One lapse in concentration saw stalemate specialists Hansa Rostock denied their first win of the season at home to fellow strugglers Karlsruhe. Peter Vollmann’s East German outfit looked set to reap the rewards for changing to a two-striker system against a side who would have then replaced them in the relegation zone, but the away side’s experienced strike duo combined with 12 minutes to go to earn Karlsruhe a barely-deserved point.
During an early spell of possession in the opposition half, Karlsruhe used their higher-division experience by knocking the ball about in the second-third with some long-diagonals, making the hosts chase fruitlessly. However, although one pass too many soon saw that bit of ball monopolization wasted, Karlsruhe continued to do most of the running in the opening five minutes. They made snappy exchanges followed by quickly-dispatched through-balls, drew fouls, and won their 50:50 duels and tackles. Klemen Lavrič had a particularly mobile start to the match, with he and Alexander Iashvili constantly involved, mainly via long balls over the high-standing home defence.
Peter Vollmann was determined to keep his 4-4-2 compact, yet although this should have assisted the team in their passing moves, the midfielders in particular seemed flustered when pressed. Karlsruhe were also deploying a compact 4-4-2 when out of possession, and despite this holding firm for most of the opening ten minutes, the movement of Tino Semmer did open up a few gaps for his colleagues to exploit. As we went beyond the ten-minute mark, Semmer and his Hansa Rostock teammates had actually forced themselves into a position of control, the origins of which were in a number of deep crosses they’d swung in that had had the visiting defence back-pedalling.
Spurred on by the gains in territory they were making, the two forwards in blue began to press higher up the pitch, and after forcing a sliced clearance which won a final-third throw in the 12th minute, some sublime Tom Weilandt skill freed the roving Lartey to go into the box on a diagonal run, before the midfielder’s eventual sharp shot drew a strong save by Dirk Orlishausen. Confidence flowing and bodies piling forward, Patrick Milchraum and Bogdan Müller were forced into tucking in or helping their full-backs stop the crosses, and as a result, Iashvili and Lavrič had gone from being served plentifully to seeing a paucity of the ball.
As we approached the 20-minute mark, some strong work in defence by Karlsruhe had managed to dilute the Rostock threat, but the home side were still seeing more of the ball. The compact nature of the sides’ 4-4-2 systems meant that the long ball or long-diagonal pass was a feature of both teams’ tactics: to be fair, they were trying to start things on the ground, but the midfield area was so congested and the angle-covering pressing so attentive, that finding a chink or getting adequate time on the ball was nigh-on impossible for anyone.
Karlsruhe still made the occasional foray forward in the latter stages of the game’s opening quarter, with Hansa tending to give away cheap free-kicks in decent areas of the pitch. The home side seemed to prefer starting long from goal kicks, with tall Semmer the target. However, Dennis Kempe followed him out every time and won the majority of these aerial battles. Unfortunately for the centre-back, though, one such duel in the 23rd minute saw both players go down clutching their faces, with the Karlsruhe man coming off worse.
Their treatment-receiving aerially-dominant defender off the pitch for the free-kick that he’d given away in that collision, Karlsruhe had to rethink their defending set-pieces strategy. Alas, they didn’t get it right, and some box pinball from the floated delivery eventually resulted in nimble goal-hanging striker Marcel Schied shooting on the spin to make it 1-0 to Hansa!
After surviving the energetic, confidence-laden several-minute spell which always follows from the side that has just taken the lead in a game, Karlsruhe managed to calm things down and briefly started to take advantage of Vollmann sitting his banks marginally deeper. They knew Hansa gave away lots of fouls in their own half, so Karlsruhe started playing keep-ball in and around the second-third and final-third areas of the pitch, looking for late tackles and daft aggression. The home side duly obliged, giving away scores of fouls, but Karlsruhe wasted every such opportunity with their woeful free-kick delivery. This, in turn, benefited the hosts, who now had the chance to play on the break. They had one or two alright-ish efforts on goal from these counter-attacks, but with referee Benjamin Cortus extremely whistle-happy, Hansa were also becoming the beneficiaries of some dangerously-located free-kicks on their surges upfield.
