DAVID SMITH - Sunday, February 12, 2012
FC Augsburg vs FC Nürnberg
Bundesliga - Sunday February 12, 2012
Timothy Chandler returned to Nürnberg's starting lineup on Sunday, playing the full minutes in the midfield in a sloppy, icy encounter at Augsburg which saw both teams settle for a draw.
The scoreless result extended Nürnberg's run without a goal to just over three games, however it did give them a bit more breathing room ahead of the Bundesliga's relegation places.
Even though these two Bavarian-based clubs had met only five times prior in competitive matches, the memory of Nürnberg's victory over two legs in the 2010 promotion/relegation playoff was still fresh in the minds of the feisty home crowd, which never failed in any opportunity to vocalize their disdain for the visiting team.
The greatest discomfort for both the home and visiting teams alike was, however, rooted in the rather frigid weather conditions, which had dropped below the zero-Fahrenheit mark during the previous night, although the temperature had managed to climb to a comparatively tropic 15 degrees at gametime.
In his first game back in head coach Dieter Hecking's starting eleven, Chandler was pushed forward to right midfield, leaving the same back-four in tact which began each of their previous two games.
As the arctic encounter got underway, the cold air and frozen field conspired with the general lack of quality in the attacking from on either team to lead to a game mostly characterized by sloppy play, misplaced passes and a lack of all-out drive on both sides of the ball.
The earliest action of note occurred after just eight minutes when Augsburg left back Marcel de Jong went down with what looked suspiciously like a pulled calf muscle and was replaced by Matthias Ostrzolek, who was given the task in his debut of defending the speedy Chandler.
Two minutes later, Augsburg had what would be their best chance of the half, as an attack up the right ended with Torsten Oehrl chesting a short ball to right winter Tobias Werner for a seven-yard blast that was just a touch too high.
The duo teamed up again in the 14th minute to test Nürnberg keeper Raphael Schäfer, with Oehrl sending Werner through on the right side into open space for an acute-angled shot that was just clawed out for a corner.
Augsburg's early attacking impetus quickly took a back seat to an overall drop in quality by both teams, and while they did see most of the ball throughout the remainder of the half, it had more to do with their visitors' inability to string together more than a pair of passes without a glaring error.
The lone moment of excitement over the final 20 minutes before the break came again from Augsburg's right side just before the half-hour, this time with Werner dropping a short pass forward to the streaking Hajime Hosogai for a 12-yard crack that was luckily blocked by Timmy Simons.
To begin the second half, Hecking opted to remove largely ineffectual striker Tomas Pekhart in favor of attacking midfielder option Jens Hegeler, although the only real difference in play from the minutes before the half was that Augsburg had also lost whatever little quality they had previously possessed.
The first real action of the half came just past the hour, as Adam Hlousek fed a lateral ball towards Almog Cohen who had found space 20 yards straight out. The Israeli international in turn fired his subsequent shot in the general direction of goal, although high enough to nearly escape the planet's gravitational pull.
Augsburg were awarded a well-positioned free kick just outside the left edge of the area in the 65th minute thanks to a late and clumsy challenge by Feulner on Oehrl. Daniel Baier placed the ball perfectly to the center of the six-yard box where Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker nearly connected with a leaping header, however Schäfer grabbed it just a moment before any damage was done.
21 year-old speedy forward Alexander Esswein was brought in just after the 70th minute in an attempt to muster whatever late fireworks Nürnberg could manage, and he nearly teamed up with Chandler to turn the tide of the game.
Just three minutes after Chandler's 74th-minute shot was easily saved by Augsburg keeper Simon Jentzsch, the American redirected a pass from Cohen near the midfield stripe with a flashy flick of the heel, sending Esswein in behind the defense for a low shot that rolled just inches left of the upright.
Then with eight minutes left, Chandler was again nearly responsible for earning three points for his team, cutting in from the right side and hitting a powerful, low left-footed shot towards the lower left corner which was just barely kept out by Jentzsch's midair block.
Augsburg were even closer with five minutes remaining in regulation, Ja-Cheol Koo was allowed space on the right flank to attempt a high-looping volley headed directly towards the upper right corner. Schäfer was nearly caught flat-footed, but deflected the ball with his fingertips off the crossbar, averting the danger.
Nürnberg nearly had one more surprise in store and could have taken all three points in added time when Chandler was isolated with Ostrzolek in a foot-race towards goal, but a perfectly-executed challenge by the rookie to barely deflect the ball away from Chandler's foot stifled that final chance, with the referee's whistle blowing moments later to confirm the scoreless result.
Nürnberg finish the round of games in the slightly precarious position of sitting just four points out of the relegation zone with 13 games left on the schedule.
They will return home on Saturday to host Cologne, a team which is dropping rapidly through the standings after winning just once in their last six tries.