Honours even in the Lower Saxony Derby
When this season’s 2. Bundesliga fixtures list was released one of the first games that fans were scanning for was the Lower Saxony Derby – the first clash between fierce rivals Eintracht Braunschweig and Hannover 96 since they were briefly in the top flight together in the 2013/14 season. Recent derbies have seen scenes of fans fighting, flags being burnt and police struggling to keep everything under control. This time though, there was an extra edge to it, as it saw 1st vs 3rd as two genuine promotion candidates battled it out. And it did not disappoint!
The game was a feisty contest from the first minute as challenges were flying in on both sides and opponents had to separated early on. Four cards were brandished in the first half an hour and you can’t argue that they weren’t justified. The intensity was high but there wasn’t much quality on show – at least until Ken Reichel decided to do something about that. The Braunschweig left-back seems to exclusively score stunning goals and he added more evidence to that argument with his opener at the weekend. A near-post corner routine resulted in the ball deflecting over his head, seemingly out of reach, but he reacted quickly and with perfect technique was able to keep his overhead-kick low and into the net.
Reichel was involved for the second goal too – again it came as a result of Hannover not clearing their lines at a corner – as he looped the ball back into the box. It fell into the path of the mercurial Onel Hernandez, who rounded the keeper, tapped in and, with a quick glance in the direction of the linesman, wheeled away in celebration. Martin Harnik kept things interesting with his fifth goal in three games to make it 2-1 – although his long-range volley required a deflection to beat Fejzic in goal.
That goal gave the visitors momentum going into the break and there’s no denying Hannover were the better side in the second half. However, Eintracht’s top-scorer Domi Kumbela, who has played like a man reborn this season, spurned two massive opportunities to increase their lead. After some good work by Salim Khelifi and Hernandez the Congolese striker somehow managed to shank a shot well wide with an open goal gaping. Two minutes later he repeated the trick as he got his head to a cross ahead of Hannover keeper Tschauner but he put it just over the bar!
Eintracht were punished for Kumbela’s lack of cutting-edge as Kenan Karaman showed his at the other end a few moments later. A game of brilliantly-taken goals was joined by another as the Turkish U21 international nutmegged a lumbering Valsvik and fired a ferocious shot into the top corner. Hannover had a shout for a Handelfmeter turned down late on as Klaus’s cross hit Sauer’s hand in the box, but it finished 2-2.
This was a proper derby. A four-goal thriller where tensions flared and there were literally flares. One fan even managed to lob a flare almost as far as the centre-circle, causing the game to be halted for a couple of minutes. Fortunately the day passed without any major incidents off the pitch, allowing the focus to remain where it belongs – on the pitch. – Anthony Wood
I don’t think I’ve ever seen such hysteria from a club and a city towards a club icon returning to face them as occurred in Düsseldorf last week. Andreas Lambertz, affectionately known as simply ‘Lumpi’, spent thirteen years at Fortuna and came to embody the club like nobody else has in recent times. He was the first German player to earn promotion from the fourth tier all the way to the Bundesliga with the same club and has well and truly earned the ‘legend’ tag that is bandied around too often these days.
This weekend was the first time he had returned to the city as a player – but this time he was sat in the away dressing room. Nevertheless Düsseldorf was plastered with signs announcing that ‘Lumpi’s Back!’ and for the whole week there was precious few column inches in the local press dedicated to anything else. Before the game he was honoured by the adoring home crowd and took the time to sign autographs for them, but the locals were in for a shock…
It took only 20 seconds for him to break a few hearts as he did what he does best – running his socks off for the cause. This time he gambled on Kutschke winning an aerial duel with Bormuth, and he met the knock-down on the volley, cushioning a perfectly-weighted ball inside to the young whippet Niklas Hauptmann to score his first professional goal. The pain didn’t stop there for the home fans as Akaki Gogia – arguably the signing of the season – went on to score twice, while Berko was unlucky to only hit the bar.
