Hoffenheim have beaten fellow strugglers Düsseldorf, to earn a Bundesliga lifeline. While the hosts might have been aspiring to a relegation-promotion playoff, their Rhineland visitors would have liked to dodge it.
There was every reason for Hoffenheim's players to seek to impress as the side struggled to prolong their five-season run in the top flight.
The fact that there was a new head coach to impress, in the shape of Markus Gisdol, only emphasized what was required. While it was Gisdol's first match at the helm of a top-flight club, he is no stranger to Hoffenheim, having managed the reserves between 2009 and 2011.
For Düsseldorf, hanging above the bottom three, it was a chance to put clear blue water - or at least three more points - between themselves and the danger of a relegation-promotion playoff.
While the home side seemed to dominate at first, Düsseldorf didn't slouch in the early attacking stakes. Indeed, it was while bearing down on goal that speeding star striker Mathis Bolly pulled up with a hamstring, having to be substituted by Dani Schahin.
It was immediately after an attack by the visitors that struggling Hoffenheim made the much desired breakthrough. After a free kick for Düsseldorf, the hosts struck back down the pitch. Roberto Firmino knocked the ball to Sven Schipplock, who - after a little stumble - returned the favour. Schipplock squared the ball, findin Brazilian Firmino in plenty of free space and able to nail the ball in off the underside of the crossbar.
Hoffenheim were forced to soaking up some pressure in their own stadium as Düsseldorf ventured to get level.
Home side under pressure
On the half hour Mark, Gisdol was up off the bench, spurring on his team to do more as Düsseldorf enjoyed a real spell of pressure. The Rhinelanders plugged away down the right and left with Aussie winger Robbie Kruse, Axel Bellinhausen and Andreas Lambertz stretching Hohffenheim at the back, but not enough. By half time, Düsseldorf looked clearly the more likely to score, but Hoffenheim's desperate plight was very much in evidence through their resolve to hold on.
Hoffenheim came back with renewed vigor, Kevin Volland combined well with Schipplock on 47 minutes in but the forward could only hit it for keeper Fabian Giefer to parry. However the pressure also told at the other end, when keeper Gomes had to go off with an injured hand in a clash with Lambertz.
The change of personnel might have spurred Düsseldorf, but their forays forward were a little more ineffective than in the first half. Hofffenheim meanwhile, looked a little better organized, but still couldn't really pierce the opposition defense.
The hosts almost started to wobble, notably in the 69th minute as Bellinghausen set Kruse free in the area. The Australian tried to tee up Schahin, who was through on goal but just too far back to connect.
Agony for visiting captain
Another Düsseldorfer who had looked likely to score was Lambertz. He did so, but unfortunately at the wrong end in what was, perhaps, the deciding moment. When Hoffenheim captain Salihovic placed in a neat corner from the right, the Düsseldorf skipper took it upon himself to steer a header into his own net.
One sensed that Hoffenheim might want to stick, rather than twist - especially when forward Schahin was brought off for midfielder Sebastian Rudy.
Despite, that, Hoffenheim netted again with Salihovic putting Volland through neatly for the German forward to pull past Giefer and fire into an empty net to make it 3-0. While the score flattered Hoffenheim somewhat, their determination had never been in question.
The win gives Hoffenheim, now on 23 points, some hope of avoiding relegation - most likely by securing the third-from-bottom relegation-promotion playoff spot. Düsseldorf, on 29 points, had appeared safe until recently and might now be contemplating that same fate with heavy hearts.
Down in the second division, the third- and fourth-placed teams clashed on Friday evening in their own bid to reach the up-and-down playoff match. Kaiserslautern managed a 3-0 win against Cologne to reclaim third position and the upper hand from Düsseldorf's bitter local rivals. Both Kaiserslautern and Cologne are seeking to bounce straight back, having been relegated from the Bundesliga last season.
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