Our performance just over three weeks ago provoked the ‘Gutless in Malmö’ banner from the GB. Well, I don’t know what they’ve got planned (if anything) for Sunday but certainly we can’t accuse this team of being gutless tonight; and this became more evident as the game went on and we were playing with 10 men.
The team seemed determined to get off to a flyer and did so when Johansen pressed effectively high up the park (like he used to) and Commons played Bitton through for a superb finish. This gave the team confidence and, whilst our passing wasn’t always accurate, nobody was hiding. From my vantage high in the North Stand (no change from home games!) it was easy to watch Simunovic in the first half. I was impressed. He is clearly an organiser and was often telling Izzy where to be and I think that it’s no coincidence that Izzy had one of his best games for us ….until his costly moment of madness. Boyata concentrated on the simple things and it was Lustig who seemed to be having the hardest time containing attacks. In particular, the ease in which he was beaten for the equaliser was disappointing.
At this point Ajax seemed well on top, we struggled to close them down and our passing was going awry. Just as I was resigning myself to another European defeat up popped Lustig to put us back in front. It seemed an age for the fans around me to react when the goal went in, it was like a collective sense of disbelief for a few seconds before we dared celebrate!
Whilst the goal was against the run of play it gave us the confidence to hold the ball better and keep our shape and, prior to Izzy’s sending off, I never had the sense that it was back to the walls stuff. After the sending off though that’s exactly what it became. Step forward Efe Ambrose! Efe made his customary error within a couple of minutes of coming on but, after that, he was our most effective defender. Ajax seemed to be reduced to sending high balls into the middle and Efe seemed to get under most of them. The equaliser came from Schone who hit a beautiful free kick which was difficult to defend. That’s three goals he has scored against us in as many games, we need a solution to that before the home game. Finally, after what seemed to be a never ending injury time we made it over the line for a well-earned draw.
Before the game I’d have jumped at a draw but most of us at the game had a sense of disappointment that we didn’t win. I’ve seen some people say online that this is a rubbish Ajax team, we bottled it etc etc. What is it with some of our fans? Ajax are leading the Dutch league and are ahead of PSV who beat Man U this week. Our performance was full of character and determination with all players working tirelessly. Simunovic made a good start and Commons made a difference to the team, setting up both of our goals. Griffiths ran all night in a way reminiscent of Stevie Chalmers (yes, I’m that old!), and Brown was getting back to something approaching his true form. The only time Forrest got away from his man it led to the Griffiths shot which led to the corner and Lustig’s goal, so while he was having a frustrating night he kept trying.
So this was anything but ‘gutless in Amsterdam’!