INGOLSTADT HOLDS ON FOR WIN OVER BIELEFELD
Edson Buddle and Ingolstadt notched up their first win of the new year against visiting cellar team Arminia Bielefeld on Sunday afternoon, with Buddle assisting on the only goal of the game shortly before the halftime break.
Ingolstadt's attempts to climb out of the league's bottom three were checked in each of the previous two weeks, both times failing to hold onto thin 1-0 leads, however a much tighter defensive display for the entire 90 minutes secured the maximum points for the team for only the fourth time this season.
With their opponents Bielefeld bringing up the bottom of the league and already facing a double-digit points deficit to safety, Sunday's game was an important and vital chance for "Die Schanzer" to begin to chip away at their own six-point gap below the line.
Their two most recent contests against Duisburg and Oberhausen had both ended in draws, and other results involving in the lower end of the standings had caused them to fall deeper into the relegation zone over the same period of time.
Bielfeld's own freefall towards the third league this season has been fast and direct, with 16 losses in their first 20 games and an embarrassing -27 goal differential making them one of the most desirable punching bags for opposing teams to use to pad their points totals.
Despite a shortage in the team's coffers head coach Ewald Lienen was able to sign seven new players in the transfer period with the financial help of several team sponsors, however they have so far done little to curb the tide, with their three games since the return from the winter break yielding a grand total of one solitary point.
Buddle had been left out of the the starting lineup for Ingolstadt's previous game in Oberhausen due to a slight ankle sprain, however had come on for the final half-hour and was at the head of the attack from the opening whistle on this occasion for Schanzer coach Benno Möhlmann.
The first minute of action already gave Möhlmann reason reason to be nervous, when central defender Marino Biliskov unnecessarily turned the ball over under pressure to Bielefeld attacking midfielder Christian Müller in a risky position, allowing him to rush up to towards the touchline and launch off a cross which, fortunately for the hosts, flew through the six-yard box untouched by any visiting players.
Two minutes later, Ingolstadt's second impact signing of the winter Caiuby finished a run through the center by pushing the ball forward towards the penalty area into the path of the onrushing Stefan Leitl, however the midfielder was just a step too slow allowing keeper Dennis Eilhoff to barely beat him to the punch.
Both teams pressed in the early going, with Bielefeld again coming close in the eighth minute when a high cross from Markus Schuler into the right side of the area fell into a crowd of players in front of goal before finally being cleared from danger by Malte Metzelder.
Buddle had his first chance of the game two minutes later, receiving the ball on the right side and working his way to a free position at the top of the area before launching an 18-yard shot that flew two feet over the crossbar.
Leitl set him up for another on the left side which flew just wide of the right upright, and Ingolstadt's increasing control over the proceedings began to show as they controlled much of the flow and possession for long stretches.
Buddle again came close to putting the hosts ahead in the 20th minute when he rose to get his head on a corner from Caiuby, missing just wide right with his low attempt.
Bielefeld nearly took the lead at the 34 minute mark when a corner from Christian Müller dropped in front of goal, however midfielder Andreas Buchner luckily cleared Markus Schuler's shot from the line.
Buddle was once again in the thick of things in the 41st minute when his low shot to the right corner was deflected by Eilhoff, and Leitl's followup off the rebound flew well over target.
Ingolstadt finally bagged the well-deserved opening goal two minutes later when Buddle did well to hold the ball up to the right of goal near the touchline, and quickly fired it back to the edge of the area where Buchner blasted it just off the fingertips of Eilhoff and into the net.
"Everyone thought I was going to cross it, but I saw [Buchner] at the top of the box and pretended like I was going to play it square," Buddle explained after the game of his part in the goal. "He had a really good touch, I have to give a lot of credit to him, then he put it on frame and found the back of the net."
Buchner was the catalyst for what was almost the team's second goal four two minutes later, setting up Markus Karl for a shot which Eilhoff barely punched safely away.
Buddle and Buchner again teamed up eight minutes after the break, with the American international picking out his teammate in the middle of the area with a clear line on goal for a shot which was again cleared by the Bielefeld keeper.
Speaking over the noticeably improved linkup play with the team's midfield, Buddle is pleased with the progression since his arrival. "Training with the guys day in and day out, it's becoming a little more familiar," he evaluated. "The coach has been talking to me a lot, trying to get me to settle in and we could see that today."
The visitors had their best chance so far of the half at the hour mark when a poor clearance by Caiuby fell to Baldo Di Gregorio at the edge of the penalty area, however his shot was blocked before it could do any harm.
Caiuby nearly atoned for his mistake three minutes later, nailing a cross in front of the net which was just out of Buddle's reach and knocked out for a corner by the defense. The resulting set piece by Leitl put the ball at the American's feet in a lethal position, but Eilhoff once again did a good job of blocking the shot to keep Bielefeld within reach.
Second-half substitute Collin Quaner gave his team brief hope in the 67th when his cross from near the touchline to the right of goal flew dangerously towards Romano Dennenboom, but the Dutch forward inexplicably ducked out of the way, missing a golden opportunity to test keeper Sascha Kirchstein.
Buddle's afternoon ended with 11 minutes left in regulation when he made way for displaced striker Marko Futacs, who managed to keep the team's play around Bielefeld's penalty area energized despite a late push by their visitors to pull even.
As the clock wound down to its final seconds, Bielefeld looked to have forced their hosts to accept a third straight draw when Eke Uzoma worked his way in the six-yard box and slid a short pass over to Galin Ivanov to tap in for an apparent equalizer, but the Bulgarian was ruled to be offside by the linesman, dashing the visitor's hopes to take anything home from the game.
While attack was still held to a single goal for the third week running, the crucial difference proved to be their tenacity on defense for the full 90 minutes, which limited their opponents to only a pair of shots on frame.
"I think that being at home and knowing the importance of the game and where we are in the standings pushed me and everyone else a little harder," Buddle stated.
"If I'd finished a few more chances or we had a few more balls bouncing our way it could have been a much bigger score."
While thrilled to see the team earn their first win since the break, he still recognized that there is significantly more work to do over the final months of the season should they expect to win their battle against the drop.
"It's only one game but that's how you win games - 1-0, 2-1 - you can't expect to win games 3-2 or even 5-4. The coach has stressed the importance of defending and finishing out games, the last five minutes and first 15 minutes coming out of the break are very important."
The three points still leaves Ingolstadt in one of the division's two automatic relegation spots at 17th place, however they are now just two points behind Oberhausen for the playoff, and three points off of 15th, with a superior goal differential than the other five teams fighting it out at the bottom of the standings.
They hit the road to visit mid-standings Düsseldorf on Sunday for a game which could put them above the surface for the first time since September, then return home one week later to face regional rivals Fürth.