Stuttgart's disastrous start to the season has continued after suffering early elimination from the Europa League. The Bundesliga side only drew 2-2 in the home leg of their play-off against Croatian side Rijeka.
Stuttgart lost 4-3 on aggregate in the tie Thursday, the death blow coming, cruelly enough, in the 94th minute with the game poised to go into extra time.
But, much like Stuttgart's terrible start to the season in general, the injury-time goal was at least partially a self-inflicted blow. Ibrahima Traore - whose storming runs had otherwise troubled the Croatians all evening - dithered with the ball, then lost it to Ivan Mocinic, who sent through his teammate Goran Mujanovic. The striker sprinted straight through the hosts' defense, and slotted the ball to the right of Sven Ulreich in goal.
Rijeka's opening goal, in the 30th minute, was also the result of a Stuttgart blunder. Then it was Leon Benko who capitalized on a long ball mix-up between Ulreich and young defender Benedikt Röcker - the Rijeka forward grinning as he tapped the ball into the empty net.
That early setback was cancelled out just three minutes later in an equally ridiculous manner - Stuttgart's Christian Gentner dribbled his way into the area, stumbled, fell onto one knee, then somehow managed flick the ball delightfully into the top corner with one flailing boot.
Too many mistakes
The Swabians took heart from that stroke of luck, and went into the second half knowing that they only needed one goal to force extra time.
As the Germans applied more pressure, Vedad Ibisevic went close only a minute after the re-start, but it was only in the 75th minute when Stuttgart found the breakthrough. Traore's penetrating run down the flank sent panic through the Croatian defense, and when he sent the cross in flat and hard, Rijeka's Luka Maric could do nothing to stop the ball cannoning off his body and into the net.
The own goal should have been enough to give Stuttgart the momentum to claim the game, but their habit of shooting themselves in both feet, developed over three miserable league defeats, was their undoing again in injury time.
New coach Thomas Schneider, who replaced sacked Bruno Labbadia this week, has spotted the problem himself. "We made mistakes too easily," he said after the game. "We have to stop that as soon as possible, or else we won't win any games. Those are the facts."
Schneider had set up his team aggressively, making five changes from Labbadia's last match (Sunday's defeat to Augsburg), switching from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2 formation, and making sure that wide defenders Daniel Schwaab and Arthur Boka pushed up at every opportunity.
Stuttgart do have one last scrap of hope. One of the 30 Europa League play-off losers is set to be chosen by lot to replace Turkish side Fenerbahce, who have been banned from European competition for two seasons following a corruption scandal.
But with Stuttgart's luck being what it is at the moment, they won't be investing much hope in winning that lottery.
Elsewhere in the Europa League, Eintracht Frankfurt had better fortunes, reaching the group stage on Thursday by beating Azerbaijan's FK Qarabag 2-1. Their passage had been more or less assured after a 2-0 victory in the away leg.