EREDIVISIE REPORT: Week Thirty-Two

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The thirty second round of Eredivisie action got underway on Friday evening at the Abe Lenstra Stadion where hosts, Heerenveen got their push for a UEFA Europa League playoff place back on track by edging out visiting, Willem II.

Having seen his men lose five of their last six, Jurgen Streppel’s side came into this encounter in danger of missing the end-of-season European scramble altogether. However, a Sam Larsson strike five minutes before the break was enough to see the Frisians back in the mix for continental football next term – the Swede capitalising on a poorly judged header by Dries Wuytens on the left before burning off Daryl Lachman and slipping the ball past the visitor’s exposed ‘keeper, Kostas Lamprou to put the hosts into the ascendancy and ultimately, on the road to just their fourth victory since the turn of the year.

Saturday’s Eredivisie action got underway at the Goffertstadion where a header from Mike van Duinen – following a perfectly weighted cross from Khalid Karami, shortly before the hour mark was enough to see Excelsior move six points clear of the drop zone and to the brink of safety with just two games of the season left to play, at the expense of hosts, NEC Nijmegen – who, despite suffering their seventh defeat in a row, find themselves just two points off safety.

However, mathematically at least, the Nijmegen-based outfit can still be caught by bottom-of-the-table, Go Ahead Eagles and the disgruntled home faithful left Peter Hyballa in little doubt of what they thought of his team’s latest display by staging a protest outside the stadium following the final whistle – after which they club elected to take action by relieving the German of his duties two days later.

With the final of the KNVB Beker taking centre stage next Sunday, cup finalist’s AZ Alkmaar didn’t let cup fever distract them from their pursuit of a UEFA Europa League playoff place. However, John van den Brom’s men left it late to claim all three points from their encounter with visitors, FC Twente on Saturday evening.

Despite having dominated a goalless first period, it was the visitors who took a shock lead twenty minutes into the second half when centre back, Joachim Andersen out-jumped Derrick Luckassen to head home a Mateusz Klich cross from the right at the back post.

However, the visitor’s advantage wouldn’t last and Rene Hake’s men would eventually leave the AFAS Stadion empty handed as all of his side’s hard work unravelled in the closing stages.

The away side’s remarkable collapse began in the most unlikeliest of ways – 22-year-old centre half, Peet Bijen heading an Iliass Bel Hassani free kick from the left into his own net nine minutes from time before Andersen who – having gone into the referee’s notebook for giving away the initial free kick, was then shown his second yellow card in the space of six minutes and given his marching orders by referee, Siemen Mulder after holding back substitute, Fred Friday in the 86th minute..

With the momentum having shifted noticeably in favour of the hosts, it came as little surprise when – having been sent clear by a deft lay-off from Bel Hassani on half way in the second minute of added time, Friday raced through the Twente defence and – having evaded the attentions of Bijen, slotted the ball past the exposed Nick Marsman in the visitor’s net to not only boost the host’s quest for European football next term but also send van den Brom’s troops into next Sunday’s final brimming with confidence.

Another side with a place in Europe on their minds – Heracles, kept up the pressure on those occupying the UEFA Europa League playoff places above them in the standings by taking all three points away from their encounter with PEC Zwolle at the MAC3PARK Stadion on Saturday evening.

Despite the hosts having enjoyed the best of the chances in a goalless first half it was the away side who hit the front ten minutes after the restart – Samuel Armenteros  stabbing the ball past Mickey van der Hart from close range after having been picked out by a pinpoint cut-back from compatriot, Kristoffer Peterson.

The free-scoring Swede then doubled the visitor’s advantage ten minutes from time. With substitute, Stef Nijland having been denied by the sharp reflexes of Bram Castro in the visitor’s net, the away side hit their hosts on the counter attack and, with Brahim Darri having found Armenteros in, what appeared at first glance to be an offside position – the striker having been played onside by Bart Schenkeveld, the 26-year-old streaked clear to stroke the ball unhindered past van der Hart to notch his twentieth goal of the season in all competitions.

With the Ron Jans era in Zwolle nearing a disappointing end, his side did eventually claw their way back into the contest six minutes later but, ultimately, Ted van de Pavert’s back post header following a Django Warmerdam corner from the right failed to herald a comeback for the out-of-form hosts who remain just four points above the drop zone following their third defeat in their last four outings.

