Hamburg remain bottom of the table despite beating fellow strugglers Freiburg in a mistake-laden game at a sunny Badenova-stadion. Interim coach Frank Arnesen needed to guide the north German side to a two-goal margin victory to haul themselves out of 18th spot, but the win at least moves the club level on points with Freiburg and Augsburg. However, if the home side hadn’t been so wasteful in front of goal in the second half, they would have won this game comfortably. Despite producing a wonderfully disciplined first half performance, Hamburg’s defence fell to pieces in the second half, and were ultimately bailed out by their deadly attackers. HSV have now won two of their last three games, and incoming coach Thorsten Fink will have seen enough from this performance to suggest that his new team are too good to go down.
The game started quite slowly, with most of HSV’s players getting a touch as Freiburg sat off. Despite Papiss Cissé doing well to win a corner in the second minute after his side stopped Hamburg’s attempts at going forward, the hosts’ made nothing of it. Both teams struggled to string passes together, and the game was rather bitty overall in the opening five minutes. However, in the sixth minute, a scoop over the top saw former HSV man Anton Putsila released down the right, only for his subsequent sharp, half-volley cross to be cleared by a well-positioned Jeffrey Bruma. Between the fifth and tenth minute, Heung-Min Son started to impose himself on the game; the South Korean dropping deep and pulling wide to link play or flick through others, and showing great movement to evade the man in stripes tasked with shackling him. At the other end, Cissé was also showing some nice touches to help get his side’s widemen into the game, but what the hosts lacked was someone in the box supporting the Senegalese striker for the crosses that followed.
Thus, when Putsila stepped infield to cause havoc in the eighth minute, Robert Tesche panicked, and gave away a free-kick just off the D. Julian Schuster stepped up to take it, only for his decent right-footed curler to be palmed away by Jaroslav Drobný. One set-piece sparked several others, with Freiburg notching up corner after corner. However, they only managed to turn one of these dead ball situations into a chance, with Cissé weakly heading wide in the 11th minute. Retrieving the ball from the shadow of the advertising boards, Drobný hurriedly shifted it upfield for dropping striker and Croatian compatriot Mladen Petrić, who drew a foul from the tracking Pavel Krmaš. Petrić stepped up himself to take the free-kick, and his delicately placed left-footed curler bounced off the bar with Oliver Baumann glued to the floor. A corner kick was given away by Cissé in the ensuing melee, and after Bruma met Gökhan Töre’s left-footed inswinger with a powerful leap and header, Baumann’s parry landed straight at the feet of Gojko Kačar and Son. The latter steered the ball in for his sixth ever goal in German football, and HSV had an early 1-0 lead!
After the goal, Hamburg defended with confidence and discipline – sitting off in a compact, high-ish 4-4-2, and pressing at pace but never leaping in to tackles. Töre was now on the right flank having switched sides with Zhi Gin Lam, but most of the action was in the middle park, with Freiburg playing a very narrow midfield and Cédric Makiadi now deployed as more of a second-striker. With his two burly Africans leading the line, it would have been easy for Freiburg coach Marcus Sorg to encourage his defence to hoof the ball long. But, fair play to the 45-year-old rookie, as his team continued to try and break their guests down with short and sharp passes and triangles. However, HSV continued to narrow the angles and suffocate the space, and kept the home side at bay. In the 15 minutes after the goal, their copy book was only blotted by Kačar diving to win a penalty (he got a yellow card for his efforts, and joining him in the book in the 24th minute was Schuster, although his faux pas was a tactical foul).
As we approached and went beyond the 25-minute mark, Freiburg seemed to make more of an effort to get crosses into the box again, and Yacine Abdessadki had a good chance in the 26th minute, only to shoot wastefully into the side netting under no pressure when a square was the much better option. He and Putsila were constantly busying themselves in the centre of the park, but Kačar and Tesche continued to battle heroically. Their side were seeing little of the ball, but seemed to grow more comfortable by the minute in their high and compact 4-4-2, which Freiburg – whose centre-backs were increasingly becoming the side’s playmakers on the halfway line – struggled to break down in something of a 2-1-6-1 system; both their full-backs standing on the chalk in the final-third, and Cissé peeling this way and that (on one burst to the right channel in the 28th minute, Slobodan Rajković followed him out, step for step, and shut the attack down with Dennis Aogo. The Serb did exactly the same three minutes later, this time tracking Makiadi and stopping him in his tracks without even needing to go to ground).
