DUISBURG FIGHTS BACK TO DRAW 1860
David Yelldell and MSV Duisburg fought back from a one-goal halftime deficit to earn a point one the road in the final minutes against 1860 Munich in a game which also saw American youngster Bobby Wood make his professional debut for the hosts as a second-half substitute.
Duisburg was returning to southern Germany for the second straight week after pulling even with Ingolstadt in Edson Buddle's debut eight days before, and in nearly identical fashion managed to salvage a draw thanks to an 86th minute strike, this time by former German youth international Manuel Schäffler.
In addition to having to fight through the sub-freezing temperatures on the field at gametime, Duisburg were further hampered with residual fatigue remaining from their DFB Cup quarterfinal win over Kaiserslautern less than three days before.
"We had a big game on Wednesday in the German and it was very hard for us to refresh for today's game," Yelldell spoke after the game of their short turnaround.
The team entered the game in a five-way tie for the 2. Bundeliga's third-place promotion playoff spot on 34 points, and with their only advantage over the other teams in the tight race being by way of superior goal differential, a positive result in Munich was a must for the squad of head coach Milan Sasic.
Even with the constant spectre of financial troubles hanging over the team, their hosts 1860 Munich had still managed to put together a more than respectable campaign through the first 19 games of the season.
While their 28 points was only enough to give bring them to ninth place in the standings, a mere six points separating them from third place still gave them an outside shot at making a run towards promotion, needing only a short run of strong results to put the Lions also in the thick of the hunt.
A regular destination for American players in recent years, 1860 had seen the departure of fit-again forward Kenny Cooper earlier in the winter transfer window, however the promotion of U-20 standout Bobby Wood to the first team meant that the team once again had a Yank on the sidelines.
"I came back on the 19th of January and began training with the first team," Wood spoke following the game of his unexpected jump to the first team. "I got an email from the coach when I was in Florida with the national team saying that when I came back I'd be training with the first team."
1860 had more upfield penetration in the opening minutes resulting in a pair of free kick opportunities from dangerous positions, however Kevin Volland's shot from 20 yards out in the second minute was easily cleared by the Duisburg defense and Dominik Stahl's attempt two minutes later was blocked.
The Zebras had their first half-chance when left winger Olcay Sahan's shot from near the upper left corner of the penalty area flew straight at keeper Gabor Kiraly, causing the Hungarian veteran little trouble.
A Duisburg turnover just past the quarter-hour mark left Stefan Aigner free to attack up the middle with Benjamin Lauth running into the 18-yard box dangerously to his left. His pass was was however just behind Lauth's stride delaying the forward's shot for a split second, allowing the Duisburg defense to come into position to block the shot to safety.
Sahan provided the Zebras' best chance thus far in the 18th minute when he completed a break with a shot from the left corner of the area that flew just wide of the far post, however the hosts clearly had the upper hand and remained the aggressors throughout the half.
Kevin Volland 's tight-angled shot from near the left touchline was close but hit the side netting in the 19th minute, then a nifty combination from Lauth to Aleksandar Ignjovski left the Duisburg defense with no choice to foul the midfielder from 21 yards straight ahead of goal, once again giving the Lions a dangerously position set piece.
Stefan Buck lined up over the ball and struck it well past the wall towards the left edge of goal, but Yelldell kept the game scoreless with a fine diving deflection.
A slick display of passing between Lauth, Tarik Camdal, Buck and Mate Ghvinianidze two minutes past the half-hour befuddled the Duisburg defenders and left the ball rolling free in front of goal for Camdal to strike barely wide of the mark.
The Zebras' weariness from their midweek game was apparent by this point, with the Lions applying consistent pressure on all fronts to keep them on their heels.
Following a corner three minutes later, Ignjovski sent a low blazing corner from the left side across the face of goal which Lauth barely missed by inches with his dramatic sliding attempt.
Shortly following yet another 1860 corner three minutes after, Yelldell was upended in midair and landed hard on his back, temporarily leaving the American on the ground as he was tended to by staff physicians.
"There was a corner kick and I punched the ball away then after that I landed hard on my back so it was hard for me to breathe, but it's no problem."
While this brief interlude did allow Duisburg to momentarily catch their breath, the hosts finally got the deserved upper hand with three minutes left in the half, with Lauth unsurprisingly the deciding factor.
