Luca de la Torre and Heracles continued their bungling descent towards the Dutch second tier, with perhaps their most dire performance of the season coming in a blowout loss to Excelsior in the first leg of the relegation playoff.
Excelsior Rotterdam 3 – 0 Heracles Almelo
Seemingly safe from any relegation threat at the season’s midway point, Heracles’ horrible form, which saw them only win four times since the new year and drop their final three Eredivisie games, left them in their current predicament of the relegation playoff.
If they were hoping for any respite against Excelsior, the sixth-place team in the Dutch second-tier, they were sorely disappointed as they were put to the knife on Wednesday night, and now need a near miracle to retain their top-flight status.
The American took up his usual starting spot on the right side of the Heracles three-man midfield and played from start to finish. While statistically solid, completing more than 90% of his 47 passes, taking one shot, creating another chance, and winning approximately half of his duels, an unfortunate late giveaway did lead to one of their hosts’ three goals.
Excelsior already made their intent known five minutes into the game when Reuven Niemeijer broke in behind the defense and past Heracles Koen Bucker, and was only stopped from scoring the opener by a heroic sliding block by Lucas Schoofs. Then they were even closer a few seconds later when Bucker stopped Thijs Dallinga’s point-blank shot.
They finally opened the scoring after 21 minutes when Siebe Horemans’ attempted cross was blocked by de la Torre but took a lucky bounce back to his foot. He took full advantage of the second chance, flicking the rebound to Niemeijer, who tapped it back to Marouan Azarkan for a powerful strike and the lead.
Azarkan was forced out due to injury shortly after the half-hour mark, on a play that probably should have led to a direct red for Schoofs, however the hosts kept the game under control, and added a pair of late scores to secure the win.
For the 2-0 in the 74th minute, a crowd of Heracles defenders were unable to stop Thijs Dallinga from finding a lane near the spot for a low strike to the left.
Then with five minutes remaining, an unlucky giveaway by de la Torre just inside the Heracles half initiated a quick counter, that ended with Couhaib Drioech striking a low shot from the left side of the area for the final 3-0 win.
Heracles still have one final narrow path to redemption, however will need to overturn the three-goal deficit in the home leg on Saturday evening.