Europa League play-offs: SC Heerenveen 0-1 FC Utrecht: Van der Gun heads visitors ahead
Utrecht’s chances of progressing in the Europa League playoffs were boosted immensely when they beat Heerenveen 1-0 in the Abe Lenstra Stadion, inflicting a fourth successive defeat on Marco van Basten’s side.
It wasn’t a thoroughly exciting match, with the majority of the battle taking place in midfield. The first-half was particularly void of goalscoring opportunities. Utrecht began to dominate in the start of the second period.Heerenveen substituted their star striker Alfred Finnbogason halfway through the half due to a lack of service, throwing on Mark Uth in his place.
However, it was Utrecht who broke the deadlock after 69 minutes when Jacob Mulenga tore down the right wing and cross into the box. Cedric van der Gun was there to meet it at the back post and head past Heerenveen goalkeeper Kristoffer Nordfeldt.
With 15 minutes left, Marten de Roon seized a loose ball and fired towards goal. The effort had Utrecht shot-stopper Robbin Ruiter beaten but it smacked off the post and the danger was cleared.
Later, Mulenga had a run at goal and beat one defender and freed himself up for a shot but it was strongly beaten away by Nordfeldt.
As the match approached the dying minutes, Jens Toornstra ran onto a pass and galloped towards goal in what looked like a promising attack but he was stopped by an excellent tackle before he could get into the box. Heerenveen broke forward immediately afterwards and a Kenny Otigba cross was wasted by the lack of blue and white jerseys in the box. Heerenveen regained possession though and came close but Joey van den Berg’s shot struck the side-netting.
The win gives Utrecht a huge advantage as they prepare for Sunday’s return and look to secure a place in the playoff final. At the moment, it looks set to go down to a one off final to decide who will secure a place in the Europa League qualifying round next season.