INGOLSTADT FIGHT BACK FOR CRUCIAL VICTORY
Edson Buddle and Ingolstadt gave their mission of 2. Bundesliga survival a huge boost on Sunday, quickly recovering from an early goal by visiting Aachen and earning their second straight win.
Buddle started and saw just over an hour of time on the field before making way for Moritz Hartmann, as the team pulled pulled to within a single point of safety with nine games remaining on the schedule.
Ingolstadt had put on perhaps their best performance of the season the previous weekend in blowing out Karlsruhe by a 4-1 scoreline, with Buddle netting in the final minutes, however with a four-point gap to even reach the relegation playoff spot as the game began, there was still much more work to be done to ensure their survival.
After a one-game spell on the bench, Buddle returned to the starting lineup for the game, paired at the head of the Ingolstadt attack with team captain Stefan Leitl.
Their visitors Aachen had been decidedly mediocre since returning from the winter break, winning just three of seven, most recently being embarrassed to the tune of a 5-0 home blowout at the hands of Hertha.
With relegation no threat and promotion well out of reach, the team affectionately known as the "Potato Beetles" hailing from the westernmost point of Germany looked to be caught in a snare with motivation a hard item to come by.
The game had barely gotten underway when Aachen capitalized on loose defending by their opponents to bag the opening goal after just one minute. Marino Biliskov fell down while trying to reach a diagonal pass from Shervin Radjabali-Fardi into the 18-yard box, which gave Bilal Cubukcu an opening on the left side six yards out. While Marvin Matip got his head on Cubukcu's attempted flip towards goal, the ball fell immediately back to the Aachen player who put his close shot on frame.
Sacha Kirchsten did manage to deflect the ball before it crossed the line, however this time it landed at the foot of Benjamin Auer, who lifted the ball into the net from short range for the shock lead.
Unfazed by the lightening quick deficit, Ingolstadt immediately went on the offensive, with Leitl forcing Aachen keeper David Hohs to block his shot from the right side of the area in the fifth minute, and Buddle's point-blank shot on the turn from the ensuing corner being blocked off the line by the defense for another set piece.
They were on-point on the followup corner kick, which Leitl delivered well in front of goal with the perfect height for central defender Matip to leap above the surrounding defenders and head to the right side of goal for the equalizer.
Emboldened by the quick turnaround, the Schanzer stayed on the offensive and came close to taking the lead in the 14th minute when Buddle connected with a corner from Brazilian midfielder Caiuby, barely missing wide left with his low header.
The game took a far more settled tone for much of the remainder of the half, with Ingolstadt displaying a tough defense to limit their visitors' chances - a welcome improvement over the shambolic opening to the game.
The hosts escaped the mire for a brief moment at the half-hour mark to create a brief moment of excitement, when Leitl's free kick from several yards beyond the upper left corner of the penalty area flew untouched across the face of goal, barely beyond the reach of both Buddle and Matip.
Aachen nearly broke through two minutes before the break, as Radjabali-Fardi found Zoltan Stieber in the left side of the area, who then tried to lay the ball off to Auer at the edge of the six-yard box. Auer made the difficult turn to send his shot wide left, however any potential damage would have been disallowed as the linesman found him to be just barely offside.
The game finally broke free from the doldrums on the stroke of half, when Caiuby was allowed far too much time and space to operate on the left side of the field. This gave him the opportunity to send a perfect cross-field pass to the right corner of the six-yard box for Leitl to one-time over the reach of Hohs and inside the far post to give Ingolstadt the halftime 2-1 lead.
Five minutes after the break, Buddle was responsible for one of the more comical moments of the game, having a high pass from Caiuby land right at his feet at the top of the area with a clear line on goal, but entirely whiffing on his attempted volley to miss a perfect opportunity.
He did nearly make up for his gaffe six minutes later, putting a no-look shot on target as he fell to the ground, however was denied thanks to a fine save by Hohs. The resulting corner saw the ball land at the foot of Ingolstadt defender Biliskov for a blast from the left, which again produced yet another fine save from the active Aachen keeper.
Buddle was substituted out of the game two minutes past the hour mark in favor of Hartmann, giving his afternoon an early finish.
Aachen came close to drawing even midway through the second half, when Nigerian central central defender Seyi headed down a free kick by Kevin Kratz, sending it well out of Kirchstein's reach but barely wide left of the goalpost.
Hartmann blew his own opportunity to put the Schanzer up by two with 19 minute left, making a poor first touch on a ball which would have had him isolated in a potentially-lethal one-on-one with the Aachen keeper.
They suffered an even more frustrating miss seven minutes later, as Moise Bambara sent Leitl through on goal with a nearly open shot, but the captain failed to add a second to his personal haul for the night with a poorly hit shot that rolled wide left.
Ingolstadt kept their late charge going, first with Bambara hitting the post from the right side in the 84th minute, then having a perfect chance stopped short when Hartmann was whistled offside two minutes later after he was sent through by Tobias Fink towards an open net.
Hartmann was visibly displeased with the call and made a point to purposely obstruct the followup freekick with his backside, drawing a much-deserved yellow from referee Robert Kampka for his childish display.
Aachen had one final chance seemingly from out of nowhere three minutes before full time when substitute Babacar Gueye banged a hard looping 20-yard volley two yards wide left, but were unable to muster any further drive, finally succumbing to Kampka's final whistle confirming Ingolstadt's supremacy for the afternoon.
Following the game, Buddle attributed the team's improved performance in both this game and the previous weekend's blowout win to a pair of factors.
"I think the game is keeping us honest, so we have to work together as a team, no cheating or just trying to play for yourself."
"The only way we're going to win is by playing together," he continued, "and I think that's how we've been successful."
Adding to their improved tendency to function as a single, he pinpoints a simple reason to their ability to hold the line for the full 90 minutes: "...a lot more fitness and a lot more running. A fitter team gets better results, and all the hard work we've put in has paid off."
The poor start would have been a certain death knoll for the team earlier in the season, however he feels an improved mental strength amongst the squad allowed them to not only fight back for a draw, but come out as eventual victors.
"With Aachen getting an early goal, we had to continue to believe in ourselves. It was something that the coach addressed, that we haven't come from behind to win a game yet."
"We had plenty of time after their goal, we showed some character by staying in the game, and scored the equalizer and go ahead goals to bring it home."
While Ingolstadt remain in one of the division's two automatic relegation spots following the game, they now have just a one-point deficit behind both Karlsruhe and Oberhausen, with a vastly superior goal differential in comparison to both teams.
They head west to visit downtrodden FSV Frankfurt on Friday evening, who are losers of four straight and mired in an overall seven-game winless streak, before returning to the Audi Sportpark one week later to host league leaders Hertha Berlin.