DAVID SMITH - Sunday, April 3, 2011
David Yelldell had a rough return from international duty on Saturday afternoon, tripping up Furth midfielder Nicolai Müller in the penalty area with 13 minutes left on the clock leading to the deciding spot kick as Duisburg were dealt a possible final blow to their slim hopes for promotion from the 2. Bundesliga.

Heading into the game, the Zebras' hopes for reaching the division's third-place spot earmarked for the promotion playoff were already looking thin, and a loss which could have turned out the other way to one of their direct competitors in the race leaves them nearly out of contention all together

Duisburg had won a tight 1-0 contest at home against neighbors Düsseldorf right before the international break, and were hoping that the pause had done little to stop whatever momentum they had begun to build heading into the season's home stretch.

After each team spent the opening minutes tentatively feeling the other out, Fürth were first to show their teeth in the sixth minute when midfielder Felix Klaus swerved past his marking defender and knocked a short cross in front of goal into the path of the onrushing Tayfun Pektürk, but the ball was just a half-step too far ahead.

Duisburg wasted no time to show their mettle, netting the opening goal one minute later. Stefan Maierhofer was was the beneficiary of a poor turnover from Thomas Kleine, and poked a diagonal ball through the defense to Srdjan Baljak just inside the right side of the penalty area.

The Serbian striker waited on his first touch just long enough to allow Olcay Sahan to streak up to the far post and slipped the ball over to his teammate, who side-footed his low shot past the wrong-footed Fürth keeper Alexander Walke.

They came close to adding a second seven minutes later when Baljak launched a cracker from the upper left corner of the 18 yard box. Walke dove to parry the shot clear of goal, however it landed directly in the path of Maierhofer, whose follow-up shot was directly into the keeper's hands.

Fürth equalized in the 19th minute after a short period of heavy pressure. After pair of corners, one of which saw the ball rattling around menacingly in Duisburg's six-yard box before being cleared, Edgar Prib managed to aim a diagonal cross from the upper right corner of the penalty area towards the far post where both Sercan Sararer and Klaus were waiting.

The ball flew just inches over Klaus's head and landed just behind the stride of Sararer, who managed to head it down in front of the open goal, where Klaus was waiting to slap it just inside the right post into the back netting.

Going back over the goal following the game, Yelldell noted that it was a difficult play to judge and could have very easily caused no damage had Sararer been a few more inches ahead.

"It was a good cross [from Prig]. I was standing completely alone in the area and didn't know if [Sararer] could get to the ball but he barely reached it with his head."

"After that, the ball had too much time in front of goal, I was already committed to one side, and [Klaus] was in good position at the other post to bring the score even."

Several Duisburg players launched heavy protests at what they had perceived to be a blown offside call on the part of the linesman, however replays did show that the non-call was the correct one.

"We thought that one of the players was offside when the initial cross was made, but we saw later that it was the right call," he admitted.

Yelldell had a worrisome moment in the 24th minute when he collided with one of his defenders as he leaped to grab a cross in the box and took what looked to be a knock to his left foot, however after being attended to by medics for a short while he walked it off and play continued.

If the two goals within the first 20 minutes gave any promise of a stylish high-scoring encounter, the remainder of the first half put this to rest as both teams increasingly suffered from an abundance of sloppy turnovers, poor passing and a general inability to get any attacks out of the midfield.

The Zebras did generate a pair of quick chances late in the half, the first when Baljak's cross from the left was just a touch ahead of the Austrian giant Maierhofer's sizable head, then in injury time when Sahan received the ball in an open position on the right side but skied his shot on a trajectory towards the Kuiper belt.

"We started well in the first half," Yelldell analyzed of the team's quick start, "I think we had the chance to score or or two more goals, but Fürth got the equalizing goal and that brought it into the half."

After the intermission, Fürth were continually the more dangerous of the two teams, although the general downward trend from the first half carried through into the second, and quality of play gradually declined while unnecessary physicality in challenges slowly escalated.

