After a week of pleasing fortunes for the Dutch Europa league representatives, the return to domestic action was a mixed blessing for the top three.
Twente have had the hardest seven days of all, being drawn away to Rubin Kazan in the Europa League. The six thousand kilometre round trip to mid-winter Moscow was far from an ideal preparation for their game against NEC – the deans of draws, symposiarch’s of the single point, the big cheeses of binary -particularly given the conditions that greeted Preud’Homme’s side.
Upon arrival at the Luzhniki Stadium – selected as a replacement venue because of its all weather pitch – the Tukkers were hit with temperatures unofficially recorded at minus twenty three (yes, -23), and a crowd that occupied just five hundred of the ninety thousand seats. In such atrocious circumstances the Dutch side recorded a heroic 2-0 victory that suggests they are strong favourites for the quarter finals.
If the European away leg was an unpredicted success, the return to domestic fare was an obvious setback. NEC are as stoic a team as any in the Eredivisie; settling into the season after a indifferent opening, they are now unbeaten in eight games and have lost just twice since mid-October. Statistics can be deceptive, but there are a number of revealing figures in NEC’s season: no side have drawn more games, they have scored exactly the same number of goals as the number conceded and almost half of their “for” column was added in the last twenty minutes.
Niki Zimling gave NEC a lead in the opening minutes, picking up Lasse Schone’s articulately deployed through ball, but from then on it was Twente that created anything and everything that resembled an opportunity. Bryan Ruiz was uncharacteristically wasteful with chances, before Emir Bajrami took it upon himself to deliver the equaliser. Twente continued to push forward, but like so many other sides this season, failed to find a winner against NEC and in particular the increasingly impressive twenty one year old goalkeeper, Jasper Cillesen.
Ajax and PSV had equally tricky Europa League ties, but considerably easier commutes. Ajax returned from their border-hopping jaunt to Brussels with a 3-0 victory over Anderlecht, but that did not stop them struggling to beat VVV at the ArenA. Perhaps struggle is the wrong word, as without the injured Ruud Boymans – source of nine of VVV’s twenty two goals this term – the visitors attack showed less urgency, imagination and bite than a turtle with a bad dose of scurvy. Ajax were comfortable if uninspired winners thanks to Mounir Al-Hamdaoui’s thirteenth of the season.
Far more relaxed were PSV, who having come from 2-0 down to secure a draw at Ligue 1 leaders Lille during the week, promptly put NAC to the sword. Nemanja Gudelj was dismissed for picking a fight with Ola Toivonen, and Balazs Dzsudzsak promptly put PSV ahead. Anthony Lurling’s delectable solo equaliser briefly gave the visitors some hope, but Jermain Lens restored the home side’s lead two minutes later. Toivonen and Francisco Rodriguez completed the scoring. NAC have won away from the Rat Verlegh just once this season, and even that was a gimme against Excelsior. After an excellent start to the campaign, they have recorded just two points in the last six matches with no obvious respite in their coming fixtures.
Groningen and Den Haag are this season’s proverbial surprise packages, but this weekend’s parcels were more Kevin-Spacey-in-Seven than pleasant birthday surprise. Groningen were thrashed 4-1 by Roda JC, denying them the chance to move into third place and delivering their worst result to date at the Euroborg. Mads Junker’s hat-trick was a perfect example of the grey areas in the offside law. His first was from running back into play from five metres offside as the ball was played forward, only to be played in by an overlapping onside opponent. The third again stretched the interpretation of the law, leaving Ruud Vormer’s long ball to the onside Willem Janssen, who squared for the now-technically-onside Junker. These were sandwiched between a less controversial finish, as he broke free and nudged the ball past the onrushing Luciano. Groningen were wasteful throughout, an attitude typified when the Scrabble-winning monikered Przemyslaw Tyton saved yet another penalty, this time from Andreas Granqvist. Nicklas Pedersen finally converted one of Huistra’s side’s chances with two minutes remaining, but Boldizsar Bodor restored Roda’s three goal lead in injury time.
ADO were the in form team in the division going into their home fixture against Feyenoord. The visitors were still looking for their first away victory of the season, and looked well placed to record it when Luc Castaignos scored two goals displaying all the sagacity that has prompted Inter Milan to move for him. The first was a perfect parabola chip with his back to goal, the second an overhead kick from six yards out. But this is Feyenoord, a side who hold leads as well as fingerless dog-walkers. With ten minutes remaining Charlton Vicento put ADO back in the match. Four minutes later the deadly Dmitry Bulykin swept in an equaliser, leaving Feyenoord just three points above the relegation playoffs.
Both Heracles and Vitesse did their survival chances no harm by picking up valuable points. The former contrived a last minute equaliser at Utrecht, while the latter were comfortable winners at De Graafschap. It might have been very different for Vitesse had Hugo Bargas not missed the openest of open goals at 0-0. Certain to occupy one of the relegation places are Willem II, who were again beaten by four goals to nil, this time by fellow strugglers Excelsior. Geert Arend Roorda scored two for the Rotterdam club, in his first start since joining on loan from Heerenveen. His parent club did not fare so well, going down to goals from Pontus Wernbloom and Hector Moreno at AZ.
- PSV go clear at the top of the division on 53 points. Twente are on 51, with Ajax on 48 with Groningen all but out of the race on 54.
- European football is open to every side between 5th and 11th. Den Haag and AZ should take two of the places, but Roda (39 points), Utrecht (36), Heerenveen (34), NEC (31) and even NAC (30) have a chance of Europa League playoffs.
- Willem II are all but down, barring a remarkable turnaround in their season. VVV will likely take one of the two playoff places, with any club from Excelsior (22 points), Feyenoord (25), Vitesse (25), Heracles (25) and De Graafschap (26) joining them.