Two sides struggling at the wrong end of the 2. Bundesliga table did battle in a poor game short on chances, belief and quality. Whereas FSV had something of a monopolization on possession, they lacked presence and nous in the box. Duisburg, on the other hand, looked disjointed and shorn of confidence – a shadow of the side that was challenging for promotion and a cup final just a few months ago. Nevertheless, both sides’ defences must take some of the credit, as should the goalkeepers, as all ten players were solid from first minute to last, albeit under little pressure.
After FSV started the game with positive intent, looking to play long diagonals to the wideman and bombarding full-backs, Duisburg soon took charge; mainly because Vasileios Pliatsikas was always in the right place to mop up and set the tempo. The visitors played their football on the floor, knocking it about at no major pace, but quick enough to get a few openings. However, FSV defended resolutely in the opening five minutes, restricting their guests to just the one effort, a 20-yard Markus Bollmann half-volley on a second ball.
They might have looked stodgy and unsure of their colleagues’ movements in attack, but off-ball, FSV seemed to know what they were doing. Karim Benyamina pressed the ball as the Duisburg centre-backs looked about with both Pliatsikas and Goran Šukalo shuttling back in turns to collect it. The former Union Berlin striker was more often than not joined in his out of possession duties by box-to-box man Marc Heitmeier, zooming up to help hurry Duisburg along. However, when it was Duisburg’s turn to press the ball, FSV couldn’t cope (unlike the away side, whose defenders looked more accomplished on the ball). The away side got in the faces of their opponents, standing high and sprinting hard. But whereas the hosts lacked the ability to get a decent ball into the final-third, Duisburg’s problem was making one when there. Bollmann launched several surprise bursts in the opening 15 minutes, catching young Korean midfielder Yun Ju-Tae by surprise, but the passes were either too slow in coming or lax.
Another reason why it just wasn’t working for Duisburg early on was because of the difficult they had in getting striker Flamur Kastrati involved in proceedings. Although determined and energetic, the young Norwegian was far too often doing his work too deep, either showing for the ball and running back towards his own goalkeeper with it, or being caught too far down the field after helping his side win back possession in his own half. Given that cautious FSV coach Hans-Jürgen Boysen had his defence stationed so deep, the 19-year-old Duisburg player should have been looking to work in the corridor left between the back four and the midfield.
As we reached the 20-minute mark, the home side had resorted to long ball football. But with little height or presence up top, it was left to the likes of Benyamina to chase hoofs in the hope that they sailed over the Duisburg defence, or lie in wait for when one of the men in green took it down, looking to catch them by surprise and regain possession in a dangerous part of the pitch. Gradually, however, they started pumping it out to their tallest player in the attack, right-sided winger Babacar Gueye, for him to head over to Benyamina or the energetic, veering ghoster Yun. But with 25 minutes on the clock, FSV had yet to have an effort on goal, despite the countless crosses and free-kicks they’d swung into Florian Fromlowitz’s box. Not that Duisburg had fared any better at the other end, however: the away side were now seemingly permanently penned in and struggling to get their passing game going again, unleashing shots on goal merely an unachieved wish.
When last season’s cup finalists did get on the ball again in the 27th minute, they were hampered by that same lack of urgency that had proved their undoing in the opening stages – a flaw made even more self-defeating by the fact that FSV were so quick to shuttle back into their defensive banks. And, with Duisburg pushing as high as they could as a unit when they got on the ball in that aforementioned passage of play, they left themselves open to a break. But, once again, three balls into the box from FSV saw two headed clearances and a Fromlowitz catch. It was the epitome of that old cliché, defences on top.
Nevertheless, on the half-hour, former FSV man Jürgen Gjasula got his foot on the ball, sprayed the ball down the right for Daniel Brosinski to chase, and the right winger had no trouble beating the nervous-looking Nils Teixeira for pace. The subsequent cross, however, deflected off the Brazilian, and hit the net, albeit the wrong side. Two corners followed, and FSV had a chance to enact their man-marking system – which they performed adequately enough, allowing goalkeeper Patric (sic) Klandt to come out both times and clear. For a two-minute spell thereafter, Duisburg had a bit of a go at their hosts, calling Klandt into a diving save from a free-kick intended to be a cross, and then dragging the ‘keeper out to catch a crossed-in second ball after a corner was headed clear.
