Hannover's poor run of form finally came to end against Werder Bremen on Friday night. Werder coach Florian Kohfeldt signed a new contract in the week, but his team showed little of the traits that got him that deal.
Hannover 2-1 Werder Bremen
(Harnik 16', Klaus 42' — Belfodil 74')
Hannover 96 took a long overdue step towards safety as they ended a run of five straight defeats with a 2-1 win over Werder Bremen.
First half strikes from striker Martin Harnik — his first goal in over 500 minutes of Bundesliga action - and Felix Klaus gave Hannover a two-goal lead at half-time in a sold-out HDI-Arena.
Ishak Belfodil halved the deficit for Bremen with a clinical second-half header but André Breitenreiter's side hung on for three vital points.
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Hannover's desolate form meant they hadn't won a game since a 2-1 home win over Freiburg back on matchday 22, but they did impress in the frenetic closing stages against RB Leipzig last week, having a late equalizer controversially ruled out as they slipped to a 3-2 defeat.
"Losing five games in a row doesn't do much for self-confidence," admitted coach Breitenreiter pre-match but revealed that he had only focused on the positives from the Leipzig game in preparation for the visit of in-form Bremen.
Organized in midfield, creative in attack
And it seemed to have the desired effect as Hannover made an aggressive start to the game and took a deserved lead when Harnik darted towards the front post to flick home Miiko Albornoz's cross.
With Marvin Bakalorz and Iver Fossum sitting in front of the back four and Klaus coming inside to further bolster the midfielder, Hannover were largely able to nullify Bremen's threat on the break. When the visitors did manage to spring the trap, they were unable to produce a single shot on target in the first half, Max Kruse the biggest culprit when he fired over from close range.
Hannover weren't just well-organized, they also exhibited more variety and creativity going forward as the game went on, as the build-up to the second goal demonstrated.
Bakalorz won the ball from Bargfrede in the middle before playing a clever return pass with Ihlas Bebou. Bakalorz's chip over the on-rushing Pavlenka came back off the post but Klaus was on hand to fire home the rebound.
It was the sort of attractive, attacking football that Florian Kohfeldt has brought to Werder Bremen since taking over from Alexander Nouri in November. In a Bundesliga table which began when Kohfeldt took over on Matchday 11, Werder would be third. He was rewarded with a new contract earlier in the week to keep him in Bremen until 2021.
Speaking during the week, Bremen midfielder Thomas Delaney had welcomed the news as "logical," giving the 35-year-old coach the credit for Werder's progress in recent months.
"He took over a faltering team which was in search of its identity and found it for us," he told online fanzine Deichstube. "We now have a clear plan in our game which you need if you want to build something."
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Asked what that identity is, the Dane said: "An offensive game, possession of the ball and dominating the opposition."
But there was little to be seen of those characteristics in Werder's first-half performance. Belfodil's clever header sparked a spell of late Bremen pressure but it was too little, too late.
"The first half was the worst we've played in months," admitted striker Max Kruse, speaking to broadcaster Eurosport post-match. "We did none of the good things we've been doing. We were completely lathargic."
"We lacked intensity," agreed his coach, Kohfeldt. "I felt like we weren't awake. We have to fight our way into every game."
Kohfeldt's Bremen stand for offensive, dominating and possession-based football, but only Hannover played like that.