With the midweek round of fixtures having only concluded on Thursday evening, the twenty third round of action in the Dutch top flight got underway with five games on Saturday evening, the first of which saw Heracles, fresh from being hit for six by NAC Breda, get back to winning ways by edging out visiting, Willem II thanks to some quick thinking from ‘keeper, Bram Castro, whose throw set Brandley Kuwas away to slip in Vincent Vermeij for the 23–year-old to claim his third goal in his last four outings on the stroke of half time.
At the same time, two goals in the space of five first half minutes ultimately proved enough to see FC Utrecht post back-to-back victories for the first time under the stewardship of Jean-Paul de Jong.
It took the home side just seventeen minutes to break the deadlock when, having stolen a march on Philippe Sandler and drawn the attentions of an onrushing Diederik Boer, Sander van de Streek would square the ball for an unmarked Gyrano Kerk to roll his sixth of the campaign in all competitions into an unguarded net.
The hosts would double their advantage just five minutes later when Zakaria Labyad found himself in the right place at the right time to squeeze the ball home after Sandler’s attempted block of a Mark van der Maarel effort cannoned off Boer and into the 24-year-old’s path.
Despite ending a run of three successive defeats by securing victory over Heerenveen last time out, PEC Zwolle failed to build on Tuesday’s win despite being handed a late route back into the game when, having seen second half substitute, Queensy Menig go tumbling in the area following a clumsy challenge from Ramon Leeuwin, Mustafa Saymak stepped up to smash home the resultant spot kick in the second minute of added time.
Elsewhere a double from Steven Bergwijn saw PSV Eindhoven come from behind to take all three points against rock-bottom Sparta Rotterdam and move ten points clear at the top of the standings ahead of the rest of the weekend’s fixtures.
Despite only winning one of their last twelve, a shock appeared to be on the cards when Kenneth Dougall nodded home a Paco van Moorsel cross to open the scoring for the hosts after the visitors could only partially clear their lines following a corner from the right with just six minutes on the clock.
However, normal service was resumed four minutes before the break when the persistence of Mauro Junior saw the ball land at the feet of Steven Bergwijn who restored parity for the Eredivisie pacesetters by curling the ball beyond the reach of Jannik Huth from just outside the area before the 20-year-old completed the turnaround eleven minutes into the second half by smashing a perfectly weighted knock down from Luuk de Jong beyond the reach of the home ‘keeper from just outside the area.
However, a hat trick would elude the young forward late on when his shot came back off Huth’s crossbar in the third minute of added time.
Having watched Dick Advocaat’s side fail to take anything earlier in the evening, fellow strugglers, Roda JC looked to have taken full advantage when, having capped a strong run by playing a neat give and go with the in-form Jorn Vancamp, Maecky Ngombo nodded home his first of the season to put Robert Molenaar’s side into the driving seat ten minutes before the break against Heerenveen.
The hosts might have gotten back on level terms just five minutes after falling behind but Stijn Schaars saw his rasping free kick come back off Hidde Jurjus’ crossbar.
However, the visitors would ultimately have to settle for a point when a lovely back heel from substitute, Henk Veerman allowed Arber Zeneli to cap off a move he had earlier set in motion and restore parity for the hosts by weaving his way through the last of the visitor’s back line sixteen minutes from time.
Saturday’s Eredivisie action was concluded with VVV Venlo holding high-flying, AZ Alkmaar to a goalless draw at the AFAS Stadion.
Sunday’s Eredivisie action got underway at the Johan Cruijff ArenA where a Lasse Schone spot kick nineteen minutes from time ultimately proved the difference between title-chasing Ajax and struggling FC Twente.
Despite getting off to the perfect start when, having set David Neres away down the left, Justin Kluivert was on hand to finish the move he started when Donny van de Beek turned the Brazilian’s deep cross back into the path of the 18-year-old with just three minutes on the clock, the hosts would fail to build on their early supremacy and find themselves pegged back in the 66th minute when, having misjudged a long clearance from Joel Drommel, Joel Veltman allowed Tom Boere to steal a march before turning the ball inside for Adnane Tighadouini to restore parity for Gertjan Verbeek’s struggling side who had found themselves second off bottom prior to kick off.
However, the hosts would be handed the opportunity to restore their lead just five minutes later when a clumsy challenge from Peet Bijen sent Hakim Ziyech tumbling just inside the area, leaving referee, Serdar Gözübüyük with little choice but to award the home side a penalty.
