DARMSTADT FALL DESPITE EARLY GOAL
Preston Zimmerman manned the center of Darmstadt's attack on Tuesday at Jahn Regensburg, however the team couldn't hold an early lead as they succumbed to their promotion hunting hosts.
After scoring his third league goal of the campaign over the weekend, the American was on the field for the full 90 minutes as a roaming central attacker, and played an integral part in Darmstadt's early lead.
While by no means one of the more infamous rivalries in Germany, the 31 league meetings between the two teams had produced some memorable results, most recently when Darmstadt smashed seven goals past their hosts in a 2005 meeting that played a huge role in the Bavarians' eventual relegation that season.
With Regensburg out of the league's third-place promotion playoff spot by the narrowest of regions and pushing hard to be one of the teams to make the jump to the 2. Bundesliga, the Lilies were once again in a position to play spoiler to their hosts' hopes.
After both teams lightly probed in the opening minutes, Darmstadt netted a the opening goal after nine minutes in an unlikely manner initiated by their American attacker.
Zimmerman rushed up the left side with the ball in an attempt to find space for a cross, but instead won a corner. Winger Kevin Wölk fired a low inswinging ball which dropped just in front of the near post, and as Regensburg keeper Michael Hoffman attempted to kick it to safety amidst a small crowd of surrounding players, he mis-hit the ball and sent it into his own net off of a teammate for an embarrassing own-goal.
"The ball was played in, bounced off of one of their players and went in at the post," Zimmerman described of the action. "Kind of like a game of ping-pong between their players. It was a good start for us."
The first half was played at a high tempo with Darmstadt holding a slight edge on their ability to push forward, although a number of untimely turnovers prevented either team from building any sustained momentum.
Just before the 20-minute mark, Regensburg had their first real chances, initially when Selcuk Alibaz almost latched into a lobbed pass in the box as he split a pair of defenders, then moments later when Ronny Philp's's cross was headed on to Jürgen Schimd directly in front of goal, only to be cleared at the final moment by Danny Latza.
Darmstadt could have doubled their lead just past the half-hour when a long ball took a lucky bounce off of center back Mario Neunaber and landed at the foot of Zimmerman in open space just past the halfway line. He did manage to advance the ball towards the opposing goal before hitting Oliver Heil without a defender on the left, but Heil's hurried shot was too close to the grasp of Hoffman, who had no problems to dip down for the save.
Then three minutes later, they were again close when a quick attack up the right ended with a low cross towards Heil inside the six-yard box, but his awkwardly-attempted header to the left post fell well wide of the mark.
The slight edge on the field held by the Lilies throughout the first half shifted firmly in the hosts' favor after the break, and they needed just six minutes into the second half before equalizing.
A long free kick by Selcuk Alibaz into the box was initially headed high, and fell to the awaiting central defender Andreas Laurito in the middle of the six-yard box, and his header to the left of Darmstadt keeper Jan Zimmermann pulled the hosts even.
They blew the perfect chance to take the lead two minutes later, as Hein received the ball on a dead sprint up the left side and had space to tee up a shot from outside the box, but sent his low drive straight into the hands of Zimmermann.
Darmstadt's own profligacy reared its ugly head just before the hour, as Heil also had a wonderful opportunity at the end of a run up the left, but his attempt to angle it inside the right post was hit wide.
Regensburg were on the front foot, however, coming close in the 66th when Tobias Schlauderer's lunging shot was barely on the wrong side of the left upright, and did create the ultimate winning goal just before the 70th minute.
On a quick attack up the middle, second-half substitute Tobias Schweinsteiger split central defenders Marko Kopilas and Cem Islamoglu before shifting the ball out left to Selcuk Alibaz. The midfielder took a single touch before hitting a low shot to the left side of Zimmerman that flew in uncontested, putting Regensburg ahead for the first time in the game.
Darmstadt were visibly dragging by this point, and could at best manage only a small number of half-chances that would hardly raise the eyebrows of even the most optimistic Lilies' fan.
"We were a little more tired in the second half since we had played over the weekend," he admitted, although pointing out "they also played one too, so that's no excuse for us."
With 11 minutes left, Zimmerman picked up a loose ball at the top edge of the area and tried a no-look shot on the turn which was blocked, then seven minutes later, the hosts were far closer as Alibaz crossed from the left, with Schweinsteiger barely missing with his header back to the left post.
As the Lilies pushed everything they had forward in the closing minutes, they saw the final nail in the coffin with one minute remaining in regulation. Darmstadt midfielder Matthias Heckenberger was judged to have battled a tad too aggressively for a ball with Oliver Hein near the Regensburg endline, drawing his second yellow from referee Martin Petersen, and leaving the visitors with just ten men on the field for the final seconds.
They still managed to keep the ball mostly in Regensburg's end for that short time, although a final corner attempt in the second minute of stoppage time was headed out of bounds by Islamoglu, with the whistle confirming the hosts' win just seconds later.
"It was a story of two halves," Zimmerman reflected immediately afterwards. "In the first half, we were a lot better and I think we should have scored more than one."
"In the second half, Regensburg came out a lot better and more aggressive, and we just didn't have any answer for it. They just kept going and going and going, and you just got the feeling that the second goal was going to come at some point."
The Lilies still remain well clear of the relegation zone, with an eight-point gap and three places separating them from the bottom three. They return to action on Saturday when they face a second promotion favorite in less than a week as Heidenheim come for a visit.