Eredivisie review week 34: All is decided, time for the play-offs

Even though most things were decided already in the Eredivisie, round 34 provided plenty of action again. The Europa League play-offs spots were the hottest property to be fought for.

For instance, 7th placed FC Groningen were hosting champions Ajax. A win would seal them 7th place and a Europa League play-offs spot! They didn’t. FC Groningen had ruled it out, but  Frank de Boer said before the match he thought a guard of honour would’ve been appropriate. ‘ It’s a sign of respect towards the champions. Ah well, we’ll have to take the three points then.’ And so they did. Even though there were spells of pressure from FC Groningen, Ajax came and won rather comfortably, with first Icelandic striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson opening the score softly curling the ball into the net past keeper Marco Bizot. In the second half, substitute Danny Hoesen turned FC Groningen defender Kees Kwakman and finished comfortably with his right foot to make it 2-0 to the champions and Ajax finish the season unbeaten in the Eredivisie bar the two games against Vitesse.

The loss of FC Groningen gave SC Heerenveen the chance to eclipse them. A win would seal them 7th place and a Europa League play-offs spot! They didn’t either. While Heerenveen were the ones with everything to play for, Roda JC were the ones taking control right from the beginning. In the opening half an hour, Roda JC had a ball headed against the bar and a penalty shout was turned down. In the 31st minute, however, Hungarian striker Krisztian Nemeth opened the score after a series of faults in the Heerenveen defence.  In the rest of the game, the Frisians hardly threatened Roda JC and the game finished 1-0, saving FC Groningen for 7th and bringing themselves in jeopardy.

SC Heerenveen’s loss meant ADO Den Haag could move up the table. A win would seal them 7th place and a Europa League play-offs spot! Again, they didn’t either. With homeside PEC Zwolle looking to entertain the crowd one last time and to give manager Art Langeler a fitting farewell, ADO were never threatening FC Groningen or Heerenveen for 7th and 8th place. A comprehensive 4-2 win for the Zwollenaren, with Fred Benson the star of the show, opening the score in the 19th minute and doubling their advantage in the 55th. With Charlton Vicento sent off in the 60th minute, the game looked all but done. Santi Kolk clawed one back for the resident club five minutes later, but was immediately undone through a goal of Saymak. Five minutes before time, ADO Den Haag needed three to make the play-offs and it was Rydell Poepon who provided one of them. However, Youness Mokhtar undid the Poepon goal a minute after, finalizing the score at 4-2. Consequently, FC Groningen and SC Heerenveen will join FC Utrecht and FC Twente for the Europa League play-offs. The winner of that will enter the Europa League preliminaries in the second round.

FC Groningen Robert Maaskant was happy with his side ending the season as seventh and had expected the loss against Ajax, but Heerenveen-manager Marco van Basten was fuming after the game against Roda JC. ‘We were uninspired, this was a justified defeat. If you play like we did today, you deserve to lose,’ he told de Volkskrant.’We’ve lost three on the trot now and still we make the play offs.  It’s a miracle and you can ask yourself whether it is deserved or not. If we keep playing like this, we don’t belong in the play-offs.’

Fifth and sixth

They’ll be looking to improve on their form this Thursday, when they will be playing FC Utrecht, who finished the season in fifth place. FC Utrecht made a beautiful gesture to the late David Di Tommaso. The French defender, who died of a heart attack in his sleep when he played for the club in 2005, was always a fans’ favourite and got his own bust on ‘Bunnikside’, the stand of the hardcore fans of FC Utrecht. A rather emotional affair and luckily for the Utrechters preceded by a routine 3-0 victory over Heracles Almelo, to give the event some extra grace. FC Utrecht only got going in the second half, when Cedric Van der Gun opened the score following some terrible Heracles-defending. Things got worse when Davidson fouled Mulenga and earned a red card for doing so. A penalty was rewarded too and Mulenga remained calm and composed, slotting home the penalty. Midfielder Toornstra completed the rout with his fifth goal in twelve appearances for Utrecht. The former ADO-man has been highly impressive for the club from the Domstad ever since he moved there in January.

It made the 3-1 victory of FC Twente over second placed PSV rather redundant. However, the Twentenaren finish sixth now and will be playing FC Groningen in the play-offs.  They will take a good feeling with them from the match against PSV, as they are now unbeaten in their last 8. It was also the last game of Mark Van Bommel, who announced his retirement right after the game. Fitting for a player renowned for his ‘dirty tactics’, he was sent off with two yellows  in that game, first one for going in hard on Luc Castaignos and a second  one for stamping on Dusan Tadic’ ankle. FC Twente were already rather comfortable in front by then, with Castaignos opening the score, followed by a goal from Nacer Chadli. A penalty by Mertens , meaning his sixteenth goal in his 29th league appearance, got PSV back in the game for a short period, but in the second half, Chadli assisted Willem Janssen to make it 3-1. Van Bommel’s sending off didn’t have any further implications, as 3-1 was the final score.

Van Bommel's final goodbye, a stamp on Tadic' ankle.

Van Bommel’s final goodbye, a stamp on Tadic’ ankle.

Battle for third

Graziano Pelle’s controversial goal ensured Feyenoord beat NAC to finish the season in third place, only losing out on second due to PSV’s far superior goal difference. After a goalless first-half, the Rotterdam side took the lead when Graziano Pelle headed a John Goossens corner towards goal. The effort looked to have been cleared off the line by Tim Gilissen, but the linesman eventually called the referee over and the goal was subsequently awarded, which proved to be the decisive moment of the match.

That victory meant it was impossible for Vitesse to finish anywhere other than fourth place, but it didn’t matter in the end as the Arnhem side themselves ensured they couldn’t leapfrog Ronald Koeman’s side after they lost 1-0 to second bottom club VVV. Vitesse created several chances with top goalscorer Wilfried Bony, who looks set to leave this summer, missing several chances to open the scoring. Instead it was the Venlo club who drew first blood with a counter attack which ended with Bryan Linssen collecting a pass and holding off Tomas Kalas before smashing it past Piet Velthuizen.

And those with nothing left to play for

AZ appeared to have been suffering from a hangover after Thursday’s KNVB Beker triumph over PSV as they suffered a 2-0 defeat to bottom club Willem II in the final match of the season. It was an entertaining first half with both teams creating opportunities but neither could find the net until the early stages of the second period when Willem II youngster Virgil Misidjan opened the scoring. The Tilburgers killed the game off 20 minutes later when Giliano Wijnaldum headed into his own net. The win is only Willem II’s fifth in the league this season.

Despite that defeat, AZ have had a successful season because of their cup win, unlike NEC, who will be delighted to see it come to an end as they have endured a horrendous run in to the campaign. The Nijmegen side have collected just one point from their final ten games of the season and Sunday’s defeat to RKC means they were overtaken by Erwin Koeman’s side and have finished the season fourth from bottom. Kenny Anderson fired RKC into the lead when he converted from a Florian Jozefzoon pass. Jozefzoon then doubled RKC’s lead when he brought down a long pass from goalkeeper Jeroen Zoet and charged towards goal before smashing home. Kevin Conboy’s late goal gave NEC a consolation, but it was a poor ending to the season for Alex Pastoor’s team.

Co-written by Peter McVitie

We will have a feature on Van Bommel’s retirement up later this week.

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