RECAP: WEEKEND DUTCH ACTION
Charles Kazlauskas and Helmond moved closer to a playoff spot with a nervy win against Telstar while Jozy Altidore and AZ were on the wrong end of a drubbing at the hands of Utrecht.
FC Utrecht 3 - 0 AZ Alkmaar
Jozy Altidore was a halftime substitute for usual starter Charlison Benschop, but was able to do little to alter AZ's first-half fortunes as they were soundly beaten by FC Utrecht on Sunday.
Barely 15 minutes into the game, AZ were already facing an uphill battle when Niklas Moisander was shown a straight red for pulling down Nana Asare in the area, with Alexander Gerndt converting from the spot to add injury to insult.
Six minutes later, Gerndt was again on target, benefiting from a high clearance that fell at his feet just inside the penalty area and giving his team the 2-0 lead with a low volley to the left side of goal.
Then five minutes before the halftime whistle, Edouard Duplan put the game out of reach when he pulled down a pass from Frank Demouge, beat a pair of defenders and placed his shot from the top edge of the penalty area just inside the right upright.
Altidore entered at the half and did come close to pulling one back with a shot off the woodwork, however AZ were only able to hold the scoreline and prevent any further damage.
With league leaders PSV Eindhoven also suffering a surprising 3-0 defeat earlier in the afternoon, AZ amazingly lose no ground in their race for the title. They trail the lead only by goal differential, however now have both Heerenveen and Twente breathing down their necks.
Their busy spell continues with a Thursday-night visit to Anderlecht in their Europa League second-leg game, then host Heerenveen three days later in a crucial Eredivisie encounter with potential title implications.
Helmond Sport 3 - 2 Telstar Velsen
Charles Kazlauskas played the full 90 minutes of Helmond's game at right midfield, as they survived a second-half scare to edge past Telstar Velsen on Friday.
Helmond took the lead in the 27th minute in all-too-familiar fashion, with Jop Van der Linden nailing his remarkable seventh free kick of the season.
Two minutes later, Erik Quekel added another goal to his own season's tally when he ran onto a low cross from the right from Gillian Justiana, storming into the six-yard box for the easy 2-0.
Then with six minutes left before the break, Helmond looked to have added an insurance goal through the individual skill of Sebastian Stachnik, who beat a pair of defenders and hit a low-roller from the edge of the box.
Despite the advantage, Telstar did make for a nervy second half. They first struck back just before the break as Kevin Brands' shot was blocked by Björn Sengier directly into Johan Plat's path for an easy finish.
Then just seconds after the restart, they pulled back to within a single score as Plat capitalized on a defensive error and hit a high, looping shot well out of the keeper's reach.
Helmond were able to clamp down on the game after the scare, and Brands' header off the crossbar in the waning minutes was the only close call, allowing the hosts to finally celebrate the victory at the end of 90 minutes.
With the victory, Helmond remain seventh in the overall standings, but more importantly climb to fourth in the third-period standings, making the possibility of once again reaching the promotion playoffs a realistic goal.
They will be back in action on Friday evening when they visit fourth-place Den Bosch in a game which will likely provide a true test to their promotion ambitions.