Ajax’s Eredivisie title hopes have taken another knock this weekend as they lost to Heracles. They went into yesterday’s game five points behind league leaders PSV Eindhoven. Things could have been even worse for the Ajacied though, as PSV only managed to get a draw in today’s away game against FC Utrecht.
Ajax started their game poorly, giving away a penalty just six minutes in when Daley Blind fouled Joey Konings while trying to retrieve Frenkie de Jong’s misplaced pass. It was Brandley Kuwas who stepped up to take the spot kick for the men in black and white, but Andre Onana dived to his left and got a strong hand on the ball to keep it out with a little help from the post.
Just over 10 minutes later Onana undid his work though as he gifted Heracles the only goal of the game. He attempted to pass the ball out from the back but it was intercepted by Mohammed Osman. The Syrian midfielder gratefully took the chance to put his side ahead, placing the ball into the corner out of the reach of Ajax’s scrambling goalkeeper.
Ajax grew into the game in the second half after their initial struggles. However, they weren’t able to get past German stopper Janis Blaswich, who was in fine form. The pick of his saves came against Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who’d got onto the end of a ball into the box, did a step over to fool the defender before flicking it towards goal- only to find his effort stopped by a strong outstretched arm.
Ajax were left frustrated as the score ended 1-0 to the home side, though their eyes will have quickly turned to today’s PSV match hoping for another shock. It seemed as though that would come as goals from Sander van de Streek and Gyrano Kerk saw FC Utrecht go into half time 2-0 up against the league leaders.
However, PSV came out in the second half and immediately put Utrecht’s goal under sustained pressure. It paid off for them as Luuk de Jong bagged a brace to get the game back on level terms. Ajax could easily have been let off the hook in the dying moments though. Utrecht were controversially denied a penalty despite the use of VAR when Denzel Dumfries slipped in the box and took Simon Gustafson down with him.
These two results mean that Ajax are now six points behind PSV Eindhoven with 13 games of the league season remaining. The two sides will play each other at the end of March in a match which could prove to decide whether the Eredivisie title goes to Amsterdam or Eindhoven at the end of the campaign. However, Ajax will want to make up ground as early as possible and this is the second time since the winter break that they’ve failed to capitalise on a PSV slip up after drawing 4-4 with Heerenveen when PSV drew with FC Emmen in their first game back.
Ajax’s attention will now be turned towards their upcoming Champions League Round of 16 first leg tie against Real Madrid on Wednesday, their first knockout game in the competition since 2005. Their next chance to close the gap on PSV will come when they face NAC Breda on Sunday.