A late goal from Sebastian Langkamp secured a vital three points for Hertha Berlin who leave Hamburg languishing fourth from bottom after defeating Josep Zinnbauer’s side 1-0 on Friday night.
The Berliners, in form under Pal Dardai, bagged the points with six minutes left on the clock through the unlikely source of Langkamp. Now without a win in six games and just two points above the feared drop positions, media reports in the lead-up to the match suggested Zinnbauer’s future could be in doubt, should HSV fail to win in Friday’s clash.
Hamburg’s proud record of having never been relegated from Germany’s top division since 1963 looks to be under more danger than ever before. Last season, the club survived with a win in the relegation playoff over Greuther FÃ¼rth.
But now, with eight games left, a confidence-stricken Hamburg looks consigned to another nail-biting finale. Certainly the numbers don’t reflect well: Hamburg is the lowest scoring team in the league with 16 goals in 24 matches, averaging 2.80 shots on target per game — the second lowest in the division. They haven’t won after going behind since November 2013.
Following a 3-0 loss at Hoffenheim, Zinnbauer made four changes to his side with Rene Adler a forced decision with Jaroslav Droby, the usual number one, suspended. Rafael Van der Vaart returned to the team, as did Johan Djourou and Nicolai MÃ¼ller. As teams around them toil, Hertha has looked the most capable of the relegation-threatened sides, especially since the appointment of Dardai, the current Hungarian national team coach who has the most appearances in the Bundesliga for the club.
Despite winning just two of 18 on the road, the Berliners were unbeaten in three and, as they would argue, deserving of a full three points at home to Schalke last weekend. Of all of the teams at the bottom, the capital city club was the highest-scorers with 30 strikes this season.
The Northern Germans harried and chased in the middle third of the pitch, but looked one-paced in the last-third with just Ivica Olic leading the attack. Van der Vaart was as ineffective as the Dutchman has been for the past 18 months; the absence of Marcelo Diaz hurting the build-up play of HSV.
Once on the books of Aston Villa, speedy wide-man Zoltan Stieber dribbled inside from the right-flank and forced a decent save from Thomas Kraft on five minutes, before Brazilian defender Cleber headed wide a few minutes later. Most chances were half-chances at best: Van der Vaart hooked a shot wide of goal and Stieber again shot-wide before the hour mark from around 30 yards out.
But they rarely threatened until the break. Anis Ben-Hatira’s shot from the left-corner of the box took a deflection before Adler stuck out a leg to clear and keep the scores level at the break. Fifteen minutes of tussles, tackles and timid attacking play prompted Zinnbauer into introducing Pierre-Michel Lasogga on 63 minutes, the former Hertha striker who cost HSV around 8 million euros.
After Salomon Kalou saw a header hit the target, Hamburg should have punished a glaring error from John Anthony Brooks who slipped and allowed Olic to press in on goal. The Croat and then substitute Lasogga failed to find any room for the shot with the net gaping. On 74 minutes, half-time substitute Genki Haraguchi, who scored in last week’s 2-2 draw with Schalke, shot from close range with little power and it was easy business for the returning Adler. Five minutes later, Olic likewise lacked power and precision in his shot from a tight angle that hit the side-netting.
But on 84 minutes, the deadlock was broken. Defender Langkamp managed to leap above the Hamburg defense – and many of his eager Berlin teammates — to head his first goal of the season past the helpless Adler.
Goals haven’t been an issue for the Berliners this season – Langkamp’s header their 31st of the season and almost double than that of HSV. Now with a six-point margin to play with, coupled with a very promising run of form under Dardai, Hertha might just fancy their chances of survival.
It’s perhaps the opposite for HSV who, having experienced the strain of last season’s battle for survival, might be wondering whether their fortunes are already written. Amid a chorus of jeers from the home supporters, an expectant fanbase definitely expects something from its club over the next few days.