It finished 0-3 in what was another stunning victory for Dresden. But the day was all about Lumpi. His playing style of relentless pressing and supporting means that he quite often runs until he literally can’t go on. On Friday it seemed he actually injured himself in the warm-up but persevered, and he went off at half-time with an ice-pack strapped to this thigh. Still, that was not enough to stop him playing on, at least until the 73rd minute when he finally asked to come off. It’s rare to see a whole stadium – home and away fans – rise to their feets in standing ovation for a player, but then this is the legendary Lumpi we’re talking about! – AW
Pauli Plight worsened at Wurzburger
In one of the more curious choices for the Monday night primetime slot, Wurzburger welcomed struggling St Pauli. If this fixture had been picked at the start of the season, it would have been tipped as a terrific chance to see one of the league’s new boys take on one of its leading lights, a potential upset on the cards. Considering the league’s schedule is decided in blocks, however, by the time this match was assigned there would be no chance of any major surprise between two sides who had little to show from recent matches and both suffering crises of confidence to various extents. Hardly promise of a scintillating affair, and so it proved.
The game did start in promising fashion, with the hosts attempting many of the early jabs and soon fashioned an almost unmissable opportunity…which Rico Benatelli conspired to miss. The midfielder was given the freedom of the penalty box to nod Daghfous cross into an empty net, but saw his header cannon off the crossbar.
In terms of excitement things would only deteriorate from there, and by the time the game’s only goal arrived, it was the perfect one to settle such an uninspiring game. Ewald Lienen’s men have suffered a dismal season up to this point. After an unfortunate start, injuries and other absences (some of them self inflicted, such as Lasse Sobiech’s idiotic suspension) have seen things quickly travel from bad to terrible. Going into this game with 6 first team players unavailable through injury, another through suspension, they perhaps could be forgiven for thinking their luck could scarcely get much more damning. Sadly, when your luck’s out, it really is out.
Lienen’s beleaguered squad has forced him to call on some of his younger players in recent weeks. The likes of Dennis Rosin and Maurice Litka have come in to perform unspectacular, but not disastrous roles. Brian Koglin was thrown in at the deep end for the cup match against Hertha recently and featured solidly in the two matches since. Unfortunately it was late in this game that his inexperience eventually showed through, as he came across to cover a through ball, and what should have been a routine clearance into touch instead ricocheted off teammate Hedenstad and settled beyond Himmelmann.
The slapstick own goal seems an appropriate way for Pauli to concede at present. The side that was tipped to repeat last season’s bid for the Bundesliga is instead looking far more likely to move in the other direction. Lienen has made a rod for his own back at times with some curious selections, but on the whole his ravaged roster has had little opportunity to show its true strength. The depths of form and confidence they now find themselves in means a struggle is ahead even for a full-strength squad.
The international break comes at a fortuitous time for the kiezkicker, and Lienen will hope that, with the sacking of sporting director Thomas Meggle having bought him some time, he will be granted an opportunity to test out his full quota of players after two weeks recovery. However, if they slip much further adrift, it could be time for another change at the Millerntor. – Tom Nuttall-Jones
Hardtwaldstadion witness to another terrific spectacle
Game of the weekend surely came at Sandhausen. The home side came into the match following just their second defeat in 8 games, but with the added ignominy of handing Arminia their first win of the season. To say they responded quickly on Sunday would be an understatement, with Julian Derstroff opening his and SVS’s account within 15 seconds of kick off. The strike was the third quickest ever recorded in this division, and in the winger’s first start for the club after returning from an Achilles injury.
Die Lowen didn’t take long to equalise. Their reply was also a collector’s item, and perfectly timed too, from Ivica Olic. The veteran has been recently forced to deny false claims he was planning to retire in January. In finally breaking his duck for the club, actions surely speak louder than words.
Sandhausen will have felt particularly aggrieved to go in at half time behind. Andrew Wooten was extremely unfortunate to have his header chalked off for offside, and minutes later 1860 took the lead, with another player breaking their duck for the club. Perhaps Felix Uduokhai’s first goal was not quite as long-awaited as Olic’s, but they all count.
