empty net in the 89th minute to take the hosts clear of the drop zone while condemning Sparta to a place in the bottom three.

While their chances of making it three Eredivisie titles in as many years likely ended with defeat at De Kuip at the end of February, PSV Eindhoven had managed to remain on the fringes of the title race in the hope of snagging second place and with it a route into the UEFA Champions League for next season.

However, it appears that the reigning back-to-back champions must now be content with third place after Phillip Cocu’s side were held by struggling ADO Den Haag at the Kyocera Stadion on Saturday evening.

With Dutch international, Luuk de Jong left on the bench in favour of Jurgen Locadia, Cocu’s gamble soon paid off as, having been slipped in by a marauding run to the by-line by Santiago Arias, the 23-year-old then laid the ball off for Davy Propper who – having wrong footed Thomas Meißner, put the visitors into the ascendancy from the edge of the box with just seven minutes on the clock.

Despite enduring a torrid campaign, things have been looking up of late for the hosts who have hit form at just the right time under new coach, Alfons Groenendijk – having won their last three games on the bounce ahead of this encounter, and, despite leaving it late, the home side would eventually find their way back into this one through Japanese international, Mike Havenaar who – having seen an earlier effort ruled out for offside by referee, Bas Nijhuis ten minutes after the resumption, was on hand to head home from close range after Jeroen Zoet failed to hold on to Aaron Meijers’ rasping drive from just outside the area following an Abdenasser Khayati corner from the right three minutes from time to secure another priceless point in ADO’s quest for survival.

Elsewhere, another side looking to preserve their Eredivisie status – Excelsior, took a big step towards doing just that by edging out cup finalists, Vitesse Arnhem at the Stadion Woudestein.

With time rapidly running out for those at the wrong end of the table, Mitchell van der Gaag’s men knew that there was little margin for error here and, after centre half, Jordy de Wijs saw his header rattle Eloy Room’s crossbar following a Ryan Koolwijk corner from the left in the ninth minute, Mike van Duinen teed up Nigel Hasselbaink to crash the ball past Room from the edge of the box – putting the hosts on course for just their seventh league victory of what has been a tough campaign thus far for the modest Rotterdam-based outfit, four minutes later.

Despite failing to add to their slender advantage, the home supporters could ultimately breathe a little easier as they saw their heroes also record just their second clean sheet of the season in the league, and first since a 2-0 home win over Groningen in mid-August, to move out of the drop zone with just three games to play.

Saturday’s Eredivisie action was concluded in Enschede where hosts, FC Twente put another struggling side – NEC Nijmegen, to the sword in merciless fashion – hitting Peter Hyballa’s troops for three without reply at De Grolsch Veste.

Despite Vak-P being left completely empty for the opening quarter hour by the home support in response to action taken by police during the host’s last home game against PSV, the Twente players were left un-phased by matters off the field and hit the front just twelve minutes in through Manchester City loanee, Enes Unal – the 19-year-old Turkish international stooping low to head home a Mateusz Klich corner from the right at the near post.

Fellow Manchester City loanee, Yaw Yeboah should have doubled the host’s advantage just after the half hour mark but could only test the durability of Joris Delle’s crossbar after the tenacity of Fredrik Jensen saw the 19-year-old dispossess NEC full back, Michael Heinloth inside his own area before squaring the ball across the face of the visitor’s goal only to see the Ghanaian – with the goal at his mercy, inexplicably fail to find the back of the net from just outside the box.

However, the home side did eventually make it two when Jensen capped a neat give-and-go with Unal with a well taken strike thirteen minutes into the second half before Unal claimed his second of the match and seventeenth of what has been an impressive season in the Dutch top flight for the young Turk by chipping a perfectly weighted through ball from fellow loanee, Bersant Celina, over the onrushing Delle’s head in the second minute of added time to make it three for the hosts – bringing to an end a wretched run of three games without a win for Twente.

Meanwhile, things continue to get worse for NEC who, having slipped to their sixth consecutive defeat, find themselves mired in the bottom three with time rapidly running out.

Sunday’s Eredivisie action got underway in Tilburg where hosts, Willem II ended a run of four without a win by seeing off the challenge of bottom of the table, Go Ahead Eagles – for whom any hope of retaining Eredivisie status now appears lost.

