Hamburg took a giant leap towards avoiding relegation after beating Werder Bremen 2-1. The dinosaurs of the Bundesliga have opened up a six-point cushion above the drop zone with three games remaining.
Hamburg 2-1 Werder Bremen
(Lasogga 5', 32' - Ujah 65')
A double from Pierre-Michel Lasogga has given Hamburg's survival hopes a boost after a 2-1 win over archrivals Werder Bremen. The 24-year-old's two first-half goals would prove decisive to separate the northern German sides, which had both won just one of their last five games.
Hamburg, looking to protect their unique status of appearing in every Bundesliga season since 1963, are almost certainly safe from the drop with three games left. Bruno Labbadia's men move up to 10th on 37 points, while Werder Bremen remain in the bottom three and face a nail-biting run against Stuttgart, Cologne and Eintracht Frankfurt.
A 3-2 win over Wolfsburg and the positive display at Bayern Munich in the German Cup semifinal gave Bremen some confidence ahead of the 104th "northern derby." Yet it's been Bremen's defending that has been cause for concern - Skripnik's men haven't managed to keep a clean sheet all season. Inside the fourth minute, it was apparent why that is the case. Center-back Papy Djilobodji was well out of position and his mistimed lunge at Nicolai Müller gave the Hamburg winger the room to skip clear and cross the ball to Lasogga, who finished off from a few yards out.
Labbadia decided to lock out supporters to keep the atmosphere calm, and allow his players to focus on their home surroundings. Pre-game reports suggested Lasogga, Müller and Ivo Ilicevic could miss the derby, but actually all three made it without any problems. Rene Adler's suspension was brushed off, with Jaroslav Drobny described as the perfect player for the high-pressure situation.
The veteran Czech keeper - Hamburg's starting keeper in the relegation playoff win over Greuther Fürth in 2014 - played a pivotal role for his side in place of Adler. His save from Florian Grillitsch on 24 minutes kept Bremen at bay during a dismal first period for the River Islanders. The home side added a second goal just past the half-hour mark when Matthias Ostrzolek landed his cross on to Lasogga's head as the striker claimed his eighth of the season.
Bremen fight back
Skripnik's side started strongly after the restart, and Fin Bartels and Sambou Yatabare fired the early warning shots as the visitors turned up the heat. But on 56 minutes, the side third-from-bottom in the Bundesliga saw a great chance to respond slip away. Normally the most reliable Bremen player inside the box, top scorer Claudio Pizarro missed from the penalty spot with Drobny making the crucial save.
Nine minutes later, Pizarro's strike partner Ujah bundled home his 10th of the season to spark a strong second-half performance from Bremen. Less than 60 seconds later, the Nigerian missed a golden chance to level from around 20 yards out.
Werder Bremen's pressure, however, came too little, too late, and without any degree of conviction. Labbadia packed his defense towards the end, with Cleber Reis and Dennis Diekmeier coming off the bench, leaving Lasogga on his own in attack. In stoppage time, Jannik Vestergaard headed wide, before Pizarro squandered a golden opportunity from close range.
For the first time in 48 years, Hamburg have beaten closest rivals Werder Bremen home and away in the same campaign. Incredibly, Labbadia's side are two points off Champions League quarterfinalists Wolfsburg, although any push for European football comes too late in the season.