In the 2nd half, the hosts were able to re-assert themselves, and fought back with a 4th player scoring their first goal for their club that afternoon. Daniel Gordon showed remarkable penalty-box instinct to poach a rebound to smash home for 2-2. Crucially, this was the 10th separate player to net for SVS this season already. In the whole of 2015/16 their total was 12.
One player who had already found the net this season, and indeed that afternoon, was Wooten, and it was him who would have the final say. The visiting defence was ponderous in the extreme to allow the American the amount of space he was afforded, but he made no mistake, and his disallowed strike in the first half was consigned to irrelevance.
The win was the 4th that the Hardtwald faithful have witnessed this season. Again, this is cause for incredible optimism compared to last season, when the club won just 6 of all their 17 home matches. They have also recorded 6 goals in their last two home fixtures, contributing to a total of 13 which compares very favourably to last season’s finally tally of 18. Although their away form (they are yet to win on the road) leaves plenty room for improvement, Kenan Kocak’s 4-4-2 system looks set to at least keep them in their current 10th position which they will be very pleased with. – TNJ
Important win for Ruthenbeck
Greuther Fürth had a relatively stress-free season last year as they managed to avoid the threat of relegation without too much trouble, much to the relief of their fans following the difficulties of 2014/15. However, those memories will have come flooding back recently as they’ve endured their worst start to a season in over twenty years. Bild even came out with an unflattering stat that coach Stefan Ruthenbeck’s record of 57 points in 45 games – an average of just 1.26 a game – is the club’s worst record in their 2. Bundesliga history.
It’s no surprise then that Ruthenbeck has increasingly come under pressure from fans and the board. Knocking Mainz out of the DFB Pokal will have given him some breathing space but he really needed a result in the league, as they plummeted down the table in October after losing all four games. He demanded a reaction from his players against Bochum and he got one.
The notable absence from the team was Robert Zulj – the languid playmaker who makes every touch look so effortless. On his day the Austrian is one of the best players in the league but over the past couple of months he’s been quiet and disinterested. Playing without a traditional no. 10, Ruthenbeck trialled a simple 4-3-3 formation but with a few tweaks.
The front three featured two traditional strikers playing out wide – the experienced Sebastian Freis cutting in from the left and the rampaging Veton Berisha on the right – and a winger playing as a false nine – the tricky Sercan Sararer. The trio were given greater creative licence to swap positions and roam the position, meaning they would frequently pop up in unexpected spaces, causing havoc for their markers in the Bochum defence.
The team played with a much greater intensity than has usually been seen at the Sportpark Ronhof this season, as the full-backs pushed very high up the pitch, with Hofmann dropping between the centre-backs while the other central midfielders supported the forwards. Khaled Narey in particular, playing as an inverted left-back, caused all sorts of problems with his dribbles from deep.
This exchange of positions and fluid movement was particularly stark in the winning goal where the eventual goalscorer Sararer started move playing almost at left-back, before curving a run around the defence to pop up to score on the other side of the area. All the while Narey dribbled from one flank across the pitch to the other before delivering the cross. Young Benedikt Kirsch was involved in both goals as he put in some clever timely touches to keep the attacks ticking and it’s the first game in which he’s really stepped up to fill the void left by the injured Jurgen Gjasula.
It’s a stretch to far to describe this approach as Ruthenbeck’s attempt at ‘total football’ but his side displayed a versatility and fluidity that, if it continues to earn them results, may just save the coach’s job. – AW
Team of the Week
Pollersbeck (Kaiserslautern); Kreuzer (Dresden), Gordon (Sandhausen), Decarli (Braunschweig), Reichel (Braunschweig); Hartmann (Dresden), Kulovitz (Sandhausen), Hauptmann (Dresden); Gogia (Dresden), Terodde (Stuttgart), Hernandez (Braunschweig)
Goal of the Week
Ken Reichel, Eintracht Braunschweig (vs Hannover)