But it wasn’t long before FSV were back in something resembling the driving seat, aided by Fromlowitz kicking a restart long – not only did Gledson easily beat the minute Kastrati to the ball, but none of Duisburg’s attacking midfielders seemed to know where they should position themselves in the FSV defence-midfield corridor, allowing the hosts to pick up the ball and go at their guests with their – still unsuccessful – long ball game once again. Nevertheless, the game’s first real chance came in the 40th minute via the visitors. Showing a rare moment of good technique, Kevin Wolze trapped an awkwardly bouncing ball just off the D, duping Zafer Yelen into leaping the other way to block what he thought was a shot. And then, despite still standing at an unfavourable angle, the left winger poked out a quick volley, which skimmed the top of the bar on its way over.
Not to be outdone, FSV’s starting left winger, Yun, who had now switched sides with Gueye, sent a shot three inches wide of the post in the 43rd minute after two headed flick-ons by his attacking colleagues. But although he was right to take the shot early on that occasion, one minute later, he showed his inexperience after being fed through the centre-backs to go one on one: the Korean wasted the best opening of the game by taking his shot before having even reached the D, the effort weak and bobbly, and easy for Fromlowitz. The home side’s two best moves came as a result of Yelen increasing his involvement in the game – getting his foot on the ball and making things happen. Duisburg’s own string-puller, Pliatsikas, meanwhile, had become increasingly marginalised by his team-mates, and a more ruthless and physical team than FSV could have punished the away side and put the game beyond their reach given the amount of crosses they’d gotten into the box. As it was, the sides went in at half time with the score at 0-0. Coach Milan Šašić had work to do.
Unsurprisingly, Duisburg made a much better and more urgency-laden start to the second half. They won a free-kick, curled in by the right foot of Gjasula, but despite the agility of Katrati to get a diving header on target, Klandt was there again, diving and parrying strongly. Continuing to operate with Gueye on the left and Yun on the right, FSV made a more floor-based start to the new half, Yannick Stark in particular looking to mop up and spread the ball out to the channels. But it wasn’t long before overhit crosses and bad control became the name of the home side’s game once again, although an overdue decent right-footed Yelen ball into the box in the 55th minute not only saw Bruno Soares sticking out a hand (which he got away with), but the man who stood behind him missing a sitter. To be fair to Alex Huber, never in his wildest dreams would he have expected the ball to reach his standing position at the back post, hence perhaps why he produced a panicky blaze over the bar. On the subject of overdue things, a change from Šašić at last arrived. On came Valeri Domovchiyski, replacing Brosinski. It was the right change at the right time, as Duisburg had almost become resigned to the fact that FSV were bossing the ball. Thus, putting the Bulgarian up front in place of Katrati, who moved over to the right, gave Šašić someone wanting to run onto balls hit over the top on the break.
Yun followed Brosinski off the pitch a few moments later, replaced in a like for like change by Mario Fillinger. Boysen’s side were definitely improving as an attacking unit, and were now utilising the full-backs in an attacking sense. This allowed them to get in behind the Duisburg defence in both the 67th and 69th minute, first Yelen wasting a chance by shooting too tamely, then Gueye – now back on the right flank – wasting the chance to either square or shoot by tripping over his own feet. Šašić replaced another of his wingers with 20 minutes to play, Wolze leaving the pitch for Jiayi Shao (a like for like substitution). Two minutes after that, it was the turn of former Duisburg man Stark to leave the pitch, replaced by Samil Cinaz.
But despite the new faces, the game really hadn’t changed that much from the first half. For example, in the 76th minute, Katrati bombed down the right flank, and spotting the run of Domovchiyski peeling off the right-sided centre-back, sent a long diagonal over to the Bulgarian. Unsurprisingly, it was hit far too hard for the striker to take under, and a rare opening for the visitors was gone once again. It was deja vu two minutes later when FSV, who first gave the ball away via supposed midfield string-puller Cinaz, saw Klandt making amends by taking a catch. But, he then rolled straight to Maurice Exslager, on for Kastrati, who slipped a through-ball in for the clever diagonal dart of Domovchiyski behind the centre-backs. And, surprise surprise, the former Hertha BSC then proceeded to waste the chance by squaring straight into Klandt’s gloves. It really was a game to forget for everyone involved.