A goal-laden Sunday has ended in Bundesliga wins for Frankfurt and Hoffenheim, with the latter finally exorcizing Bayer Leverkusen's 'ghost goal.' Nuremberg - the team that most needed points - was left empty handed.
When Hoffenheim and Leverkusen met in October, Stefan Kiessling’s infamous goal, which only found the back of the net via a hole in the side of it, proved the difference. It was clearly a source of motivation for Hoffenheim when they visited Leverkusen in Sunday’s later game, paving the way for a 3-2 win.
Sehad Salihovic’s penalty after Roberto Hilbert was - wrongly - adjudged to have handled inside the area gave Hoffenheim a 15th-minute lead. Salihovic's decision to employ a panenka chip over Leverkusen goalkeeper Bernd Leno was particularly brazen given he missed from the spot in last Saturday’s loss to Mainz.
It was an otherwise largely forgettable first 40 minutes, and it hardly had the feel of a usual match involving Hoffenheim. Only Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund have scored more than Hoffenheim side this season. Conversely, Markus Gisdol's side has conceded the most goals of any side in the league.
Normal Hoffenheim service then resumed for in the 40th minute. It was 40 seconds of madness. First, Stefan Kiessling headed in a Leverkusen equalizer from Emir Spahic’s cross from wide on the right, with the Bosnian central defender doing more than a passable impression of a winger to create the goal. Celebrations were short lived, however, as a long Kevin Volland run immediately after ended in an excellent curling lob over Leno.
The hosts were level again by the 55th minute, with captain Simon Rolfes scoring high into the net after an Andres Guardardo freekick was well saved by unlucky Hoffenheim goalkeeper Daniel Grahl.
The goal spurred Leverkusen on in the search for a winner, but it was instead Hoffenheim who had the final say. What it meant to the visitors was clear, as Anthony Modeste celebrated his 89th-minute winner by gesturing to the side netting in a clear reference to Kiessling’s goal.
Hoffenheim's disbelief and anger had greeted the final whistle in the 2-1 loss to Leverkusen in October. It was just as emotional on this occasion, but Gisdol's embrace with his staff showed clearly how things had changed.
The result continues Leverkusen's horror run, which now stretches to nine winless games and has them fast losing ground in the race for Champions League qualification.
Earlier, Nuremberg's 5-2 loss at home to Eintracht Frankfurt raised further questions about their ability to avoid relegation this season.
The Club made the hard look easy and the easy look hard. They were often sloppy with their passing and shoddy in defense, yet their goals were of a quality relegation-threatened teams rarely score. In the end, it was the former that was more telling, allowing Frankfurt to draw further away from the Bundesliga's drop zone and keeping Nuremberg firmly entrenched in the bottom three.
The game's opening stages had all the subtlety of a swinging sledgehammer. Delivering more bruises than passages of quality, the match claimed one early victim when Nuremberg defender Ondrej Petrak needed substituting just 23 minutes in after his nose met a swinging Joselu elbow.
Breaking through the fug of fouls was Frankfurt's opener. Back into the starting XI, Emanuel Pogatetz hardly justified his selection when he gave the ball away wide on the left on 20 minutes. Stefan Aigner swooped, dashing into the area and then sending the ball across the goal for Tranquillo Barnetta to tap home his first Bundesliga goal since December 2010.
Frankfurt could have gone even further ahead when Barnetta's header drew a sound save by Raphael Schäfer, but they did not have to wait long for a second goal after the break. Again it was Aigner who was the provider, with the busy winger pulling back from the right on 49 minutes for Joselu to convert. It got worse for Nuremberg four minutes later, when Alexander Madlung scored after Martin Lanig's header was blocked by Schäfer into the veteran defender's path.
A diamond in Nuremberg's rough this season, Josip Drmic pulled a goal back on 64 minutes when he took a superb touch from a ball over the defense and then fired an unstoppable shot past Trapp. It was the 13th goal of his debut Bundesliga season for the Switzerland international, without who Nuremberg would likely already be doomed for the drop.
The goal added impetus to Nuremberg’s play, and, on 71 minutes, it was 3-2. Like Drmic's goal, The Club’s second was of immense quality. Jose Campana picked the ball up around 25 yards from goal and, with Frankfurt backing off the on-loan Spanish midfielder, he sent a hard, flat shot beyond Trapp.
But Nuremberg's revival was ended when Javier Pinola was sent off for bringing down Joselu as the last man on 80 minutes, and Frankfurt made the points safe with two late goals. Joselu scored the first to claim his double, then laid off a pass for substitute striker Vaclav Kadlec to claim his first goal since the end of the winter break.