Stuttgart snag vital three points in battle vs. Hamburg
STUTTGART, Germany -- Artem Kravets could hardly have picked a better way to emphatically announce himself to the Stuttgart supporters against Hamburg on Saturday. As three points seemed to slip away, the Ukrainian striker, who joined the club in January on loan, bulleted a superb header past Rene Adler to secure a vital three points in a 2-1 victory for a resurgent Stuttgart.
Jürgen Kramny, the club’s head coach, has overseen a revival at the Mercedes-Benz Arena with Stuttgart extending their unbeaten run to six games. After a rollercoaster ride for the 45,000 in attendance, Artjoms Rudnevs, who bagged an equalizer against the run of play, soon canceled out Daniel Didavi’s goal. Had Stuttgart kept their shooting boots on from last week, this was 2-1 going on 7-1 for the home side.
Didavi, Christian Gentner and Timo Werner scored for the Swabians in that 3-1 win at Cologne to kick off the new calendar year. Serbian winger Kostic’s acceleration on the wing created the first chance for Gentner - the midfielder shooting wide from close range in the second minute. The story of the first half was customary for most Stuttgart matches these days: the home side couldn’t turn dominance and chances into goals.
On 14 minutes, Didavi fired wide before the imperious Serey Die linked with Gentner, bursting from the middle of the pitch, but he dragged his finish wide of the post. Although Hamburg had just managed to enjoy a spell of good ball movement in the midfield, Werner latched on to Kostic’s pass on the counter, but couldn’t beat the woodwork.
Even a bit of good fortune couldn’t force the opener when Kevin Grosskreutz’s delivery from the right-flank was cleared by Nicolai Müller against Kostic’s face, but agonizingly wide. Hamburg, on a series of four competitive matches without a win, wasn’t able to force the Stuttgart defense on to the back-foot, with the exception of a half-chance for Pierre-Michel Lasogga on 35 minutes, helped by a misjudgment from Daniel Schwaab.
If there was a best chance of the half for the home side among a litany of missed opportunities, 19-year-old Werner passed up a gilt-edged situation on 36 minutes. The ball was brilliantly worked from left-to-right and the German youngster had time to knock the ball into space, but he drilled his shot wide of the far-post. Little luck came his way in the half as he knocked a free-header from Die’s cross over Rene Adler’s bar.
Drama ensued less than 60 seconds into the second period with Rene Adler winning the one-versus-one battle against Werner. From the resulting corner-kick, Kostic’s blast across the box led to chaos in the six-yard-box. Grosskreutz’s first effort from three yards was remarkably blocked by Cleber before Adler made a brilliant block to deny Rupp from the rebound.
After another similar spell to the first period when Hamburg enjoyed some meaningless ball dominance, Stuttgart was back on top. Didavi’s dipping, swerving and all-round menacing free-kick in slippery conditions was met by another cracking stop from Adler, a former German international goalie. Another goal-mouth scramble bought on another corner kick opportunity: Kostic delivering on to the head of Didavi, whose header was cleared by Johan Djourou on the line -- but it cannoned against his own keeper and rolled almost comically over the line.
With the deadlock finally broken, the home fans held their breath in what became a gripping contest. A free-kick from Aaron Hunt, in a similar position to the equalizer against Bayern last week, was directed narrowly wide by Cleber from just a few yards out. Bruno Labbadia, a former coach of Stuttgart, eventually gambled with around 25 minutes of the match to play, introducing Michael Gregoritsch and Rudnevs, who would turn the game on its head. On 74 minutes, Rudnevs threw himself at Matthias Ostrzolek’s cross from the left and the Latvian striker met the ball cleanly in the air, scoring his first goal of the campaign.
Werner’s misery would soon come to an end when he was replaced late on, but he scuffed another clean ball into the box on 76 minutes. At the other end, Ivo Ilicevic somehow squeezed through on goal and was denied by a superb reaction save from Przemysław Tyton, who had been a spectator for most of the match.
Adler once more illustrated what talents he still has in his locker, pulling off a splendid save from substitute Kravets before he would eventually grab the winner with two minutes left. Kramny’s Midas touch paid off as another substitute, Alexandru Maxim, delivered an inch-perfect cross on to the head of the Ukrainian who powered the ball past Adler from the edge of the box. The win came with much toil, but Stuttgart’s third league win in a row only increases the gap between the Swabians and the relegation zone.