Despite pulling a rabbit out of the proverbial hat by picking up three points at De Grolsch Veste in Rob Maaskant’s first game in charge, this latest reversal makes it three defeats on the bounce for the new Eagles coach and, with his side now five points adrift of both, NEC Nijmegen and Sparta Rotterdam – who currently occupy the promotion/ relegation playoff places and seven behind Roda JC in 15th with just three games remaining – which include a trip to title-chasing, Ajax, it would appear the Deventer-based outfit’s brave struggle to retain the top flight status they secured last summer via the promotion/relegation playoffs is nearing an ultimately unsuccessful conclusion.

Despite the hosts going closest to opening the scoring in the early stages – Thom Haye seeing his effort in the eighth minute ruled out for offside by referee, Jeroen Manschot, with everything to play for, the away side enjoyed the better of a goalless first half but, as so often this season, crucially failed to take their chances.

Maaskant’s men were also left aggrieved by the failure of referee, Manschot to award the away side what seemed a clear-cut penalty when Liverpool loanee, Pedro Chirivella was held back by Funso Ojo just inches from the goal line as he attempted to get on the end of a Sam Hendriks flick-on following a Daniel Crowley cross from the right in the 65th minute.

However, with the official having waved away their protests, the visitors were made to pay for the profligacy eighteen minutes from time when half time substitute, Fran Sol opened the scoring for the hosts – bagging his tenth of the season for the home side, with a close range header following a Jordy Croux cross from the right that left visiting ‘keeper, Theo Zwarthoed rooted to the spot.

Fellow replacement, Jari Schuurman, then sealed the win for Erwin van de Looi’s men eight minutes from time by volleying home a flick-on from Watford loanee, Obbi Oulare from just outside the box.

The victory takes hosts to the brink of securing their top flight status while a third defeat in as many games condemns the Eagles to what now seems an inevitable return to the second tier next season.

Go Ahead Eagles’ fate will likely be sealed next Saturday evening when they entertain FC Groningen who put themselves back into the race for a UEFA Europa League playoff place by hitting visitors, PEC Zwolle for five on Saturday afternoon.

Ernest Faber had left his side under no illusions about what he made of their woeful performance last time out against ADO Den Haag and the home side ultimately responded to their coach’s criticism in emphatic fashion – hitting the front through Bryan Linssen, who slid the ball past visiting ‘keeper, Mickey van der Hart after playing a nice give-and-go with Mimoun Mahi – whose cut-back found the 26-year-old’s unchecked run into the visitor’s area, just before the quarter hour mark.

Having made the breakthrough, the hosts then set about tearing the visiting rear guard to shreds as, just five minutes after hitting the front, the home side doubled their advantage when Oussama Idrissi broke clear down the left and squared for the club’s top scorer – Mahi, to double the home side’s advantage before Linssen glanced in an Idrissi corner from the right to bring up number three for Faber’s troops eight minutes before the break.

Following a torrid opening period, Ron Jans’ side emerged with renewed purpose for the second half and clawed their way back into proceedings through Birmingham City loanee, Nicolai Brock-Madsen – who prodded home a Django Warmerdam corner from the right a minute after the resumption.

However, any hope Jans might have harboured of his side making a game of it in the second stanza were soon snuffed out by Mahi who restored the host’s three goal cushion just seven minutes later – the 23-year-old running onto a perfectly weighted ball from Jesper Drost before holding off the attentions of substitute, Calvin Verdonk and firing the ball past the exposed van der Hart.

Substitute, Ajdin Hrustic made it five with two minutes of normal time left to play – the 20-year-old Romanian curling the ball beyond the reach of van der Hart from just outside the area to seal a crucial win that keeps the home side’s quest for European football alive.

Image result for Feyenoord 2-0 FC Utrecht

Having squandered two points last time out against PEC Zwolle, league leaders, Feyenoord edged closer to their first league title for eighteen years by getting back to winning ways at the expense of another European hopeful – FC Utrecht, at De Kuip on Sunday afternoon.

However, Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side were given an early scare when, having been sent clear by a long, raking ball from Sofyan Amrabat, Gyrano Kerk saw his effort come back off the foot of Brad Jones’ right hand upright after the 21-year-old had seemingly done all of the hard work – having rounded Feyenoord’s Australian ‘keeper and slipped the ball beyond the covering Bart Nieuwkoop from a tight angle.

