RECAP: WEEKEND DUTCH ACTION
A much-needed win by Jozy Altidore and AZ over Heracles gave them some breathing room while Charles Kazlauskas and Helmond stayed within reach of the Eerste Divisie top spot.
Heracles Almelo - AZ Alkmaar
Despite playing a man down for nearly an hour, Jozy Altidore and AZ valiantly held on for a narrow win at Heracles on Sunday, increasing the team's cushion ahead of the drop zone.
AZ were immediately on the attack, and it was no surprise that they took the lead midway through the first half when Markus Henriksen found space to collect a corner from Steven Berghuis and fire it Remko Pasveer for AZ's opener.
Their continued pressure forced their hosts into a mistake two minutes later. Dirk Marcellis fired a hard cross in front of goal, which Heracles defender Mike te Wierik accidentally deflected into his own net.
Just past the half-hour the hosts were given a lifeline, after AZ central defender Thomas Lam was shown a straight red for what looked to be a reckless tackle.
Roy Beerens was immediately substituted out by head coach Gertjan Verbeek in favor of replacement defender EtiŽnne Reijnen, leaving the visitors in a decidedly defensive posture for the remainder of the game.
Two minutes before the halftime Heracles did succeed in pulling one back, with te Wierek nodding the ball in for his second goal of the afternoon - this time for his own team - after extended Heracles pressure had forced AZ keeper Esteban Alvarado to concede a corner.
Predictably, AZ had little chance of increasing their lead after the break, although fortunately they were able to prevent Heracles from inflicting any further damage, and were thrilled to come away with the win.
The crucial win gives AZ three points to spare above the relegation playoff spaces. They will be back on the field on Sunday, when they visit stone-cold NEC Nijmegen.
Helmond Sport 2 - 1 FC Eindhoven
Charles Kazlauskas was a crucial figure for Helmond on Friday night, opening the scoring with his fourth goal of the season and drawing the penalty for the team's eventual winning goal, as they surged to victory over visiting FC Eindhoven.
Helmond were clearly the better of the two teams throughout the first half, but couldn't translate their dominance into goals until the 50th minute, when Samir Fazli found Kazlauskas with a fine cross which the American easily put away for the lead.
Then two minutes later, Kazlauskas was again on the attack, but was tripped up inside the area by Sjors Paridaans, resulting in red for the Eindhoven defender and a penalty for the hosts.
Emrullah Guvenc easily converted the spot kick for his 16th goal of the season, giving Helmond what looked to be the insurance goal.
This turned out to be more important than they would have normally hoped facing an understaffed opponent, as Maikel Verkoelen pulled one back after combining with Serhat Koc just past the hour.
Eindhoven continued to push for the remaining 30 minutes, but the Helmond defense barely held it together, and were happy to take the three points at the final whistle.
The result sees Helmond close the gap on first-place Sparta to a single point, although they have played one more game. They will return to action on Monday against Den Bosch, with hopes of making a move up the standings towards the division's lone promotion spot.