Saturday’s Eredivisie action was concluded in Deventer where, despite hosts – Go Ahead Eagles giving it their all, Rob Maaskant’s side slumped to a fourth consecutive defeat at the hands of visitors, FC Groningen to leave the side that only regained its top flight status last summer on the brink of an immediate return to the second tier.

With a trip to title-chasing Ajax on the horizon, this was a must-win encounter for Maaskant’s side. However, the hosts – having ridden their luck when an unmarked Bryan Linssen saw his vicious back post drive turned onto the crossbar in the 24th minute by the exposed Theo Zwarthoed in the home side’s net, found themselves trailing at the interval.

Despite having earlier been denied by Zwathoed – the home ‘keeper having sent Mimoun Mahi’s near post drive cannoning off the outside of his right hand upright on the half hour mark after the ball had come the 23-year-old’s way when Linssen had charged down a wayward pass from Xandro Schenk mid-way inside the home side’s half, Groningen’s top scorer was on hand to put Ernest Faber’s men into the ascendancy eight minutes before the break – Mahi slipping the ball past the onrushing Zwarthoed after his run was found by a perfectly weighted pass from Ruben Jenssen.

Following the resumption, the hosts threw everything at their guests but were lucky not to fall further behind when an unmarked Jesper Drost saw his back post header from an Oussama Idrissi corner from the left in the 50th minute cannon off Zwarthoed’s left hand upright before the 21-year-old sent the rebound over the bar from a few yards out.

However, despite Mahi also hitting the outside of the same post shortly before the hour mark – having been found in acres of space in the home side’s area by a square ball from Drost, the hosts remained within touching distance of their visitors and, against the run of play, Maaskant’s side did eventually claw their way back onto level terms sixteen minutes from time via the club’s top scorer, Sam Hendriks – Elvis Manu slipping the former Ajax forward in behind the Groningen rear guard before the 22-year-old beat the exposed Sergio Padt at his near post with a low drive.

However, just as soon as the home side had clawed their way back onto level terms, Maaskant’s battle-weary troops found themselves behind once more when Drost latched onto an incisive through ball from Juninho Bacuna and, despite very nearly losing his footing, rounded Zwarthoed to restore the visitor’s advantage.

Despite finding themselves trailing for the second time with time running out and their fate likely sealed, the hosts got up off the canvais with one last act of defiance – Darren Maatsen firing home a Sebastien Locigno cross from the right at the back post with a minute of the ninety left to play to put the home side on course for a morale-boosting point.

Yet, Maaskant’s brave charges were left empty handed for the fourth game in succession when, three minutes into added time – having been put in the clear by a well-timed Alexander Sørloth  through ball on half way, Mahi streaked half the length of the field before rounding Zwarthoed to bag his sixteenth of a prolific campaign and snatch all three points for Faber’s side.

Rooted to the foot of the standings with five points separating them from a promotion/ relegation playoff place and with just two games left to play, it now appears only a matter of time before the Eagles’ seemingly inevitable fate is confirmed.

Sunday’s Eredivisie action got underway at the Stadion Galgenwaard where hosts FC Utrecht got back to winning ways at the expense of struggling Roda JC.

However, despite their visitors precarious league position, Yannis Anastasiou’s troops didn’t make life easy for their high flying hosts who, following their reversal at De Kuip last time out, endured another frustrating outing here and, despite the home side dominating the match for large periods, it appeared that the Kerkrade-based outfit – who had taken seven points from the last nine to move out of the bottom three prior to making the trip to Utrecht, were on course for another priceless point in their quest for survival when, shortly before the hour mark, Gyrano Kerk so nearly capped a mazy run that began mid-way inside his own half by breaking the deadlock but, having left half the opposition in his wake before cutting inside Chris Kum and Daryl Werker, the 21-year-old saw his low drive rattle the foot of the exposed, Benjamin van Leer’s right hand upright.

Yet, having survived another scare – when Kerk saw his goal-bound effort cleared off the line by Werker eight minutes from time, the visitor’s luck eventually ran out in the 87th minute when Zakaria Labyad bent a spectacular free kick from just outside the area past a helpless van Leer to leave the away side empty handed and teetering precariously above the bottom three with just two points separating Anastasiou’s men from both Sparta Rotterdam and NEC Nijmegen – who occupy 16th and 17th respectively.

However, one side who no longer have to worry about beating the drop are ADO Den Haag, who – despite having seemingly been dead and buried when Alfons Groenendijk took the reins following the dismissal of Željko Petrović at the start of February, are now assured of retaining their top flight status after bagging all three points at the expense of fellow strugglers, Sparta Rotterdam at Het Kasteel on Sunday afternoon.

