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Utrecht 6-4 Ajax – leaky defences make for an entertaining game

November 7, 2011

Defensive blunders proved Ajax’s undoing as Utrecht won an exciting game at Nieuw Galgewaard to secure their first points since Jan Wouters took over as manager last month.

The Dutch champions came into the game having scored more away from home this season than any other Eredivisie side and they continued in this vein putting four past Roberto Fernández. Utrecht had not won since October 1, conceding eight goals in the following three games. Despite exhibiting a leaky defence again on Sunday though, they were able to take advantage of their opponents’ sloppy defending.

It was clear from the first minute that it was going to be an open game, as Ajax right-back Gregory Van Der Wiel popped up in the Utrecht penalty area before dragging a shot past the far post.

The away side picked up two injuries in the first half, as both Siem De Jong and Toby Alderweireld were forced to come off. This setback did not prove disastrous for Frank de Boer’s side as De Jong’s replacement, Dmitry Bulykin, scored two goals including the game’s opener on eight minutes following good work by Derk Boerrigter.

Despite both sides playing only one striker, neither could really claim to be controlling the midfield for extended periods. Utrecht took just 11 minutes to wrest the lead from Ajax, as first Nana Asare and then Edouard Duplan found the net. The former’s shot from outside the box was deflected past Kenneth Vermeer, while the latter seized on a loose ball after Jacob Mulenga had failed to control a long punt over the defence, and finished with aplomb.

By half-time the visitors were leading again. Andre Ooijer – who had been introduced in place of Alderweireld and was fortunate to have seen only a yellow card for a tackle on Rodney Sneijder – bundled the ball in at the back post from a Theo Janssen free-kick after 32 minutes. Then, four minutes before the interval, Bulykin scored his second, heading home Sulejmani’s cross from the right.

Both teams were playing three central midfielders and there was little creativity in the middle of the pitch. The goals that did result from this area came about from long balls over the top. The wingers often had space to exploit and were much more creative than the players in the centre. Both defences were troubled by crosses into the box and so it was of little surprised that the wingers in the game stayed wide for long periods.

Four minutes after the restart, Utrecht drew level again. Alexander Gerndt crossed from the left and Daan Bovenberg scored from close range. The defending was poor. Neither Vermeer nor his defenders took control of the situation so the Utrecht right-back was able to find the net from five yards out.

Five minutes later the home side were 5-3 up. In the 52nd minute a high ball over the defence caught Vurnon Anita napping, the right-back playing Mulenga onside. The striker held off Jan Vertonghen before firing past the goalkeeper. Two minutes later, Vermeer presented the first of two gifts to Utrecht as he scuffed a clearance straight to Asare. The Ghanaian kept a cool head to find the open goal from his position on the left wing.

It was at this point that Ajax began to take more chances. Christian Eriksen was pushed further forward in order to give greater support to Bulykin, and Utrecht’s defence assumed a deeper line. In the 72nd minute it was the Dane who scored Ajax’s fourth, setting up a nervy ending for the home crowd. The goal came about from more good wingplay, this time from an overlapping Van Der Wiel.

Utrecht dropped back for the remainder of the game, although they still created chances on the counter-attack. Duplan and Marcus Nilsson both went close, but it was Ajax who were controlling the midfield by this point, even if they could not find a fifth goal. With the referee’s whistle seconds away, Vermeer hit a clearance straight to substitute Anouar Kali who fired back into an unguarded net from 30 yards. The game finished 6-4.

This game was a tale of two mediocre defences, but it was an entertaining watch. Vermeer will doubtless have seen better days, and his confidence will need rebuilding; he was very reluctant to play anything other than short passes after his first kicking error and consequently Ajax came perilously close to playing themselves into trouble at the back on several occasions. Both sides used the width of the pitch in attack but tried to defend more narrowly, an odd decision considering they both conceded goals which resulted from crosses. There is much to ponder for both managers, particularly for de Boer whose team of champions currently sits in fifth place, 11 points adrift of AZ Alkmaar, having won just twice in the past eight games.

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