Following an goalless opening period, the home side emerged from the interval with renewed purpose and took the lead just three minutes after the re-start – the fit-again, Nicolai Jorgensen heading Eric Botteghin’s long ball into the path of Jens Toornstra who volleyed the Danish marksman’s flick-on beyond the reach of Utrecht ‘keeper, David Jensen from the edge of the area.

Despite enjoying a plethora of chances to put the game to bed the hosts also rode their luck at times during an open second half and it took until ten minutes from time for van Bronckhorst’s title-hopefuls to put the seal on another crucial victory – Eljero Elia cutting in from the left and escaping the attentions of Giovanni Troupee before curling the ball beyond the reach of Jensen to put an end their stubborn visitor’s resistance.

With Feyenoord having extended their advantage at the top of the standings to four points, the pressure was then on second placed, Ajax to respond in kind at home to Heerenveen – which Peter Bosz’s men did in some style by hitting their visitors for five.

However, the hosts were slow out of the blocks and fell behind when Reza Ghoochannejhad capped off a swift break by putting the away side into the ascendancy with just eight minutes on the clock after the Iranian international had been slipped in by an incisive pass from Sam Larsson – an unlikely lead given the fact that Jurgen Streppel’s side came into this encounter having lost their last eight on the bounce in all competitions away from home.

Despite suffering an early setback, the hosts were nearly back on level terms just four minutes later – Kasper Dolberg rising highest to head a Lasse Schone corner from the right against Erwin Mulder’s right hand upright.

The home side did eventually restore parity in the 24th minute when Nick Viergever – who had, three minute earlier, been somewhat lucky to survive what looked to be a clear-cut penalty appeal from the visitors after the Ajax left back appeared to handle a Luciano Slagveer effort on the edge of his own box, chested home Davinson Sanchez’s flick-on into the back of Mulder’s net from close range following a Hakim Ziyech corner from the left.

Having seen two of his defensive colleagues combine to level proceedings, Total Football was in evidence once more as marauding 17-year-old, Matthijs de Ligt – having played a neat one-two with Dolberg, put the hosts into the ascendancy just after the half hour mark before the home side added a third when David Neres teed up Ajax skipper, Davy Klaassen for a routine tap-in from close range three minutes before the break.

The home side began the second half in much the same way they ended the first and came close to adding a fourth shortly after the hour mark when a Ziyech free kick from just outside the area cannoned back off Mulder’s left hand post with the ex-Feyenoord ‘keeper left rooted to the spot.

Having been restored to the starting XI by coach, Bosz, Kasper Dolberg marked his return from injury by picking himself up to add a fourth from the spot in the 68th minute – the Danish starlet having earlier been brought down in the area by a clumsy challenge from behind by substitute, Morten Thorsby which left referee, Danny Makkelie little option but to award the home side a penalty.

A minute later Bosz handed Deyovaisio Zeefuik his first team debut – the 19-year-old full back becoming the ninth youngster of the season to receive his first team bow from the Ajax coach, before Brazilian starlet, Neres then sealed the points for the hosts by stealing a march on Wout Faes before rounding visiting ‘keeper, Mulder and rolling the ball into an empty net seven minutes from time.

With Feyenoord’s advantage once more reduced to just a single point, Bosz’s side now face the most important week of their season with the return leg of their UEFA Europa League quarter final tie against Schalke 04 – into which Ajax carry a two goal advantage following a scintillating performance against the German side in their first encounter at the Amsterdam ArenA, to come on Thursday evening in Gelsenkirchen before Ajax then travel to face outgoing champions, PSV Eindhoven in de Topper on Sunday afternoon – a match that Phillip Cocu’s men must win if they wish to retain any hope of snagging a place in the UEFA Champions League out from under the noses of their visitors who, in turn, must win to keep their title hopes alive.

Results: Week 31

Heracles 1-2 AZ Alkmaar

Roda JC 3-1 Sparta Rotterdam

ADO Den Haag 1-1 PSV Eindhoven

Excelsior 1-0 Vitesse Arnhem

FC Twente 3-0 NEC Nijmegen

 Willem II 2-0 Go Ahead Eagles

FC Groningen 5-1 PEC Zwolle

Feyenoord 2-0 FC Utrecht

AFC Ajax 5-1 SC Heerenveen



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