A scramble in front of the Duisburg goal ended with Volland sliding a short pass to Lauth near the penalty spot, which the 1860 talisman struck well to the lower left corner far from Yelldell's reach.
Duisburg almost had a chance to pull even one minute before the break when a defensive miscue by 1860 allowed Ivica Grlic a clear run on a loose ball rolling into the box, but he was barely beaten to the punch by Kiraly.
The hosts remained on the offensive after the break, with an awkward backwards header by Lauth easily saved by Yelldell in the 53rd minute, and a shot by Ignjovsky four minutes later which had Yelldell beat flying just over the goalpost.
They should have added another goal just before the hour mark when Lauth found himself in a one-on-one with a Duisburg defender and Antonio Rukavina attacking to his right with a clear line on goal. Lauth's pass to the Serbian international was however badly mishandled, giving the defense the time they needed to recover.
Stefan Aigner provided yet another chance with 18 minutes remaining when Yelldell had troubles holding onto his cross from the right side leaving the ball sitting free in front of goal, but unfortunately for the hosts the defense beat them to the mark, clearing it to safety.
With his team's one-goal lead looking under little threat, Lions coach Reiner Maurer gave Wood his professional debut with eight minutes left in the contest as a substitute for the weary Aigner, inserting the American youngster into an attacking role in the right side of midfield.
Wood's first touch came two minutes later when he received a clearance from a shot by Djordje Rakic fell at his feet just outside the upper right corner of the penalty area, but his quick, low shot was blocked by by the Duisburg defense.
A trio of substitutions by Duisburg head coach Milan Sasic around the hour mark had re-energized the squad, and they finally began to gain control for the first time since kickoff and turn the game around in the final minutes.
Their improved pressure on the 1860 goal finally paid off with four minutes remaining. Maurice Exslager worked his way to the left edge of the penalty area and fired a low cross into the area, which Grlic gently redirected into the path of substitute attacker Schäffler, who slammed home from the left of goal.
They nearly stole all three points when Bruno Soares' header was blocked by Kiraly one minute later, however the whistle blew after 60 seconds of stoppage time, giving one point to each team.
"If we look at the 90 minutes I think that 1860 was the better team, so we were very lucky to have one point and we are very satisfied with this point," Yelldell admitted.
"The coach brought on three fresh players," he evaluated of their ability to fight back in the final minutes. "I think they played a very good game and one of them scored the equalizer, so it was very good for us."
Of the team's chances for coming out ahead of the pack at the top of the standings and returning to Germany's top flight, Yelldell remains confident.
"It's very close up there and 6 or 7 teams are almost with the same points, but we think we can beat everybody," he continues. "It's not easy, so if we get one point away and win all of our home games it's very good."
The team's win three days earlier in the German Cup quarterfinal also gives them a semifinal matchup against Cottbus, Bayern or Schalke to look forward to in early-March, but Yelldell feels the team must keep their focus on their league fight in the meantime.
"There's only four teams left in the semifinal, so there's no easy games. We wish for a home game, most importantly that's what we would like. It's 90 minutes and in the cup anything can happen."
"Right now we have a few league games and we have to concentrate on those first, then we can look forward to this big game for the club and for all the players."
With his professional now debut under his belt, 1860's Bobby Wood is taking his short appearance as a starting point, and hopes to continue to improve his game as the season grinds on.
"I think I could have done better, I could have played a little more clever," he evaluates, "but it's just something I'll have to get used to. We'll have to see how it goes from here."
"I think they will be using me anywhere in the attacking area," he confirms of the team's plans for his future deployments. "Rongen was playing a 4-3-3 and I'd generally play up top and around the outside too, so this is not so different."
Speaking over the team's performance, he feels that they were strong for most of the game, however their lapse in the final minutes is something they must avoid throughout the rest of the season if they are to have a chance to jump into the upper echelons of the standings.
"The first 80 minute we were pretty dominant and they scored on their one good chance. I think we were the better team, but that's soccer."
"We can get a promotion, we just have to be more cohesive in the back. Those little mistakes like today, that will cost us."
Duisburg will find out their opponents for the DFB Cup semifinal in Sunday evening's draw, but will turn their immediate attention towards their promotion campaign. They return home on Sunday to take on challengers Aue.
1860 remain in ninth place after the weekend, still within reach of a top three finish, and have a nine-day break before hosting Fortuna Düsseldorf in Monday night action.