DAVID SMITH - Saturday, October 22, 2011
FC Nürnberg vs VfB Stuttgart
Bundesliga - Saturday October 22, 2011
Timothy Chandler and Nürnberg suffered their fifth straight game without victory, twice jumping into the lead against Stuttgart only to see their guests fight back on each occasion for a disappointing draw.
The last time these two teams met in Stuttgart's Mercedes Benz Arena back in February was one of Chandler's most memorable performances in a Nürnberg uniform, as the American first put his name on the map with a goal and assist in the 4-1 win, and began to initially stake his claim on what would quickly become his unquestioned spot in the starting lineup.
With Stuttgart a significantly-improved team as compared to the previous season and Nürnberg arguably a much weakened one, there was little question that Saturday's rematch would be an entirely different situation.
Results in the last few weeks had heavily favored the guests, with Stuttgart suffering only one minor slip in the last six weeks, while Nürnberg had not tasted victory since mid-September.
The late scratch of usual starting forward Pavel Pogrebnyak from Stuttgart's starting lineup had a noticeable effect on their ability to quickly break forward and effectively charge the area for much of the first half, and indeed their only real chance in the early-going came from a tricky set piece.
In the seventh minute, Zdravko Kuzmanovic, Khalid Boulahrouz and Cacau all lined up over the ball after Stuttgart was awarded a free kick at 22 yards out on the right side. Boulahrouz and Cacau both passed on their subsequent run ups to try to force the defense to commit as Martin Harnik slipped unmarked into the far side of the penalty area, then Kuzmanovic quickly crossed the ball over to the Austrian, whose poorly-hit volley flew closer to his native land than to Nürnberg's goal.
The home crowd didn't have to wait for long until their team drew first blood.
In the eighth minute, Robert Mak earned a corner when he forced Stuttgart keeper Sven Ulreich into a block. Marvin Plattenhardt's low inswinger to the near post was placed well for the onrushing duo of Tim Klose and Tomas Pekhart, but was cleared for another corner.
On Plattenhardt's the follow-up, Philipp Wollscheid's header was initially blocked, but fell within the six-yard box where none of the nearby Stuttgart defenders could clear it before Timmy Simons rushed in emphatically slam it home for the lead.
Brimming with confidence after the goal, "der Club" was firmly in control, and were again close six minutes afterwards when Almog Cohen wasted a wide open shot from the top of the box, knocking out several communications satellites in the process.
They again could have more efficiently capitalized on a chance just before the 20-minute mark when Mak worked his way into the right side of the area and hit a low cross which rolled dangerously through the six-yard box, but was in vain as no attacking Nürnberg players had timed their runs to be within reach.
Just past the midway point of the half, Chandler's cross from the right was blocked by Stuttgart defender Arthur Boka, although it fell directly at the foot of Mak, who took one touch to tee the ball up before slicing his shot wide left, earning a triple-bogie in the process.
Moments later, Stuttgart finally began to show signs of their effective, quick attack, as Boka sent a diagonal ball in from the left side, which was headed to the center by Harnik to the foot of Shinji Okazaki, who was wasteful in aiming his shot several yards too high.
Stuttgart had indeed recovered from the early goal to stop the one-way traffic which had dominated much of the first half, and were close to equalizing at the half-hour when Mexican central defender Maza saw his header from an Okazaki cross roll barely wide left, then ten minutes later as Harnik's header from a corner flew barely over the crossbar.
On the other end of the field, Nürnberg were within inches of doubling their lead in the final seconds of first-half injury time thanks to a fine free kick by Jens Hegeler which was barely deflected over goal by Ulreich, however the referee mysteriously elected to send the teams to the locker rooms before the hosts were able to tee up the resulting corner.
While making no halftime substitutions, Stuttgart improved following the intermission and had their first chance after the break when Zdravko Kuzmanovic chipped a ball over the defense from just outside the area in hopes that an attacker would be adept to cut through, however Nürnberg keeper Alexander Stephan was a step ahead.
Their persistence paid off, however, just before the hour mark when Boulahrouz fired a shot pass from the right edge of the penalty area to Harnik in the middle. The Austrian's shot struck the arm of Wollscheid, seemingly with no intent from the Nürnberg player, leading referee Markus Wingenbach to point to the spot for a controversial penalty.
Kuzmanovic elected to take the contested spot kick, hitting his low drive to the right side as Stephan dove in the opposite direction, thus pulling Stuttgart even.
The goal seemed to jolt Nürnberg's confidence, as they had trouble finding any rhythm on the attacking end, eventually prompting head coach Dieter Hecking to make an offensive-minded shift in the 69th minute, inserting Juri Judt at right back to allow Chandler to push further up the right wing.
Seconds later, before Nürnberg was even able to test the new configuration, Plattenhardt lined up a long free kick from the left flank, and hit it perfectly to the far edge of the six-yard box where Wollscheid jumped high to head downwards and just inside the left post to restore the lead.
Barely one minute later, Plattenhardt had yet another free kick from nearly the exact same spot, and again hit it well into the box, however the ball was just inches ahead of Pekhart
The hosts looked to protect the lead for the final 20 minutes, however were once again careless in surrendering an equalizer six minutes from full time.
William Kvist received the ball near the top right edge of the area and immediately crossed it to the far side of the six-yard box, where Maza rushed in to send a header over the line, well out of Stephan's reach to earn the point.
Chances to win were few and far between for either team in the final minutes, with the line highlight being coming in the 87th minute when Harnik rushed into the right side of the area in an attempt to reach a through ball, however ended up colliding with Stephan, drawing a yellow card for his recklessness.
With all but one of the team's below them in the standings also failing to win, Nürnberg maintain their 13th-place spot in the Bundesliga, with a four-point and two-team cushion between them and the relegation playoff spot.
They head north to pay a visit to 2. Bundesliga team Erzgebirge Aue in a potentially tricky DFB Cup second-round game on Wednesday evening, then face what stands to be their toughest game of the season three days later wit a visit to regional rivals FC Bayern.