De Graafschap have taken a big step towards avoiding automatic relegation after a shock 2-0 win over Utrecht.

VermeijUtrecht face Feyenoord this weekend in the KNVB Cup final, and possibly with one eye on that tie, Bart Ramselaar was left on the bench for the visit of De Graafschap. Without the talented midfielder, Utrecht looked a shade of the side that drew with Ajax on Sunday, and De Graafschap had the better of the first half.

After only three minutes the visitors should have taken the lead when Vincent Vermeij was given a clear shot on goal from the edge of the box, but the striker’s powerful shot hit the bar and flew over. Just after the half-hour mark Bryan Smeets sent a first-time effort just over the bar before De Graafschap eventually opened the scoring on 37 minutes as a free-kick was headed back across goal by Van de Pavert and Vermeij stooped to nod the ball over the line.

At the other end, chances fell to Ruud Boymans and Sebastien Haller, but the usually lethal strike duo were not at their best and Hidde Jurjus’s goal remained unbreached at the half time mark.

Ramselaar came off the bench at half-time and Utrecht almost equalised straight away but Ramon Leeuwin’s header from a free-kick was cleared off the line.

Utrecht poured forward looking for the equaliser, and they paid for it on the hour mark as a De Graafschap counter ended with Smeets finding an unmarked Vermeij in the box and the striker made no mistake with his header.

The last half-an-hour saw Utrecht lay siege to the De Graafschap box but remarkably the visitors held on unscathed to move five points clear of second-bottom Cambuur. Utrecht, who now need to pick themselves up for Sunday, sit 5th.

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