DAVID SMITH - Monday, April 8, 2013
Jozy Altidore and AZ could only manage a draw against ten-man NEC while Charles Kazlauskas and Helmond had a weekend of rest before making their final push for the Eerste Divisie title.
NEC Nijmegen 1 - 1 AZ Alkmaar
Jozy Altidore and AZ Alkmaar were unable to take advantage of their man-advantage over NEC Nijmegen for the final half-hour of their draw, but they will still be happy with the point as it helped them widen the gap over the relegation places.
A highly sloppy first 15 minutes from both teams had the look of a long and torturous game for the fans in the stands, however the action rapidly accelerated as both teams struck within a two-minute span.
NEC were lucky to avoid a penalty for their visitors in the 15th minute when the referee chose not to whistle after Rens va Eijden appeared to have knocked Altidore over in the area, but two minutes later AZ were successfully on the board.
Adam Maher was allowed ample space to advance from the midfield, and not liking his passing options, hit a low 18-yard shot from just outside the area which skidded in at the lower left corner.
AZ's lead was short lived, as the hosts needed two minutes to pull even thanks to a fantastic 25-yard free kick by Kevin Conboy that looped in just inside the right upright.
After that short flurry of activity, both teams buckled down more on the defensive end, and by the start of the second half were resorting to frequent long balls in an attempt to break through.
This all changed just past the hour when NEC central midfielder Nick van der Velden was shown a straight red for a retaliatory swing at AZ left back Giliano Wijnaldum.
With their opponents reduced to ten men, AZ tried valiantly to net a winning goal, and were excruciatingly close in injury time when Altidore set up debutant Aron Johannsson with a short pass into open space in the left side of the area.
Unfortunately the American-born Johannsson took his shot weakly, and keeper Gabor Babos had no issues to scoop it up.
While the team is surely disappointed not to have taken the win, the draw does increase their cushion ahead of the relegation playoff spots to four points.
They will be back in action on Sunday afternoon when they host sixth-place Utrecht.
Charles Kazlauskas and Helmond had the weekend off due to the cancellation of their regularly-scheduled game against bankrupt AGOVV Apeldoorn. They end the weekend even on points with Volendam in first place, although they trail by goal differential. The two teams will face off on Friday.