It was left to Lasse Schone to convert the resultant spot kick by sending Drommel, the hero of the penalty shoot-out that decided December’s KNVB Beker tie between the sides, the wrong way to leave Ajax seven points adrift of table-topping PSV and Twente four points from safety.
Despite drawing a blank after hitting Heracles for six on Wednesday evening, NAC Breda were more than happy to take a point from their goalless encounter with Excelsior at the Van Donge & De Roo Stadion which saw Stijn Vreven’s side move three points clear of the bottom three.
Things might have been different for the hosts had a rasping drive from Hicham Faik found the back of the net instead of clipping the outside of the returning Nigel Bertrams’ left hand upright with just seven minutes on the clock and, what looked to be a fine headed finish from Mike van Duinen two minutes into the second half, not been chalked off by referee, Danny Makkelie after his assistant adjudged Stanley Elbers’ cross to have gone out of play before finding the head of the 26-year-old.
While there mightn’t have been much to write home about in Rotterdam, the same could not be said for events at the GelreDome where Vitesse Arnhem came from a goal down to hit nine-man Feyenoord for three.
Having put last Sunday’s defeat at the hands of VVV behind them by hitting Groningen for three on Thursday evening, reigning Eredivisie champions Feyenoord appeared to be on track to record back-to-back league victories for the first time since the turn of the year when Tonny Vilhena put the visitors ahead in the 21st minute with his third goal in his last five games in all competitions after Bilal Başaçıkoğlu flicked a Steven Berghuis cross into the path of the unmarked 23-year-old.
However, having seen their lead threatened when Mat Miazga saw his looping header strike the top of Brad Jones’ crossbar shortly before the half hour mark, the away side would see their advantage wiped out two minutes before the break when another man on loan from Chelsea, Mason Mount picked out the head of Guram Kashia, who duly claimed his third of the campaign by forcing the ball past Jones from a few yards out.
With the game in the balance, a rash lunge from Başaçıkoğlu saw the balance of power shift in favour of the home side as, just seconds after referee, Dennis Higler had given the 22-year-old a straight red card for his challenge on Thulani Serero, a quickly taken free kick found its way to new signing, Roy Beerens whose wayward effort unwittingly picked out the head of an untracked Bryan Linssen to put the hosts into a 66th minute lead.
With the visitors lucky not to find themselves further behind sixteen minutes from time when Linssen turned Mount’s driven corner onto the top of Jones’ crossbar, any hopes Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side may have harboured of taking anything from the game were effectively ended nine minutes from time when first half replacement, Tyrell Malacia was also shown a straight red after bringing down a breaking Beerens.
Again, the hosts would waste little time in making their numerical advantage count when Linssen claimed his second of the night and three vital points in the home side’s quest to secure a place in the UEFA Europa League play-off places by nodding home a Beerens cross just five minutes later.
That victory over the reigning champions proved especially important for Henk Fraser’s side after fellow European hopefuls, ADO Den Haag were held goalless in Groningen in a match which rounded out the twenty third round of action in the Dutch top flight and left the men from The Hague five points adrift of seventh place, Vitesse, who occupy the final play-off place.
In a match that swung from end to end with alarming regularity throughout, it was the visitors who were the first to threaten when Bjørn Johnsen was denied on the line by a covering Deyovaisio Zeefuik with just two minutes on the clock at the Noordlease Stadion before having a last-ditch block from Abdenasser El Khayati to thank for keeping them on level terms shortly before the quarter hour mark when the 29-year-old was on hand to clear Tom van de Looi’s goal-bound header off the line.
However, Alfons Groenendijk’s side might have snatched all three points had Danny Bakker’s header found the back of Sergio Padt’s net instead of clipping the home ‘keeper’s crossbar two minutes before the break.
Results: Week 23
Heracles 1-0 Willem II
FC Utrecht 2-1 PEC Zwolle
Sparta Rotterdam 1-2 PSV Eindhoven
SC Heerenveen 1-1 Roda JC
AZ Alkmaar 0-0 VVV Venlo
AFC Ajax 2-1 FC Twente
Excelsior 0-0 NAC Breda
Vitesse Arnhem 3-1 Feyenoord
FC Groningen 0-0 ADO Den Haag
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