DAVID SMITH - Monday, January 23, 2012
A draw against Ajax was enough to keep Jozy Altidore and AZ atop the Eredivisie while a late equalizer by Maastricht denied Charles Kazlauskas and Helmond a spot in the top half of the Eerste Divisie.
AZ Alkmaar 1 - 1 Ajax Amsterdam
Jozy Altidore was relegated to bench duty on Sunday, coming into AZ's game as a second half substitute in their disappointing home draw with defending champions Ajax Amsterdam.
After a fine performance in Thursday's cup win over Ajax by Altidore's replacement Charlison Benschop, the American was once again left out of Gertjan Verbeek's starting lineup.
Both teams came close to taking a lead within the first half hour, first when Ajax forward Miralem Sulejmani had a goal called back for offside, the shortly thereafter when Benschop saw a shot cleared off the line by Jan Vertonghen.
In the 37th minute, AZ were awarded a free kick 22 yards straight out from goal after Vertonghen fouled Adam Maher, and Rasmus Elm fired an unstoppable blast to the upper right corner of goal to put the hosts into the lead.
AZ looked likely to increase their lead after the break with an number of chances, including a header by Altidore, who entered the game in the 73rd minute for Benschop, which was stopped by Ajax keeper Kenneth Vermeer.
Despite their better efforts, hey were forced to settle for a draw, as a scramble in front of goal ended with Simon Poulsen accidentally deflecting the ball into his own net while trying to clear it from danger.
With second-place PSV Eindhoven also drawing on their trip to Utrecht later in the afternoon, Alkmaar retain their one-point lead at the head of the standings. They will hit the road on Saturday when they visit ninth-place Roda JC.
Helmond Sport 2 - 2 MVV Maastricht
Charles Kazlauskas played the full 90 minutes in Helmond's midfield on Friday evening, as they were unable to hang on to a second-half lead at home against MVV Maastricht.
The first meeting between these two teams ended in rather controversial fashion, after a late sending off of a Maastricht player ultimately allowed Helmond to come back from a two-goal deficit to steal a point.
While Maastricht were once again reduced to ten men in the final minutes of the game just minutes after scratching second equalizer, Helmond were unable to create any last-minute heroics this time around, and had to settle for a disappointing draw.
Just after the half-hour, a flurry of activity saw Helmond take he lead with a low shot from the edge of the six-yard box by Jeffrey Altheer, then Maastricht equalize one minute later with an acute-angled shot from Malcom Esajas from the left side that slipped in at the near post.
Ten minutes into the second half, Helmond were again ahead after Kazlauskas hit a cross from the right to the center of the box, which Erik Quekel did well to put into goal with an athletic header.
With 12 minutes remaining in the game, Maastricht pulled even in rather lucky circumstances, when Prince Rajcomar's corner towards the near post was deflected by Quekel into his own goal.
Helmond were given a perfect chance to fight for a winner in the final minutes after Kjell Knops was given his marching orders for a second yellow when he cynically took down Youssef Koubali just outside the area, but the visitors held their ground with both teams earning the draw for their efforts.
The point still pushes Helmond up one spot in the standings to 11th place, however they could feasibly jump as high as eighth place should they manage a victory on their trip to Fortuna Sittard on Friday evening.