With league leaders PSV Eindhoven sitting at the top of the Eredivisie two points ahead of Ajax and three ahead of Feyenoord you would be forgiven for thinking that their game away at midtable Heerenveen would be simply a matter of ease for the Eindhoven side buoyed by the good goal scoring form of Dries Mertens and Georginio Wijnaldum however this proved not to be the case with Dick Advocaat’s side losing ground in the title race by falling victim to a 2-1 defeat on Saturday afternoon by Marco van Basten’s Heerenveen team leaving the gates well and truly open for Feyenoord and Ajax to ramp up the pressure on them at the summit of the Eredivisie league table.
Feyenoord in Sunday’s earliest kick off traveled to Kerkrade to face Roda JC in a match Ronald Koeman’s charges needed to win in order to take full advantage of PSV’s slip up the day before and keep their title challenge on. A game against the Eredivisie’s sixteenth placed team would again lead supporters to believe a routine victory to be on the cards for the Rotterdammers however Koeman was determined not to let complacency engulf his side following the disappointment of finishing second to their fiercest rivals Ajax at the end of last season. The first half was indeed a struggle with Roda putting up a stern defensive wall inside their own half despite being the home team, try as they might Koeman’s Feyenoord couldn’t breach this wall despite the best efforts of Tonny Vilhena, Jean-Paul Boëtius and Graziano Pelle the clubs leading scorer for this campaign. Vilhena’s nimble footed play aided by the strong presence of Lex Immers behind him caused Roda’s defensive issues with the young midfielder finding gaps all across the Roda backline and looking to link up with Boëtius and Pelle on every occasion yet the final ball just wasn’t present.
A goalless first half seemed to be on the cards when on the half hour mark a pin point Ruben Schaken cross found the head of the prolific Graziano Pelle. After a wonderfully skilful turn of pace from the experienced Dutchman allowed him the space to run and then cross the ball Schaken picked out Pelle with the Italian’s header bouncing into the bottom corner of the net past Roda’s goalkeeper Prus to give the Rotterdam side the lead going into the break.
After the break the match was a much nervier affair, where Feyenoord had been comfortable in the first half they now were not, often misplacing simple passes be it due to pressure from the Roda midfield or indeed that of the occasion knowing that they must leave Kerkrade with all three points to keep their title dreams alive. Jordy Clasie however despite being one of the youngest men on the field kept his cool like a seasoned professional with the central midfielder nicknamed the “Dutch Xavi” sitting in a much deeper role than the one he normally occupies with Koeman looking to keep control of the football much deeper in their own half through Clasie’s exquisite ball retention skills. This proved largely successful prior to the final twenty minutes of the match with Clasie picking up the ball in his own half and taking his time to move it on rather than a panicked clearance up the pitch, this was too come later.
As the second half progressed and Roda became more and more aware of the defensive fragility within Feyenoord the chances the home side created became more and more frequent with Mitchell Donald firing wide with almost an open goal to aim at and Feyenoord’s keeper Erwin Mulder having to pull of two instinctive saves from close range with the game in its final fifteen minutes. Koeman still undeterred by the pressure Roda were putting on his side did not make any tactical change, confident his team would be able to weather the storm.
Feyenoord did hold onto their one goal advantage right into the depths of added time when Roda JC won a corner, the corner whipped in from the right hand side beat an onrushing Erwin Mulder and met a Roda JC head only for the header to be cleared off the line by Jordy Clasie leading to heated remonstrations from the Roda players towards the linesman due to the fact they believed the ball had crossed the line. The drama subsided and Feyenoord held on for the final whistle which was greeted with celebrations of an almost definitive nature very similar to those seen when Manchester United snatched a late win at Craven Cottage in the 2006-2007 season, with Feyenoord having come through a tough away fixture which really put their title credentials to the test, a test which Koeman’s men passed and which also closed the gap between themselves and PSV Eindhoven with the two sides now level on points.
With Feyenoord leapfrogging them as a consequence of their win at Roda, Ajax now positioned in third knew a win at home to PEC Zwolle would see the champions top the Eredivisie table at the end of Matchday twenty six. It was little surprise then that it was Ajax that set the early tempo of the match creating a number of chances in the first ten minutes, most notably Viktor Fischer forcing a block out of the Zwolle defence. The opening goal came courtesy of Ajax’s Sigthórsson in the nineteenth minute with the Iceland international placing the ball into the net from an acute angle following a well seen through ball from Lasse Schöne. The lead was then doubled just seven minutes later through club captain Siem De Jong with a tap-in from three yards out following Zwolle’s goalkeeper Boer parrying a Sigthórsson header.
The Amsterdam side went into cruise control following the half time interval with PEC Zwolle giving them very little to guard against, it was one of the more dull periods of Eredivisie football witnessed this season however Ajax completed the rout ten minutes from time following a culture piece of play from Christian Eriksen on the left hand side gave him the opportunity to calmly pass the ball across the box and into the path of Derk Boerrigter who routinely placed the ball into an unguarded Zwolle net.
A good result, a solid performance albeit not spectacular from Ajax against a team threatened by relegation was hardly a big surprise but the importance of this victory cannot be underestimated especially with Ajax playing after both PSV and Feyenoord only maximising the pressure on Frank de Boer’s men. With the Amsterdam club now leading the Eredivisie table with eight games to go there is a great deal of belief in the Dutch capital that Ajax can retain their title however with de Amsterdammers still having to go to the Philips Stadion to face PSV Eindhoven there is bound to plenty more twists and turns before the season is complete.
Elsewhere Vitesse Arnhem now sit three points behind leaders Ajax after they kept up their title challenge with a 1-0 win away at manager less FC Twente following the departure of Steve McLaren. Vitesse scored their solitary goal through Wilfried Bony taking his tally for the season thus far to twenty four goals making the Ivorian the leading scorer in the division however the match will be remembered not for Wilfried Bony’s coolly executed side footed finish but rather the Willem Janssen chance in the first half which could well be awarded miss of the season after the Dutch midfielder blazed over the crossbar from ten yards out with only an open net in front of him after taking the ball round Piet Velthuizen.
With eight games left to play the Dutch Eredivisie’s title race is truly hotting up now with four teams left in the running for the crown of Dutch Champions come the end of the season. With Ajax now the favourites sitting one point clear of rivals PSV and Feyenoord in second and third place respectively it will be an incredibly motivated Frank de Boer team however I still think Feyenoord sit in pole position to really propel themselves to their first title in thirteen seasons due to the fact they have the run in you would deem as the easiest coupled with the fact PSV and Ajax still have to face each other. Koeman’s Feyenoord side will have earmarked the fourteenth of April as the weekend where they can potentially lead the Eredivisie with PSV hosting Ajax on that day, a draw would be a perfect result for Feyenoord with the Rotterdammers facing struggling RKC away from home the day before. However Feyenoord the weekend after do have to come up against Wilfried Bony and Vitesse Arnhem at De Kuip and Koeman will be determined not to let any potential good work that went on the weekend previous be undone by sloppiness against the Eredivisie’s own FC Hollywood.
In the meantime however Matchday twenty seven sees PSV and Feyenoord both have home games against RKC and FC Utrecht respectively, whilst league leaders Ajax have a potentially tough trip to AZ Alkmaar on the Sunday afternoon with PSV and Feyenoord just as in Matchday twenty six, playing their fixtures before them.