DAVID SMITH - Sunday, December 18, 2011
Jozy Altidore was limited to 45 minutes of action on Sunday, leaving the game at halftime as AZ were dealt a surprise blow in a road loss to NAC Breda.
Even though AZ dominated throughout the game, their profligacy in front of goal ultimately left the door open for their hosts to steal the three points.
The visitors were close on several occasions in the first half-hour, but watched in disbelief as Breda went ahead in the 31st minute. AZ midfielder Etienne Reijnen tried to head a cross from Milano Koenders clear, however connected poorly and sent the ball directly to Anthony Lurling for a curling shot well out of Esteban Alvarado's reach.
AZ were able to pull even just before the half, with Rasmus Elm firing a corner directly to the foot of Brett Holman for a ten-yard equalizer.
Altidore was pulled at halftime in favor of 18 year-old debutant Fernando Lewis, likely due to fatigue from their midweek Europa League game.
AZ should have gone ahead at several points in the second half, most notably in the 63rd minute when Holman missed an open net, and they were made to rue their wastefulness in the final seconds.
A corner in the final minute ended up at the foot of the on-loan defender Koenders, who fired a powerful shot into the net, giving Breda the win.
AZ remain in first place despite the loss, although their lead above PSV Eindhoven now stands at a single point. With their next league game not taking place until January 22 against visiting Ajax Amsterdam, they will still celebrate the holidays as the Eredivisie leaders.
They still have one more task in 2011, as they will pay a visit to Ajax on Wednesday as both teams try to reach the quarterfinals of the Dutch Cup.