TAYLOR'S GOAL HELPS DOWN BAYERN II
Rot Weiss Ahlen forward Matt Taylor helped his team's recent troubles in front of goal come to an end, scoring the team's second goal as they stormed to an impressive first-half lead on a chilly Saturday afternoon in Munich and denied a late rally by FC Bayern II.
The two teams entered the game equally struggling near the bottom of the 3. Liga standings, with Bayern II the best amongst the three teams currently occupying the relegation zone - a far cry from their elder brothers' usual exploits in the top flight - and their visitors Ahlen situated one place above with a two-point advantage.
For Ahlen, the game was set against the backdrop of potentially disastrous off-field strife, with the recent announcement that the looming possibility of bankruptcy could force an early end to their season.
They had fought back to a one-all draw the week before at home against Sandhausen, a result which kept them out of the league's bottom three, and Saturday's opportunity against the struggling Bavarians couldn't have come at a better timing as they tried to keep their heads above the surface.
As has been customary since his arrival at the 3. Liga club, Taylor got the start in the heart of Ahlen's attack, however a suspension to attacking midfielder Kevin Wölk saw the American in a more withdrawn role behind bulky center forward Christian Knappmann.
"Before I was playing as the lone striker, but today I moved into an attacking midfield position, so I was able to get into the game more," he explained to YA following the game.
The American had broken out in his first weeks with the team, netting a pair in his second game just over one month ago, but had failed to find the target in the month since, mirroring the woes of the team which also had just one goal over the same four-game span.
For the Bavarians, a spate of injuries saw head coach Hermann Gerland put forth a small squad with just three outfield players on the bench, effectively removing any question for his Ahlen counterpart Arie van Lent as to what personnel changes could be awaiting during the course of play.
The opening minutes saw both teams patiently feeling each other out with tentative ventures up the field, until Ahlen created the first chance after four minutes.
Marcus Piossek battled for the ball on the right side of the field and and dropped it off to wingback David Blacha near the touchline for a dangerous cross through the box to Sebastian Ghasemi-Nobakht, whose resulting shot was blocked to safety.
The Bavarians' central attacker Deniz Yilmaz gave the first moments of danger for Ahlen's defense four minutes later with a run up the middle before shifting the ball right to Nicola Sansone, however his attempt was parried by keeper Philipp Kühn.
Taylor was in the middle of Ahlen's best chance immediately following, feeding Ghasemi-Nobakht from the middle, who cut menacingly into the area and dropped a short pass off to Daniel Flottmann for a blast which was barely cleared by Bayern keeper Thomas Kraft.
Ahlen were clearly having a better time moving the ball in their opponents' half of the field, however an unexpected moment of individual brilliance gave them their opening score in the 12th minute.
Out of nowhere, Ahlen central midfielder Marcel Busch launched a blinding 40-yard rocket from dead center towards goal, which bounced off the underside of the crossbar and over the line to put them ahead.
The Bavarians began to work possession in their favor in the subsequent minutes, and evened the score in the 23rd when Swedich youth international Oscar Lewicki brought the ball up the middle and shifted it over to Sansone on the right of the area, whose low shot to the far post bounced off the goalpost and into the net.
The parity on the scoreboard was short-lived, as Ahlen's clearly superior passing game and a bad giveaway by the hosts in their own territory ultimately led to Taylor putting his team ahead for good.
The Ohio native moved the ball straight ahead towards the top of the Bayern area and laid it off to Knappmann, who immediately sent it back to Taylor. Having escaped his defender on the give-and-go, the American continued his run up the middle and blasted his shot straight ahead, leaving Kraft to pick the ball out of the back of his net once again.
Knappmann and Taylor nearly teamed up again in the 35th minute, this time with the German setting him up for a shot at the top edge of the area, however the resulting shot flew safely over the crossbar.
Ahlen further increased their lead just moments before the halftime break, with Piossek acting as the lone protagonist in what was an overall lethal performance throughout the afternoon from the speedy winger.
The former Borussia Dortmund youth academy product cut past two flatfooted Bayern defenders from the left edge of the area and launched a looping shot which flew well out of Kraft's reach and just inside the upper far corner, giving the visitors the 3-1 halftime lead.
"It was great, we moved the ball really well, and we finished our chances," Taylor spoke of their impressive showing over the first 45 minutes. "I could've had another goal and there were two or three other good chances to be taken, but three goals in the first half is good enough."
The second half started with a hard kick on Taylor's left thigh in Bayern's half of the field, which left the American on the turf for several moments and set the tone for what would turn into a rather chippy period.
"Their player came in and caught me right on the thigh," Taylor explained. "I played for as long as I could on it for the second half, then I just had to come off right before the end. It was just a dead leg, I'll need two or three days maximum."
The Bavarians nearly brought one back in the 51st minute, with Yilmaz first hitting the right goalpost from 22 yards out then whiffing on an attempted volley near the goal several seconds later.
Piossek nearly gave the hosts deja vu four minutes later, as his high looping shot towards the upper right corner was barely pushed safely over the crossbar by Kraft.
The woodwork again proved to be Bayern's worst enemy just past he hour mark, as a blast from Sansone careened off the crossbar, denying the Italian forward what would have been his second of the game.
Another display of slick passing by the Ahlen attack in the 69th minute culminated with Busch storming up the middle before passing to the streaking Taylor on the left side of the six-yard box, but his tight-angled shot towards goal was deflected to safety by Kraft.
The hosts did succeed in bringing themselves back within reach of a draw with 12 minutes left in regulation. Nazif Hajdarovic split a pair of Ahlen defenders with a perfect through-ball up the middle to Boy Duel, who had consistently proven to be the hosts' most dangerous player, with the Curaçaoan midfielder burying his low shot to the right side of goal.
Now trailing by a single score, the Bavarians spent the remainder of the game on the offensive, with Ahlen content to take on a more defensive posture to try to weather the storm.
"In the second half we didn't push as hard as we could have and just absorbed the pressure," Taylor evaluates of the team's approach in the latter 45 minutes of the game.
The American finally left the game with five minutes left, clearly favoring his left leg which had been giving him trouble throughout the half.
The final moments were nervous for van Lent's squad, as they were forced to survive several close calls as the clock wound down.
A dangerously-placed free kick opportunity by Duel one minute into injury time flew safely over the crossbar, then Yilmaz nearly produced an equalizer several seconds afterwards when he was sprung into the area and into a one-on-one with Kühn, however he was unable to get his shot past the keeper, with the final whistle blowing seconds later confirming the three points to the relieved Ahleners.
Taylor was happy to see the team picking up their level of play for the encounter, and owes it to the challenges of the team having to adjust to a new group of players, the vast majority of whom only joined over the summer, and the rough and tumble physicals rigors of the league.
"There are only two players remaining from the team last year, so there's at least nine relatively new players in every game. We sometimes only have 13 or 14 field players training during the week because of injuries, which makes it difficult."
For the former Chivas USA player, however, the impressive showing particularly in the first half is a sign that the coaching staff is finally learning how to put the pieces in the right places, and a sign of the team coming together to show their potential.
"Coach van Lent has had to tinker with the lineup with all the new players and he's done that quite a bit this year. Earlier we were starting with two forwards, which was leaving us vulnerable in the back to the counter. Now we put two defensive midfielders out there, which really shores up the back."
"I think it's just a matter of the team slowly coming together and gelling."
Ahlen climb to 15th place with the three points in hand, now four clear of the drop zone. They return to action on Saturday when they host SV Wehen Wiesbaden.