A warm and sunny day, with a good crowd at Highfield Road -
I'd estimate between 10 and 12,000. Although City weren't
outclassed as they were against Benfica a few years ago, Ajax
were a classy side and gave a superb display of football in an
City lined up in their usual 4-4-2 with Magnus in goal; back
four of Breen, Willo, Shaw and Marcus Hall; a young midfield of
Normann, Quinn, Eustace and Telfer; and Roussel and Zuniga up
The opening few minutes showed City working hard, closing the
ball down and pressing forward; Normann did some neat footwork
and put a good cross over which the Dutch keeper, Grim, claimed
just before it reached Zuniga.
And it was City who went ahead after ten minutes, when
Normann played a ball forward down the left wing for Hall to
chase. Marcus slowed however and the ball was played back to the
keeper by the full back.
Marcus picked up pace to charge down the keeper, blocked the
attempted pass back to the full back and the ball ran to Cedric,
who had an easy tap in to an empty net from ten yards out.
This geed City up, but Ajax soon settled to their game and
began to take control. We nearly surrendered the lead almost
immediately when Eustace managed to pass to an Ajax player in
our own area, but we managed to clear that danger.
The Dutch side were passing it around confidently in
midfield, always someone available for a pass, lots of movement
off the ball and City were chasing it for much of the time.
The ball was always played out of defence to feet, never
hoofed up the park. For all their domination of midfield though
(where Quinn was largely anonymous), Ajax were not very sharp up
front, where our defence was doing a good job.
Willo and Hall in particular both looked on top form. Magnus
didn't have a lot to do as chances were rare.
And so the game progressed to half time in this pattern, Ajax
probing and testing, but never quite creating the openings,
although on one occasion Marcus had to clear the ball off the
line after their left winger (who looked an excellent player)
cut in and created an opening.
It wasn't all one way traffic though, Roussel was winning
balls in the air, Eustace was always running box to box and
Zuniga worked hard and had one left foot shot blocked after some
near footwork on the edge of the area to create some room.
You felt it was only a matter of time before they equalised.
Still City got to half time one up. No changes at the start
of the second half and the game resumed its previous pattern.
Ajax were stringing passes together, using the full width of the
pitch, with City chasing the ball.
Strachan made his first substitution after ten minutes,
pulling off Zuniga and replacing him with Bothroyd. The former
Arsenal youngster didn't do too badly, won some headers, showed
a good first touch and had one fierce left foot shot saved by
the keeper after beating a defender in the area late on in the
By that time we were beaten. Ajax got their equaliser after
their left winger beat Breen by the corner flag and despite
Gary's efforts to hang on to his shirt, got his pass into the
area, where it was passed back to the edge of the area where an
oncoming midfielder thumped a left foot shot past Magnus.
More substitutions: Aloisi got the biggest cheer of the
afternoon when he came on for Cedric (who had been the recipient
of a clattering tackle which had left him on the ground needing
treatment, one of the rare fouls of a very tidy game). Later
Delorge and Strachan replaced Normann and Breen, Telfer moving
to right back, Eustace to left midfield with Delorge going to
the right and Strachan to central midfield.
Normann hadn't had the best of games, showed one or two
flashes but by and large was pretty poor, not getting forward
enough and often passing.
Although you couldn't fault the workrate and effort, all too
often we seemed to run out of ideas and resorted to Willo
hoofing the ball up to the front men.
Ajax continued to play their passing game and it bore fruit
when a ball was played down the left channel for one of their
players to run on to and with only Magnus to beat, he slid the
ball past the Swede and into the net.
A similar move ten minutes later brought Ajax their third.
Apart from Bothroyd's effort, we didn't create any real
chances in the second half and although we gave them a run for
their money, the better side undoubtedly were the winners when
Peter Jones blew for full-time.
It's hard to draw any conclusions from this: although we
lost, it was hardly our first choice team, Strachan presumably
resting players and allowing them to recover from injuries, but
it does maybe show our lack of real strength in depth.
There were some very good individual performances,
particularly from Marcus Hall who didn't put a foot wrong all
afternoon. It was an entertaining game, with much good football,
but we'll see what next week brings, when the real competition