Bruno Soares was shown yellow in the 51st minute for a rough challenge on Sararer, setting up a 22-yard free kick by Bernd Nehrig which deflected off of the wall and directly to Pektürk just to the left of the six-yard box. The midfielder snapped the ball dangerously towards goal, but it was cleared by the defense just in time.

Fürth maintained the advantage and were inches away from the lead when Prib's corner in the 54th minute was headed barely wide of the left post by Kleine.

Sensing his team falling into a rut, Duisburg coach Milan Sasic wasted no time in trying to force a change of pace, pulling out Baljak and Burakcan Kunt three minutes later in favor of the attack minded Filip Trojan and Sefa Yilmaz.

This produced no noticeable change, as the hosts continued their dominance of both possession and had the Zebras seemingly hanging on for dear life, although Trojan did make a clutch goal-line clearance of a shot by Klaus at the hour mark.

A smashing collision in Fürth's box between Walke, Kleine and Maierhofer as the Duisburg striker went for a long ball in the 65th minute left all three players on the ground receiving treatment from a fleet of medics. While the two Fürth players eventually got up and played until the end, the big Austrian was not so lucky and was quickly pulled for an apparent leg injury that had him leaving the stadium following the game on crutches, forcing Sasic into an unexpected final substitution with more than 20 minutes left on the clock.

The game turned on its head with 15 minutes, as Fürth capitalized perfectly on a minor defensive error in the Duisburg backfield.

Yelldell took a goal kick which was headed directly back into the direction of his goal, perfectly into the path of the onrushing Müller. While the diminutive Duisburg right back Benjamin Kern was marking the Fürth midfielder, his attempt to head the ball back to Yelldell was well short, unintentionally sending Müller through on goal.

Yelldell dove for the ball but instead took out the opposing player, forcing referee Babak Rafati to point to the spot and pull out his yellow card in a decision which drew almost no protest from the Duisburg squad.

"Kern had very little space to work with, his header came back to me too flat into the penalty area and it was difficult to get to it well in the tight space."

Nehrig stepped up and drilled his shot straight down the middle, which flew unimpeded into the net past the feet of Yelldell who had made a lung towards the right post, putting the hosts ahead.

Duisburg nearly gift-wrapped the game for Fürth five minutes later when a long free kick into the Duisburg box was knocked into the crossbar by a defender for what would have been an embarrassing own-goal.

Sensing the final breath about to be released on their promotion chances, Duisburg tried their best to muster any kind of attack in the final minutes. The home crowd felt their hearts skip a beat in the final seconds of injury time when a long desperate shot into the six-yard box was momentarily dropped by Walke, however the keeper fortunately avoided embarrassment as no Zebras were in the immediate vicinity to pounce on his mistake.

Yelldell felt that his team played well enough to get the win, but admits that their own mistakes on both goals ultimately doomed them to the loss.

"I think they were two unnecessary goals by Fürth but it's pointless to over analyze since the end result is the same."

"Fürth had some chances in the second half on set pieces but overall there were few scoring opportunities. Then there was the penalty and from that point on the loss was inevitable."

The game continued a troublesome trend for the Zebras which has seen them fail to notch up a win on the road in league play in over four months, factor which has nearly eliminated their shot at returning to the top flight. With the team having three remaining road trips on the schedule, Yelldell feels the team needs to just keep their heads in the game if they hope to turn this around.

"We want to win every game, we have to do a better job to stay concentrated and I think we'll be able to do better on road games."

The result temporarily leaves Duisburg in seventh place, although they could fall to eighth behind 1860 Munich by the end of the weekend pending Sunday afternoon results. They are, however a possibly insurmountable nine points back from the league's promotion playoff spot with just six games left on the schedule, and could see that deficit grow on Monday should third-place Bochum take any points from their trip to struggling FSV Frankfurt.

The Zebras will look to gain some positive momentum in the final weeks leading up to their May 21 German Cup final date with Schalke in Berlin when they host Alemannia Aachen on Friday evening in their next 2. Bundesliga encounter.