Distracted, Erik? Manchester United-bound Ten Hag sees his Ajax side blow Dutch Cup glory  

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Is Erik ten Hag’s Ajax farewell going to fizzle out?

Perhaps the distraction of his imminent move to Manchester United all got a little too much here as PSV Eindhoven won 2-1 to lift the Dutch Cup.

Not that United should worry too much about their choice. The goals that won the final for PSV, one after the other at the beginning of the second-half, came from individual lapses by players as opposed to any tactical malfunction.

Ajax had cause to be aggrieved as well. They scored two goals disallowed by the most fractional of VAR offside calls.

PSV came from behind with two goals in as many minutes to defeat Erik Ten Hag's side

PSV came from behind with two goals in as many minutes to defeat Erik Ten Hag’s side

But such a driven personality as Ten Hag will be disappointed and will no doubt ask himself searching questions such as ‘should I have started Sebastien Haller up front?’

The scrutiny on such decisions will be much magnified when he arrives at Old Trafford. At the end, he just stood motionless for a few seconds before walking slowly onto the pitch to console his players.

His side carried a threat but it was often fleeting. There was no great siege on the PSV goal after that one-two sucker punch despite plenty of time to respond. They missed the spark of the injured Antony in attack.

All is not lost for Ten Hag. Ajax still have the upper hand in their title duel with PSV, leading by four points, but there will be no triple double for the outgoing boss.

Any United fans wondering whether Ten Hag has the courage of his convictions got their answer when the teamsheets were handed in 90 minutes before kick-off.

Haller, the man with 33 goals in 37 outings for Ajax this season, dropped to the bench and replaced in attack by 20-year-old Brian Brobbey.

Erik Ten Hag stood motionless at the end of the game before going to console his players

Erik Ten Hag stood motionless at the end of the game before going to console his players

The Ajax fans didn’t seem too perturbed as they got the De Kuip atmosphere rocking but it was the smoke billowing across the pitch from the dozens of flares ignited by PSV’s fans that briefly delayed the start.

And when that cleared, it was the Eindhoven club who made all the early running. The first chance fell to their own talisman, Cody Gakpo, but made for an easy save for ex-Fulham and Everton stopper Maarten Stekelenburg.

PSV thought they’d taken the lead on 11 minutes, when Eran Zahavi raced through and just about got enough on his finish to see the ball bounce past veteran Stekelenburg and home.

Ryan Gravenberch had given Ajax the lead in the first half before PSV scored twice

Ryan Gravenberch had given Ajax the lead in the first half before PSV scored twice

The celebrations were in full swing, with more flares set off, before the latest of offside flags ruined things. Jurrien Timber, the much-coveted 20-year-old Ajax defender, had set the trap perfectly.

Ten Hag stood motionless and slightly haunched on the touchline, occasionally waving his team forward or making a little note. Eventually his side grew into the game.

Brobbey’s header from a Steven Berghuis cross had to be hacked away and there were furious Ajax appeals – including a glare at the fourth official from Ten Hag – when Dusan Tadic was brought down in the box. VAR wasn’t deployed, annoying the manager.

The atmosphere at the Stadion de Kuip in Rotterdam was raucous throughout

The atmosphere at the Stadion de Kuip in Rotterdam was raucous throughout

But his temper soon cooled because Ajax took a 23rd-minute lead with a splendid goal.

Gravenberch could have gone down for the foul when clipped 30 yards from goal but he kept his balance, spun around and played a tidy one-two with Davy Klaassen.

His finish was inch-perfect, fired low across PSV keeper Yvon Mvogo and into the far corner.

Ten Hag celebrated the moment with a double fist pump, which by his reserved standards is the equivalent of a knee slide.

Ajax believed they’d doubled their lead on the stroke of half-time, only for the video technology to intervene and deny them.

PSV's players celebrate Cody Gakpo's (centre) second half goal to put them 2-1 ahead

PSV’s players celebrate Cody Gakpo’s (centre) second half goal to put them 2-1 ahead

It was a shame, because Noussair Mazraoui’s crisp bottom corner finish was a lovely one. Tadic’s back foot had strayed offside as a ball was played to him during the build-up, a fact only established once the infamous VAR lines had been brought to bear.

But if Ten Hag told his players to dig in and preserve their lead at half-time, it clearly went in one ear and out the other. PSV began the second-half like a whirlwind, scoring twice inside five minutes.

Their first came from a set-piece on the right side, delivered by Cody Gakpo, flicked on by Ibrahim Sangare inside the box for Gutierrez to power home with his head.

Ajax's defence crumbled under PSV's relentless pressure at the start of the second half

Ajax’s defence crumbled under PSV’s relentless pressure at the start of the second half

Ajax’s previously-composed defence was left absolutely stunned and they crumbled under the pressure of PSV’s next attack.

PSV’s second owed everything to the individual brilliant of Gakpo, who collected the ball and sensed the panic ahead of him.

Weaving past defenders, he beat Stekelenburg to his bottom corner to spark another round of wild celebrations at the Eindhoven end.

Ajax had further reason to believe the day was cursed when a second goal was disallowed by VAR for an offside minutes later.

Erik Ten Hag will be concerned how his players capitulated under sustained PSV pressure

Erik Ten Hag will be concerned how his players capitulated under sustained PSV pressure

This time, Klaassen supplied a thumping low finish but the officials spotted that Brobbey’s heel – and it was little more than that – had strayed when Gravenberch threaded a pass into the box.

Just to further irritate Ajax, Tadic then struck the base of the post with a low drive across goal.

18 minutes remained when Ten Hag finally summoned Haller from the bench, replacing the full-back Mazraoui. Mohamed Ihattaren and Mohammed Kudus followed in final throws of the dice.

But PSV could have put the game to bed, striking the woodwork with four minutes to go through substitute Yorbe Vertessen.

They saw out six tense minutes of added time to win the competition for the 10th time and their first in a decade. Cue more fireworks.

MATCH FACTS

PSV Eindhoven: Mvogo; Mauro Junior, Ramalho, Teze, Max, Sangare, Gutierrez, Veerman (Bruma 68), Gakpo (c) (Doan 68), Gotze, Zahavi (Vertessen 81 (Van Ginkel 90+2))

Substitutes not used: Drommel (GK), Delanghe (GK); Vinicius, Romero, Oppegard, Ledezma

Manager: Roger Schmidt

Scorers: Gutierrez 48; Gakpo 50

Booked: Max, Teze, Gotze

Ajax: Stekelenburg; Mazraoui (Haller 72), Timber, Martinez, Blind; Alvarez (Schuurs 72); Klaasen (Kudus 86), Gravenberch; Berghuis (Ihattaren 86), Brobbey, Tadic (c)

Substitutes not used: Gorter (GK), Tyton (GK); Da Silva, Taylor, Daramy, Regeer, Salah-Eddine

Manager: Erik ten Hag

Scorer: Gravenberch 23

Booked: Martinez, Timber

Referee: Danny Makkelie

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