Since the Eredivisie has resumed following the winter break, there hasn’t been success story quite like ADO Den Haag.
John van den Brom inherited a side that had finished just one position above the relegation playoffs last season, and in little over six months has transformed the team into a unit that has now won five matches in a row – including a 1-0 victory at the Philips Stadion – and are serious contenders for European football.
Key to such a transformation has been the loan acquisition of Dmitri Bulykin from Anderlecht. Although never previously prolific, the thirty one year old Russian was an impressive, if controversial figure at both Dynamo and Lokomotiv Moscow, prompting Bayer Leverkusen to pick up the forward under freedom of contract. He was moved on to Anderlecht at the end of the 07/08 season. Constant injury and form problems plagued the Russian Internationalist, who spent a period on loan at Fortuna Dusseldorf to little effect. Van den Brom’s decision to take a chance on the seemingly nomadic Bulykin was inspired, and he has repaid his manager with fifteen goals in just twenty appearances and a formidable link up with Lex Immers and fellow loanee, Frantisek Kubik.
Against hapless VVV, Bulykin was the focal point for almost all ADO’s forays forward, although it was the wiles of Jens Toornstra that made the breakthrough. In the first half Gino Coutinho in the ADO goal had to be especially impressive, as ADO were frustrated. However a quick exchange of passes with Kubik allowed Toornstra a tap in early in the second half. A more than fortuitous penalty decision allowed Bulykin to double the advantage on the hour. The Russian was at his imperious best for the final goal, breaking free of the midfield and leaving defenders trailing, before lifting the ball over the advancing Begois. With Feyenoord, NAC and NEC in their next three games, ADO may well push into the top four, or higher.
All of which may cause some consternation for Ajax, who found themselves comfortably two goals to the good against Roda JC only to finish with just a point. Miralem Sulejmani’s opener was the sort of fluid team goal so long associated with the Amsterdam club; breaking from right back, Siem de Jong fed Christian Eriksen who’s prodded through ball found the onrushing Sulejmani, who deftly finished from eighteen yards. The striker returned the favour, floating a cross for de Jong to finish after confident passing build up. However, careless defending and a poor clearance from Stekelenberg allowed Mads Junker to edge Roda back into contention just before half time. Anouar Hadouir’s brilliant dipping free kick equalised with just eight minutes left, denying the Amsterdam side of valuable points in their quest for the title.
Equally profligate were Groningen, whose title challenge hit a major speed-bimp in the shape of the ever-resilient De Graafschap. Danny Holla only ever seems to score ridiculous goals and for his most recent party trick he lobbed Luciano from thirty yards. On the volley. Considerably less classy though no less important was Rydell Poepon’s ninth of the season for the Superboeren, pushing them towards the relative safety of twelfth, while Groningen slip six points from the top spot.
This allowed both Twente and PSV to open up a five point lead at the top of the Eredivisie. Twente were made to work hard for their less than inspiring 1-0 victory over Vitesse, but the same could not be said for PSV, who destroyed AZ in Alkmaar by four goals to nil. Two goals each from Marcus Berg and Balazs Dzsudzsak, but it was Ola Toivonen who was the chief architect of the triumph, setting up three of the four goals.
Feyenoord finally managed to create some breathing space between themselves and the relegation playoffs, with a nervy 2-1 victory over Heracles. Diego Biseswar was the hero for the Rotterdam side, tenaciously setting up Ryo Miyaichi’s opener, before doubling that lead on the half hour with a dipping, arching piece of incredulity that was easily goal of the weekend. Of course, this being Feyenoord things could not be done easily, and Mark Jan Fledderus’s free kick right on half time created a far tenser second half than the opening half hour had suggested. Still, Mario Been’s side held on for their first victory since mid-December, and in doing so created a five point gap over Excelsior and moved ahead of Vitesse.
NAC’s long search for a victory continued when they were comfortably dealt with by Heerenveen, while NEC’s plan to draw their way to safety took a positive turn when they actually managed to triumph over Excelsior.
Willem II performed far beyond the level they have been displaying for most of the season, with a spirited and quite fascinating 3-3 draw against an imposing Utrecht side. Although their results have not always reflected it, Willem II are showing some of the fight that could (theoretically at least) get them out of the terminal position they appear to find themselves. Indeed, the Tilburg side have doubled their points total for the entire season in their last four games. This may be a slightly liberal use of statistics, as that has only stretched their position to a far from impressive eight points, but with VVV only five points better off, is there hope?
Despite the loss of the first goal to Dries Mertens, the Eredivisie’s bottom side showed great character and no small amount of skill to force first an equaliser from Jan-Arie van der Heijden and then an unscripted lead thanks to Juha Hakala’s free kick. Mertens again restored parity, but it looked as if Willem would claim only their second win of the term when substitute Marceo Rigters last minute volley goal edged them ahead. Of course, this side would not be in the mire they are in if they could hold such leads and it was with equal measures of inevitability and drama, comedy and tragedy that Ismo Vorstermans managed to find the latest of equalisers from a dubiously awarded Barry Maguire free kick.
The loss of such precious points will have hurt Gert Heerkes’ side, but just maybe…