Ricardo Pepi’s eighth goal of the season helped Groningen to a point that does little to help their relegation fight, while Taylor Booth and Utrecht went toe-to-toe with PSV to stay on course for a shot at European qualification.
FC Groningen 1 – 1 FC Emmen
Ricardo Pepi did what he was supposed to do against fellow strugglers FC Emmen on Saturday, namely put the ball in the opponents’ net, however Groningen’s draw at home will be seen as a missed opportunity as they continue to edge closer to relegation.
Over 90 minutes of play, the American international had only 36 touches, completed 85% of his 26 passing attempts, however was efficient with his limited time on the ball. He had three shots, one for the goal, and set up an additional four chances for teammates.
He opened the scoring in the 12th minute, first recovering the ball following a game of ping-pong in the midfield to initiate an attack, then finished it a few seconds later with an off-balance, sweeping shot from near the spot to the lower left corner.
The score brought his season total to eight goals and three assists through just 17 games, an impressive output for a generally weak team that has overall averaged just one per game.
Despite the early advantage, Emmen put the game back on even terms barely two minutes later, with Miguel Araujo sneaking through the defense to poke in a long free kick from Mark Diemers.
While Emmen were forced to play the final 17 minutes of regulation with a man down, following Mike te Wierik’s second yellow, the game ended with each of the struggling teams earning an unsatisfactory point for their efforts.
Groningen are now a full six points from safety, and three back from the relegation playoff spot. They face 15th-place Excelsior in an effective six-pointer on Saturday afternoon, in a game that could be the final death knell for their slim hopes of survival.
FC Utrecht 2 – 2 PSV Eindhoven
Taylor Booth went the distance in the attack for Utrecht on Sunday, helping to keep the visiting PSV Eindhoven defense off-balance in the teams’ exciting 2-2 draw.
In what has become the expected status quo for the American, Booth was a dangerous presence on the right side of Utrecht’s attacking front, with 62 touches, 24 completions in 32 attempts, two shots to force a pair of saves, one additional chance created and four successful dribbles in four attempts.
As usual, Richard Ledezma was in uniform for PSV, and as usual, watched the entirety of the game from the bench without being called into action.
Following a poor clearance of a Booth corner, Utrecht’s Othman Boussaid got the scoring underway in the 33rd minute with a looping strike from well outside the area to the left side of goal.
Two minutes later, Booth broke free behind the PSV defense, however his angled shot towards the lower left corner was parried without too much drama by Walter Benitez.
The visitors then pulled even with four minutes to go in the half, Johan Bakayoko left all along on the right side to decisively strike a cross from Luuk de Jong.
Just before the 54-minute mark, the American once again tested Benitez, striking a low volley from the edge of the area that the Argentine keeper was fortunate to block with his thighs.
Then three minutes before the hour, de Jong put PSV ahead from close range after Bakayoko’s attempt from outside the area was blocked into the Dutchman’s path by Utrecht keeper Vasilios Barkos.
Nevertheless, Utrecht quickly bounced back, earning the point three minutes later after Anastasios Douvikas chested the ball from the edge of the six-yard box back to Sander van der Streek for a scrappy, low shot that Benitez will be kicking himself for having let into his nets.
Utrecht finish the round in seventh place, still with a four-point pad ahead of Heerenveen in the final spot for the league’s European competition play-offs. They next visit Sparta on Friday.
PSV are in fourth following the result, still with a shot at chasing Champions League qualification. They host Sevilla in the Europa League on Thursday, then welcome Twente in league play three days later.
Excelsior Rotterdam 0 – 3 NEC Nijmegen
Philippe Sandler and NEC Nijmegen finally notched a much-needed win, blowing past hosts Excelsior Rotterdam by three goals on Sunday.
Kik Pierie is injured for Excelsior, and is still awaiting the chance to make his debut with his temporary team.
Apart from picking up his third yellow of the season, Sandler was a stifling force in NEC’s central defense, with 100 touches, completing 81 passes out of 92 attempts, hitting seven accurate long balls in ten tries, making four clearances, five recoveries and one interception, as well as winning seven out of ten duels.
He was perhaps lucky that his 29th-minute yellow card wasn’t a shade darker, after a lengthy VAR review led to the disputed, and perhaps surprising decision that his two-footed lunge at Julian Baas was not enough to warrant a straight red.
NEC still needed almost the entire first half to take the lead, with Magnus Mattsson sending a high, looping header from the left side just inside the far post.
The game was effectively over for Excelsior two minutes after the restart when Redouan El Yaakoubi was sent off for a second yellow, and a nearly uncontested 73rd-minute strike from Souffian Elkarouani guaranteed the three points, while a highlight-reel shot from Anthony Musaba with five minutes left put the final nail in the coffin.
Nijmegen are now tenth in the standings, with a home game against Volendam on Saturday next in the schedule, while 15th-place Excelsior face an important trip to Groningen.
Jong AZ 3 – 1 FC Den Bosch
Gedion Zelalem earned his first start for FC Den Bosch in their trip to Jong AZ on Friday in Eerste Divisie action, however his solid 83-minute performance was wasted in a 3-1 loss to their hosts.
Lining up on the right side of the central midfield, Zelalem completed 77% of his 35 passes, had a total of 47 touches, managed one shot, fired off five accurate long balls in six attempts, intercepted two passes, made six recoveries, and won half of his six duels.
American youngster Joshua Pynadath continued to be absent for Jong AZ.
Ricuenio Kewal put AZ ahead after just seven minutes with a shot from the edge of the penalty area, and then den Bosch forward Joey Konings gifted their hosts a second when he turned the ball into his own net while defending a corner in the 40th.
He did make up for his mistake on the stroke of half after pulling down a long ball from Victor van den Bogert and beating the opposing keeper, however Kewal sealed the win in the 53rd minute with his second of the game.
With the loss, Den Bosch occupy 17th place, and next host ADO Den Haag on Sunday.
Djordje Mihailovic was a late substitute for AZ Alkmaar in their 2-1 road loss at Feyenoord, coming into the game in the 84th minute. AZ nearly held on for a point against the current Eredivisie leaders, but fell thanks to a 90th-minute goal by their hosts.
Dante Sealy played the final 11 minutes for Jong PSV on Friday in their 1-1 draw at Telstar. During his time on the field, he had six touches and created one chance.