The visitors – who arrived in Rotterdam having taken ten points from the last twelve available, wasted little time in asserting their authority over Alex Pastoor’s relegation-threatened side and took an early lead through a spectacular Abdenasser El Khayati drive from range with just ten minutes on the clock – the 28-year-old’s fourth in ADO colours following his loan switch from Queens Park Rangers at the end of January ultimately seeing Groenendijk’s side secure the victory they required to ensure their Eredivisie status.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the table it proved to be a pivotal weekend in the title race.

With reigning back-to-back league champions, PSV Eindhoven playing host to second placed, Ajax in De Topper in Sunday’s late game, league leaders, Feyenoord – who, despite having recorded just one win from their last four games away from home, stole an early march on their bitter rivals from Amsterdam to keep themselves on course for a first league title since 1999 by making short work of their potentially tricky trip to the GelreDome – the table toppers seeing off cup finalists, Vitesse Arnhem in routine fashion thanks to a first half double from the league’s top scorer – Nicolai Jorgensen, to move four points clear at the top of the standings with just two games left to play.

With Henk Fraser’s men eyeing next Sunday’s KNVB Beker showdown with AZ Alkmaar at De Kuip, their high-flying visitors – who having seen their defence of the cup end at the hands of their hosts when the two sides men in Arnhem at the end of January, took full advantage of the home side’s lack of focus.

 Just ten minutes had elapsed when a Steven Berghuis corner from the left found Jens Toornstra unmarked at the back post with time and space to draw a smart save from Eloy Room. However, the home keeper could only parry the ball to the feet of the waiting Nicolai Jorgensen who gleefully tapped home his 20th league goal of the season from close range.

Shortly before the half hour mark the away side doubled their advantage with Jorgensen just about forcing home a close-range header to bag his second of the afternoon which, despite his best efforts, Room failed to prevent crossing the line – Toornstra having found the 26-year-old unmarked at the back post with a pinpoint cut-back from the by-line.

The visitors could and should have made their victory more emphatic nine minutes later but Berghuis saw his rasping drive from the edge of the box strike the inside of Room’s left hand upright after the Watford loanee had been slipped in by a deft touch from Eljero Elia.

However, despite failing to add to their advantage in a goalless second period, Jorgensen’s brace ultimately proved enough to secure three more priceless points for Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s men in their pursuit of a long-awaited fifteenth league title.

Feyenoord’s victory meant that Ajax – fresh from seeing off Schalke 04 to progress to the last four of the UEFA Europa League following a heroic performance in Gelsenkirchen on Thursday evening, had to respond in kind by taking all three points from their clash with outgoing champions, PSV Eindhoven at the Philips Stadion a little later on Sunday afternoon.

However, with the majority of the starting eleven selected by Ajax coach, Peter Bosz having begun Thursday’s gruelling 2nd leg in Germany – which eventually went to extra time before late strikes from first, Nick Viergever and then, Amin Younes saw the four-time European champions secure a place in the semi-final of a continental competition for the first time in twenty years, Ajax struggled to keep pace with Phillip Cocu’s men who, despite now being mathematically out of the title race, have not yet given up hope of snatching a place in the UEFA Champions League next term.

The hosts certainly did their chances of catching Ajax the power of good when, having seen Matthijs de Ligt bring down Steven Bergwijn just outside the area with 25 minutes on the clock, Jurgen Locadia – who was once again preferred to Luuk de Jong by PSV coach, Cocu, rifled the resultant free-kick past Andre Onana in the Ajax net to not only give the hosts the lead but ultimately the victory – leaving the former champions just three points of their visitors.

Despite their UEFA Europa League heroics and having suffered just three defeats in the league this term, Ajax’s title chances now appear to be on the wane as Bosz’s men now find themselves four points adrift of league leaders, Feyenoord with just two games left to play.

Results: Week 32

SC Heerenveen 1-0 Willem II

NEC Nijmegen 0-1 Excelsior

AZ Alkmaar 2-1 FC Twente

PEC Zwolle 1-2 Heracles Almelo

Go Ahead Eagles 2-3 FC Groningen

FC Utrecht 1-0 Roda JC

Sparta Rotterdam 0-1 ADO Den Haag

Vitesse Arnhem 0-2 Feyenoord

PSV Eindhoven 1-0 AFC Ajax

 

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