PEC Zwolle 1-0 Ajax: Frank de Boer’s Zwolle nightmare continues

In an evening that was not particularly entertaining, PEC Zwolle condemned Frank de Boer and his Ajax side to their second successive defeat against them, taking away yet another trophy from the Godenzonen. With European football on the menu for Zwolle this season already, they have added the Johan Cruijff Schaal to their trophy cabinet, where the KNVB Beker has barely collected dust.

The evening began with Arkadiusz Milik and Nick Viergever being handed their Ajax debuts by boss Frank de Boer and the players of both teams carrying their mascots on their backs, onto field in a movement of support for those with muscle diseases. A minute of silence was observed for the victims of the MH17 tragedy.

Led by the newly-appointed captain Niklas Moisander, Ajax began brightly with quite a share of possession before Klaassen, expected to play a more influential role at Ajax this season, played a delightful ball in for Viergever, who in a tussle with Trent Sainsbury managed to get a shot in under Diederik Boer, only to see it hit the post and be cleared away. However, the ex-AZ man injured his knee in the process and had to be taken off field for 6 minutes to receive treatment – definitely not the start to his debut Viergever was expecting.

Lucas Andersen and Nicolai Boilesen notably continued linking up well on the left but the next good chance fell to Mustafa Saymak, who the ball reached after Ruben Ligeon was caught napping in possession. The Turkish winger could only chip over Kenneth Vermeer though, as Viergever hobbled back on field.

A spell of Ajax possession was then broken by a good chance for PEC in the 23rd minute, when a bad header back from Ricardo Kishna saw the side from Zwolle send in a low cross across goal but there was no foot in the box to guide it into the back of the net and the match remained goalless.

Two minutes after that, The Netherlands was formally introduced to the vanishing spray as Lasse Schone’s free kick swerved well over the wall but was parried away by the diving frame of Diederik Boer.

Mokotjo – who was linked with a move to the Amsterdam ArenA recently – proved to be the pivotal player for PEC, just as he was in the Beker final last season, powering his way through players before shooting hard, but right at Vermeer.

Just over 6 minutes before the end of the first half, a bad pass from Moisander saw Stef Nijland being gifted a good goalscoring chance, but he could only pull his shot wide, though he seemed like he could have held onto the ball a bit longer to place his shot better. Viergever’s injury saw his debut end prematurely as he was taken off for Thulani Serero, leaving Ajax with three attacking midfielders and no proper defensive midfielder in the three-man midfield.

A foul on Drost from Moisander turned out the most entertaining moment of the half, as there were doubts over whether Drost was through on goal and whether it should have been a red card for the Ajax skipper – Ron Jans certainly thought so, but the referee let the Finn escape with no punishment.

The second half began in similar fashion, and spectators had to wait til the 51st minute for any event of note, when Bram van der Polen got a yellow card for bringing down Lucas Andersen – one of Ajax’s bright points from the match. A good shot from the resultant free kick by Schone, but Boer denied him yet again.

A few minutes later, Mokotjo bullied his compatriot Serero off the ball in midfield and went on a charging run again, before providing a fantastic cross for Nijland – unmarked – to deposit into the back of the net. The scoreboard could finally get some action, 1-0 to PEC Zwolle.

Ajax felt the need to respond and attempted to up the ante, a shot from Boilesen saved comfortably by Boer. The first change of the night followed soon, pre-season star Anwar El Ghazi coming on for the unimpressive Kishna, in hope of a Jairo Riedewald-esque impact.

By this time, it was all Ajax in possession, but they were laborious in build-up and PEC were happy enough to sit back and hit them on the counter. As Andersen pulled a shot wide at one end, Saymak, another impressive performer, had his shot saved by Vermeer at the other end and a few minutes later, Drost could have doubled PEC’s lead too.

Another unimpressive Ajax player in Milik was substituted off for Kolbeinn Sigthorsson – the centrepiece of many rumours this summer – and his introduction changed Ajax’s style. A Schone free kick was headed towards goal by Moisander and seemed like it was going to level things but Boer pulled off a remarkable save.

With six minutes to go, Ajax seemed to have suddenly realised they were playing a football match and were losing, as Klaassen saw his shot from the resultant corner saved too.

However, PEC could just as easily have compounded Ajax’s misery, with Ionnadis failing to score in a one-on-one situation with Vermeer. As the final whistle drew closer and closer, Drost missed yet another chance for PEC, being set up by Saymak. Ajax looked well out of their element.

The final whistle did eventually sound, and Jans had masterminded another victory over Ajax to take home another trophy – even without the presence of PEC’s most influential player last season in Mateusz Klich.

Mokotjo was unplayable on the night and the PEC defence as a whole did well to not break under the pressure of Ajax’s attack.

This does however, raise more doubts for De Boer’s side – who the ex-Dutch captain said needed no more additions earlier this month. Though the return of  Jasper Cillessen, Joel Veltman and especially Daley Blind will definitely help, Ajax require more direction and purpose in attack, often lacking coherence and understanding, especially in the final third.  The performance of Andersen and Viergever were certainly positives, while the likes of Klaassen, Schone and Boilesen did not have a particularly bad match but did nothing of note, when being senior players, they really should have taken up more responsibility.

But as for PEC, they will bask in this glory and be brimming with confidence when the Eredivisie kicks off.

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