DAVID SMITH - Saturday, August 13, 2011
FC Nürnberg vs Hannover 96
Bundesliga - Saturday August 13, 2011
A pair of first-half goals doomed Nürnberg to their first loss of the season on Saturday afternoon, although a second half charge from "The Club" highlighted by a Tomas Pekhart goal served up by a Timothy Chandler cross kept the game interesting until the end.
After playing the full 90 minutes for the USA in their midweek game against Mexico, Hannover captain Steve Cherundolo was left on the bench by head coach Mirko Slomka, and was an unused substitute, perhaps with an eye towards having him fully rested and recovered for their Thursday-night Europa League clash with Spanish team Sevilla.
Both teams had jumped out of the gates with relatively successful starts, having won their opening-round games in the DFB Cup two weeks ago against the obligatory lower-league opposition, and also coming up with victories in their respective opening Bundesliga games.
Saturday's game represented an opportunity for each to make a surprising piece of history, as neither had, in their many years in the German top flight, ever won their first three competitive games to start the season.
The hosts put the Hannover keeper into early action, when a free kick from the left flank by Markus Feulner was headed towards goal by Timm Klose, with Ron-Robert Zieler stretching out to his left to block it over the line for a corner.
Chandler was down on the turf four minutes later when he collided heads with Mohammed Abdellaoue as both went for a header in the Hannover half of the field, but was back on his feet after a minute with little apparent damage.
Nürnberg continued their early press on Hannover, again coming clse in the 12th minute as German youth international Alexander Esswein sped into the penalty area from the right side and dropped a short pass back to the top outside edge to Pekhart, who blasted his shot just wide left of the open target.
While allowing their hosts some forward press, the Hannover back line did a good job of regularly frustrating the Nürnberg attackers with their effective offside trap, drawing their opponents into the infraction four times in the first 15 minutes.
Hannover went ahead in the 16th minute seemingly against the flow of the game, as Sofian Chahed worked his way up the field and just before losing control of the ball near the Nürnberg endline, lunged forward to send a high ball floating into the six-yard box.
Abdellaoue had timed his run into the area perfectly and was able to strike it with the bottom of his left foot from three yards out, with the ball first taking a deflection off of Nürnberg keeper Raphael Schäfer's chest before going over the line for the 1-0 lead.
Six minutes after the goal, Chandler picked up his first yellow of the season, after tracking back to cover Konstantin Rausch and getting caught in a tangle of legs with the left-sided midfielder.
The early goal had completely switched the momentum in the game, and Hannover pushed forward in waves threatening to add a quick second. In the 26th minute, Manuel Schmiedebach cut through the defense and launched a shot from the edge of the area which Schäfer managed to block, however the ball was left sitting on the left side of the six-yard box.
The Nürnberg keeper lunged towards the ball in an attempt to beat the onrushing Abdellaoue to what would be an easy score, however appeared to trip up the Norwegian international in the process, leading referee Marco Fritz to point to the spot much to the disdain of both the home team and fans.
After Fritz waved off the protests on the field, Konstantin Rausch took his shot, sending a low shot to the right corner which Schäfer, who had guess right, had no chance of reaching.
The hosts did settle down the game after the second goal to prevent any further damage before the half, and began to tilt the flow in their favor in the final minutes, with Pekhart forcing Zieler into a save in the 40th minute, then Klose ending a nice passing sequence by Nürnberg with a header that was just wide left moments later.
Sensing his approach needed an overhaul if they hoped to climb out of their two-goal hole, Nürnberg coach Dieter Hecking made a pair of halftime adjustments, pulling right midfielder Robert Mak and central midfielder Almog Cohen in favor of the more attacking options Jens Hegeler and Christian Eigler.
The adjustments had an immediate effect, as the hosts enjoyed a near complete turnaround for much of the second half.
Klose almost pulled one back in the 52nd minute when his header off of a corner by Fuelner was just high, then two minutes later Eigler sprang Fuelner into the left side of the area where his near lethal approach towards goal was stopped at the last second by Hannover defender Sergio Pinto.
