ROTTERDAM, Netherlands, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored a hat-trick to earn Ajax Amsterdam a 3-1 away win over Excelsior Rotterdam on Sunday.
The striker opened the scoring after 23 minutes and the home side's task was made harder when skipper Jos van Nieuwstadt was dismissed six minutes before the interval for dissent.
Huntelaar doubled Ajax's lead early in the second half with a well-placed header just before Sieme Zijm became the second Excelsior player to be sent off.
With 16 minutes remaining Huntelaar completed his hat-trick. Mitchell Pique gave the hosts a late consolation.
PSV Eindhoven remain top with 46 points after 17 matches, following a 3-0 victory over Heracles Almelo on Friday.
Ajax are third, one point behind AZ Alkmaar who beat Groningen 2-0 to move seven points behind PSV.
Former Groningen defender Gijs Luirink opened the scoring after 25 minutes and Danny Koevermans sealed the match from the penalty spot five minutes before the break.
Blaise N'Kufo scored twice to inspire fourth-placed Twente Enschede to a 5-1 win over Heerenveen.
Utrecht struck two early goals to upset fifth-placed Feyenoord with a 2-1 victory. Gregoor van Dijk converted a penalty after nine minutes and Robin Nelisse doubled the lead eight minutes later.
Ron Vlaar pulled a goal back for Feyenoord after Utrecht defender Giuseppe Rossini had been sent off but the Rotterdam side also finished with 10 men after Danny Buijs was dismissed in stoppage time.