BY PAUL LAGAN
Ajax 0 v Chelsea 1
Michy Batshuayi scored a late winner to fire Chelsea into pole position in their Champions League group – his left-footer smashed into the back of the net after smacking off the underside of the crossbar with three minutes left on the clock.
The 1-0 win in the Johan Cruyff ArenA tonight leaves the Londoners top, in Group H, level with Ajax with six points each. While the Dutch outfit have a superior goal-difference, the Blues are above on this head-to-head result.
Batshuayi was a second- half substitute for hard-working Tammy Abraham – and, like most of the players, this wasn’t his best performance.
Chelsea have won both their away matches in Europe with the home defeat to Valencia the only failure.
There was too much tension on the pitch to allow free-flowing football. Numerous technical errors punctuated the 90 minutes and the relief shown by the Blues players on the final whistle showed that they snatched a win, when a draw was seemingly on the cards.
It took just a minute and a half for Fikayo Tomori to make a horror attempt to clear but was easily intercepted. The follow-up attack almost resulted in the Blues going a goal behind.
Joel Veltman tried a long-range effort on eight minutes, but his left-footer went well wide of Kepa’s left post.
A poor clearance from Kepa allowed Ajax to Mount another attack, none of which they had to make an effort to create. Thankfully Tomori stood string to thwart the charge of Hakim Ziyech into the penalty area.
Mason Mount, always a threat with the ball,in the opposition’s penalty area, combined well with Hudson-Odoi, before letting fly with a low shot, which Andre Onana did well to block at his near post on 14 minutes.
Jody Morris was given a yellow card on 22 minutes, presumably for comments to the fourth official regarding what he saw as some dubious decision given against the Blues.
A snatched shot just inside the Ajax penalty area by Hudson-Odoi on 27 minutes, could have given the west Londoners the lead, but he pulled it wide of goal.
Six minutes from the half-time whistle and Quincy Promes was on the far post to pick up a cross that got deflected along the way. The referee Ovidiu Hategan gave the goal, but VSR overturned the decision, citing that the striker was offside – it was, but only just.
There were no changes by either side at half-time.
Ajax were desperately unlucky when, from a corner, Promes’ diving header from six-yards out clipped off Kepa’s far post on 58 minutes.
The Spain stopper then smothered a daisy-cutter from Daley Blind as the home side sensed a fragility in the Chelsea rearguard.
Head coach Frank Lampard and Morris debated the changing fortune of there side and opted to make a change – American Christian Pulisic replaced Willian on 66 minutes.
Hudson-Odoi moved across the pitch to the right while Pulisic took his left-flank berth.
He was soon followed onto the pitch by Belgium international striker Michy Batshuayi – hard-working Abraham made way on 70 minutes.
The striker’s first touch a minute later, a back-heel, was on target but lame in its power.
Five minutes from time and Batshuayi struck – the ball zipped across the byline on the left and in-running Batshuayi fired home a powerful left-footer that zipped into the back of the net after hitting the underside of the crossbar.
Game play took hold and Lampard brought on Reece James shore ur midfield, Hudson-Odoi walking off to great applause from the thousands of Chelsea travelling supporters.
Next up for the Blues is a tough Premier League trip to Burnley on Saturday.
Teams: Chelsea, Kepa, Azpilicueta, Tomori, Zouma, Alonso, Kovacic Jorginho, Mount, Willian, Abraham, Hudson-Odoi
Subs, Caballero, James, Emerson, Gilmour, Pulisic, Giroud, Batshuayi
Ajax, Onana, Veltman, Alvarez, Van De Beek, Tadic, Promes, Blind, Martinez, Ziyech, Dest, Tagliafico
Subs, Varela, Schuurs, Neres, Huntelaar, Mazraoui, De Jong, Marin
Referee: Ovidiu Hategan (Romania)