Then moments later, Eigler was again nearly the catalyst, chipping a ball across the penalty area from the left side which was just a touch too far for Fuelner.
The result of their pressure paid dividends in the 55th minute, as Chandler received the ball on the right side and quickly settled it before hitting a long left-footed cross to the opposite side of the penalty area, where Pekhart was waiting at the edge of the six-yard box to make contact with a high leaping header which flew just inside the far post.
Nürnberg continued their attack and looked set to equalize on several occasions, first when a corner resulting from a cleared Chandler cross resulted in another high header by Pekhart, which was on a trajectory just below the crossbar, but was barely pushed over by Zieler.
Three minutes past the hour, Chandler took advantage of the tired Hannover defense when he picked up the ball near the edge of his own penalty area, and proceeded to blaze his way up the right side the length of the field to the opposite touchline, where he once again fired a cross which the defense luckily knocked out for another corner.
Slowly, Hannover slowed the pace and kept the ball somewhat farther out of their danger area, although most of the possession and flow still remained dictated by Nürnberg.
Their desire to simply kill off the game was evident 12 minutes from full time when Zieler's obvious delaying tactics when taking a goal kick resulted in a yellow from Fritz, however by this point the Nürnberg attack was looking winded and unable to create extended pressure in the final third.
Furthermore, they were effectively reduced to ten men after the 81st minute when Javier Pinola went down with what looked to be a severe hamstring injury deep in his own territory and had to be stretchered to the locker room. As Hecking had already used all of his substitutions at that point, even if to good effect, the hosts were forced to carry on with a man disadvantage.
Nevertheless, they were frustratingly close to pulling even two minutes later in perhaps their best chance since their earlier goal; Feulner dropped in cross from the left flank towards the far post with a number of attackers surging forward, and Klose, who was a danger throughout the game, sent his shot just left of the open target.
Yet another offside infraction stuffed an 89th-minute opportunity when Pekhart dropped the ball over the defense with Wollsheid having half-a step on his opponents, then Chandler's show of skill to keep possession in the dying seconds went for naught as his attempted cross was safely cleared.
Fritz's final whistle after four minutes of stoppage time confirmed the season-opening home loss for Nürnberg, much to the frustration of the team which had thoroughly dominated the goalscoring chances, possession and general flow for more than half of the game.
Following the game, Chandler was quick to point out the stark differences between the play on either side of the half, and think that their push which almost saw the team equalize is something they can - and should - draw on as the early part of their season develops.
"In the first half we played to fearfully and never really came into the game. We always played behind them and had a lot of errors - that wasn't good," he admitted.
"In the second half, we really began to show what we can do. We played more forward and offensively and it was a lot better, but unfortunately it just wasn't enough in the end."
"We wasted a lot of scoring opportunities, and we have to do that better in our next game."
Evident from the game, an integral part of their ability to more effectively finish their chances will rest on the 6'4" frame of Czech striker Pekhart and a constant stream of service from the wings.
Chandler will be a huge part of that, as was evidenced by a number of successful or attempted crosses from his right side of the field including his assist on Pekhart's goal, and he hopes that this will help the team earn points in future games.
"We have good feeling that goals off of headers are going to be a strong point for us this season, and so the crosses will have to come," he assesses. "Today we were lucky that this worked out perfectly on Pekhart's goal, but unfortunately it wasn't enough for a win or even a draw."
For Hannover, the victory places them near the top of the Bundesliga standings, trailing only Mainz on goal differential, although they could also be overtaken by the end of the weekend by Werder Bremen who are still to play on Sunday.
They have the daunting task of hosting Spanish team Sevilla on Thursday in the first leg of Europa League qualifying, then will host Bundesliga newcomers Hertha Berlin three days later in league action.
Nürnberg fall into a ninth-place tie with Hoffenheim on three points, a standing which could also change following Sunday's two games. They next have a difficult trip to defending champions Borussia Dortmund awaiting on Saturday.