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Sports

Hamburg win relegation reprieve against tailspinning Leverkusen

The Bundesliga's never-relegated "dinosaurs" Hamburg have heaped the pressure on the other sides around the drop zone, beating Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 at home. Sami Hyypia's side, still fourth, is on a miserable run.

Let the "never second division" songs ring out to the north, for at least another week. The Bundesliga's dinosaurs - fighting against top-flight extinction - were rescued on the night by a pair of meteorites: Hakan Calhanoglu's 3rd-minute opener and Heiko Westermann's 82nd-minute winner.

Those ultimately decisive strikes were separated by a first Bundesliga goal for Bayer Leverkusen's new youngest-ever scorer - 17-year-old Julian Brandt. Brandt opened his account after 58 minutes with a lot of help from Hamburg goalie Rene Adler - formerly of Leverkusen - who spilled the teenager's tame longshot.

Fußball Bundesliga 29. Spieltag Hamburger SV Bayer Leverkusen

Neither side had difficulty making chances

Adler made amends for his howler during the other 93 minutes of play, however, making several key saves to deny Leverkusen. The most memorable of all, especially for the nervous home fans, was a stoppage time save to deny Emre Can from just a few meters out. Adler also did well to prevent Heung-min Son, playing to a cacophony of jeers after his summer departure from Hamburg, in a one-on-one mid-way through the second period.

Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Völler said after the game that no decision had been made on Hyypia's future, after a run of 12 games with just the one win.

"On Saturday morning we will sit down together and take a look," Völler said. "For now, we're heading home - then the players have training at 11 in the morning."

Explosive Calhanoglu

Calhanoglu's early opener, which helped set the tone for an end-to-end encounter with 37 shots in total, was the 20-year-old's fifth goal from outside the box of the current Bundesliga campaign. His low right-footed strike from distance left Bernd Leno no chance in the Leverkusen goal.

Moments later, Brandt crossed to a wide-open Stefan Kiessling at the back post - a sharp reminder of Hamburg's frailty even when the going's good this season. Kiessling could not find the target.

A string of other players had first-half chances on both sides, even Hamburg center-back Michael Mancienne came close with an acrobatic volley from a corner.

Leverkusen ultimately settled into a more possession-focused game than their hosts. But despite enjoying 60 percent of the ball, Leverkusen managed just one more shot than the more incisive Hamburg.

This was particularly apparent after the break; Sami Hyypia's side started the second period in dominant fashion - only to be carved open by a single pass on 50 minutes. Reliable Bernd Leno dashed out of his area to stop Calhanoglu in his tracks.

Calhanoglu called Leno back into action moments later with a fierce left-footed volley - again showing that he's a danger with either foot, and from seemingly unlimited range.

Leverkusen's false dawn

An unlucky thirteenminutes into the second period, Leverkusen tied the score with one of the more innocuous efforts of the night. Julian Brandt's shot flew straight to Adler, but the German World Cup hopeful spilled the ball behind him and into the net.

Bundesliga Fußball Bayer 04 Leverkusen vs. 1. FSV Mainz 05 Sami Hyypiae

Hyypia and Leverkusen's funk is dragging them back towards mid-table

The Champions League hopefuls began to take greater control after drawing level - without carving out that many chances. Heung-min Son's one-on-one with Adler helped the Hamburg keeper restore some honor - and under-fire coach Hyypia brought on an extra striker in Eren Derdiyok with around 10 minutes to play.

Yet it was Mirko Slomka's side that found the killer punch. Right-back Dennis Diekmeier broke down the flank and picked out Heiko Westermann in the box. Although nothing like as notorious a shooter, Westermann's volley was arguably a sweeter strike than Calhanoglu's opener. Again Leno was helpless between the sticks.

Different positions, identical form

Despite occupying opposite ends of the table, recent form had always suggested a close game. Friday's result means that Leverkusen and Hamburg have an identical record - 3 wins, 2 draws and 7 defeats - since the Bundesliga's winter break.

Fouth-placed Leverkusen, still trading on their stellar Bundesliga run before the festive period, are now within striking distance for both Wolfsburg and Borussia Mönchengladbach. The Werkself's winter blues are now finally threatening the team's ambitions to return to continental competition next season.

The three points lifted Hamburg out of the drop zone and into 15th place - at least temporarily. However, both Stuttgart and Nuremberg could recover their lost positions with wins of their own at the weekend.