In 2009/10 season few could have foreseen the success that Heracles would achieve. Under Gertjan Verbeek the Almelo side had improved from being just two points above the relegation playoff to an all-time highest ever finish of sixth, with their formidable form at the cosy Polman Stadion propelling them into the Europa League playoffs. An almost cavalier approach to attacking brought them many admirers, and it was with no small amount of inevitability that Verbeek was summoned to AZ as a replacement for Dick Advocaat.
In looking for a replacement, Heracles turned to a familiar face; that of Peter Bosz, the former Feyenoord technical director. Bosz had a successful playing career in Japan, France, Germany and the Netherlands, gaining eight caps for his country. Following spells in charge of De Graafschap and AGOVV, Bosz took charge of a Heracles side that had spent just a single season outside the Eerste Division in forty years. In his second season in charge he took a well drilled unit to the Eerste division title, sculpting a team that didn’t score many goals but were resolute in defence. The same principle applied the following year, as Heracles comfortably stayed in the division thanks to their back line.
Bosz left in 2006, but returned last summer to take on the unenviable task of maintaining his friend Verbeek’s successes. The style of the two managers could not have been more different, and Heracles initially struggled, dropping into the bottom three places during the early weeks of the term. Subsequently, since Bosz encouraged the attacking sensibilities of his side, they have soared up the table, winning their last four games, scoring eighteen goals and sitting just outside the Europa League places.
On Saturday Heracles hosted Heerenveen, a side in the midst of exactly the opposite run of form, but whom those will relatively long memories will remember defeated the Almelo side 9-0 in 2007. Alfonso Alves (remember him?) scored seven. This week the story could not be more different as Peter Bosz’s team surged through their opponents, winning 4-2. Everton’s patience, poise and intricately choreographed celebrations were rewarded with his eleventh goal of the season before equalised just after the half hour. Slack defending allowed Samuel Armenteros to give a half time lead, only for the hosts to bulldoze their opponents in the second period. Antoine van der Linden’s header and a improvised lob chip past the goalkeeper from Darl Douglas found only Philip Hoglund’s well worked goal in response.
Heracles recent run of form has only been matched by that of Gertjan Verbeek’s club, AZ. A sound thrashing from Ajax aside, AZ have won four of their last five games, including victory over Twente. Their opponents may be the most likely club to be drawn into the relegation playoffs, but they took a lead just before half time when Marco van Ginkel touched Machihiro Yasuda’s cross past Esteban Alverado. An inspired set of substitutions saw Verbeek introducing Maarten Martens for Johan Gudhmundsson and deploy the pace and attacking sensibilities of Simon Poulsen at left back in place of Ragnar Klavan. Within a minute Pontus Wernbloom had equalised. With ten minutes to go Poulsen added a second, before providing Martens with AZ’s third.
Ajax found themselves even further behind the title challenge when they were taken down 3-2 by ADO, who have made the Kyocera Stadium almost impenetrable this year. In November ADO had defeated the Amsterdam club in the capital for the first time in twenty four years, and completed the double this weekend. With Maarten Stekelenburg out for the remainder of the season, the Ajax defence looked considerably more vulnerable in front of Jeroen Verhoeven, and were it not for a timely intervention from Vurnon Anita, ADO would have taken a very early lead. Their resilience would not last long, as Gregory van der Wiel and Toby Alderweireld failed to clear a rudimentary cross and Frantisek Kubik opened the scoring.
ADO were content to play on the break, with Ajax looking weary and unimaginative. It took a severe lapse of concentration to allow Jan Vertonghen an unmarked shot at goal, but considering the strike registered at almost seventy miles per hour that was perhaps for the best. As Ajax looked for the lead again ADO countered; Lex Immers getting a goal that you felt Stekelenburg may have stopped. Again Ajax rallied with Christian Eriksen’s header making it 2-2 with five minutes to go. Two minutes later and yet more defensive disaster from van der Wiel allowed Tim Derijck a deserved winner.
The result itself was somewhat overshadowed by ADO’s Immers being captured on video singing anti-Semitic songs aimed at Ajax’s traditionally Jewish support. The player has since apologised and been given the maximum possible fine. If there was any positive news for de Boer it was that relations between himself and Mounir El Hamdaoui appear cordial. Ajax face Heracles next, in a fixture that quite literally has Greek tragedy written all over it.
Twente and PSV both kept up their challenges on three and two different fronts respectively. PSV laboured to a 1-0 victory over Utrecht, while their rivals were far more comfortable in a Theo Janssen inspired 2-0 win at Excelsior, who remain in the relegation playoffs. Feyenoord suffered their first defeat in six games, going down 3-0 at Europe chasing Roda JC and all but ending their own slim chances of getting amongst the playoff hopefuls.
VVV and Willem II played out a game that was meant to decide which side was the worst in the country, and perhaps it was fitting that it ended as a goalless draw. Groningen took their first points in four games with a 1-0 win at NAC, while NEC maintained their own interest in the Europa League playoffs by beating De Graafschap by the same scoreline.