As a result of the man in the middle’s overly-strict approach, every minor indiscretion was being blown for, and any loose ball that a player from either side went for seemed to make the referee put the whistle to his lips. With the fouls flying in anyway, the referee’s approach was only serving to make tempers fray even further, and the final 15 minutes of the first half were fraught and fiery. As a result, Karlsruhe had lost all their composure on the ball, and their defence seemed to become nervous at following the two strikers in blue out whenever they dropped to trap one of the Rostock centre-backs’ long balls.
Rainer Scharinger’s side were also forgetting to hold their shape, and when Timo Perthel picked the ball up on the kick-off spot in the 41st minute, he was free to run at the D with the two centre-backs continuously dropping off him and leaving a huge gap between themselves. Despite this making it seemingly easier to score than miss, the left winger somehow managed to drag his shot wide, and Karlsruhe went in at the interval only one goal behind.
With possibly 45 minutes to save his job, Scharinger made two changes for the second half. Centre-midfielder Matthias Cuntz paid the price for a lack of invention or impact during the first half, with Frenchman Gaëtan Krebs taking his place. Joining Cuntz in the showers was Milchraum, who saw his place taken by Anton Fink. The changes gave the visitors more of a 4-2-4 feel (although it was more like a 4-2-3-1 off-ball, with Fink dropping into a midfield bank of three alongside Müller on the right and Iashvili on the left), and as a result, there was certainly more oomph and dynamism about Karlsruhe at the start of the new half – encapsulated by one Krebs driving run across the midfield with the ball at his feet. With a big area of space ahead of them, the onus was now on Scharinger’s full-backs to fly forward a bit more, and that they did. However, although Delron Buckley’s left-footed free-kick drew a save from Müller in the 53rd minute, Karlsruhe’s end product was lacking in the opening ten minutes.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a side who are yet to taste what winning feels like this season, Hansa were far more reserved in the second half’s opening stages. Nevertheless, Semmer’s beautifully-weighted headed flick-on in the 62nd minute caught the narrow visiting defence flat and static, and Schied should have made more of the chance laid on a plate for him by his colleague. Two minutes later, Perthel was again running at the defence, just like he’d done at the end of the first half, breaking from a -surprise, surprise – poor Karlsruhe set-piece. Despite looking for all the world that he’d been bundled over as he homed in on goal, Cortus waved play on.
That particular incident proved to be an anomaly, though, as the game continued in the same bitty manner that we’d witnessed for most of the first half. Looking to add freshness to his team’s counter-attack and a more experienced wideman when it came to mucking in with defensive work, Vollmann replaced Weilandt with Tobias Jänicke in the 66th minute. In the five minutes contested directly after his introduction, the hosts were on top. The midfielder, who went onto the left side of midfield (Weilandt and Perthel had switched flanks before the former went off), was everywhere, and the ball seemed glued to his hungry feet at times. After scaring Orlishausen with an effort from range two minutes after his introduction, Jänicke was part of the build-up to a similar effort by Semmer just 60 or so seconds later, as the striker’s right-footed thunderbolt emphasised that Rostock still meant business.
Faced with a quartet of offensive-minded players, Hansa ‘keeper Müller made sure that his restarts went as far up the pitch as the muscles in his right leg could muster. Semmer had grown in stature and confidence as the game had gone on, and was now not only winning more punts aimed in his direction, but also using them intelligently and economically. Lartey, meanwhile, was having less of an impact in the second half from open play, but showed what a danger he could be in a two-minute spell from the 72nd minute when he first won a free-kick in the D, and then himself whistled another from the right wing narrowly wide. In the 77th minute, he moved up front alongside Semmer, as Schied made way for defensive-midfielder Robert Müller.
If this switch was designed to help Hansa shut up shop, it didn’t work. With 12 minutes to go, Iashvili was allowed to swivel and dink a cross towards the back post, where, standing alone among two defenders, was Lavrič, who showed superb power and agility to reach the high ball and guide it over the ‘keeper for 1-1! It was a devastating lesson for the side who finished second in 3. Liga last season, and highlighted that if you lower your guard for a split-second in 2. Bundesliga, even a struggling side has the quality to punish you.
Hansa exerted more pressure in the final ten minutes, but neither side was able to create a good enough chance to steal all three points from a game that neither team could afford to lose.