Nevertheless, by virtue of having so much possession, Freiburg were creating chances, and on the half-hour mark, Makiadi got himself into a position to head at goal, only to see his effort saved. The Congo midfielder was becoming increasingly involved, but his distribution wasn’t always as good as his commitment. As we entered the final ten minutes of the half, the tempo of the match had dropped considerably, and despite Freiburg committing numbers forward (e.g. with Schuster holding the ball and looking for a pass in the second-third region of the pitch, at least three players would always be running in front of or threatening to burst behind the narrow HSV back-four), the ideas had dried up. Cissé was struggling to find room, with either a centre-back following him out, or letting a defensive-midfielder pick him up if he sprinted back by more than ten yards.
HSV’s only real atempts at coming forward in the final 15 minutes of the half seemed to be via Heiko Westermann’s long throws, which Son and Petrić weren’t doing the best job of winning; or, when they did, lacked options to lay the ball on to. At the other end, Cissé was just as uninvolved, with his midfield colleagues being the ones doing all the shooting (from long-range), occasionally winning corners from their blocked, wayward thunderbolts. However, the away side went in 1-0 up at the break, and knew that they were one more goal and 45 minutes away from finally moving out of the automatic relegation spots.
Two minutes into the second half, Arnesen must have been wishing the interval had never occurred. An embarrassingly innocuous cross from Felix Bastians caught HSV cold, and after about four defenders left the slow, bobbling diagonally-going ball for a colleague to deal with, Cissé strolled in and fired home for 1-1! Another game, another loss of a clean sheet bonus for Drobný, who although may not ostensibly have been to blame, surely could have screamed some more blunt and clear instructions at his lumbering, casual and daft outfield colleagues.
The bit wasn’t solely between Freiburg’s teeth in the aftermath of the equalizer, with possession and forays forward being shared in a now very open game. The away side definitely looked the more threatening of the two, boasting as they did several technically-gifted and explosive players in their starting XI compared with Freiburg’s one (Cissé, who was making life difficult for Hamburg when his colleagues got the ball into the opposition half). However, HSV had lost their structure and aura of impenetrability at the back now, and thus, the visitors so nearly fell behind in the 56th minute when Cissé first created a chance for Makiadi, before being halted from scoring a tap-in by a last ditch – and risky – in-box tackle from behind by Kačar.
Sorg, wearing the sort of Nike sweatshirt that Year 6 school pupils in the UK used to wear to the end-of-term disco in the late 1990s, was becoming increasingly irate in the technical area as we approached the hour mark; the 45-year-old irked by referee Deniz Aytekin’s perceived favouring of the away side. Despite both sides leaving holes in their formations, the pace of the game had diminished as we neared the 65-minute mark, the consequences of losing this match seemingly dawning on all 22 players. However, the gaps in and between the banks meant that getting into the final-third resulted in a chance at goal nine times out of ten, the best of the bunch coming in the 62nd minute, when Abdessadki had time to steady himself and trap in the D, before curling a cute left-footed chip just over Drobný’s left-hand post. Two minutes later, Makiadi too unselfishly tried to square to Cissé when the shot was the far better option. Decision making, as it has been all season long, isn’t Freiburg’s strong point.
The quiet and ineffectual 17-year-old, Lam, was replaced by Ivo Iličević in the 65th minute – the deadline day signing from Kaiserslautern at last making his début for his new employers, with Arnesen looking to inject some oomph down the left wing. However, it was in defence where Hamburg were crying out for change, epitomised yet again in the 68th minute when Cissé headed on a Baumann punt between Bruma and Westermann. The gap between that duo was so huge that Makiadi, the flick’s recipient, had time to shape his body before shooting from inside the box, but, unsurprisingly, the effort wasn’t good enough.
This constant of stream of chances meant that Freiburg’s defence were standing higher up the pitch on a more permanent basis, making it difficult for the cramped visitors’ to string passes together or make an incision. However, in the 73rd minute, Töre found himself able to pick up pace and launch a counter-attack. Running towards the D, he eventually laid on Iličević. Walking sideways along the edge of the box, ball at his feet and marker standing off, the Croatian winger played a quick one-two with Töre, re-collecting possession near the corner of the six-yard-box in space, but wasting no time at all by blasting the ball in on his left foot for 2-1!
Three changes were made after the goal, with Petrić replaced by Peruvian international – and one who travelled to South America during the recent club football fortnight off – José Paolo Guerrero, and widemen Putsila and Abdessadki being replaced by Garra Dembélé and Stefan Reisinger. With Hamburg looking so dodgy at the back and everyone else in attack squandering chances, the changes were the right ones for Sorg to make. And, in the 80th minute, it was Reisinger who won a penalty, after Bruma panicked in the box and hauled him down. The always reliable Cissé stepped up, but, as if infected by the profligacy disease that had stricken his colleagues’ all game, he blazed a terrible spot-kick over the bar!
Sorg made his final change straight after the miss, replacing Andreas Hinkel – who missed all of last season for Celtic through injury, and was making his first Freiburg start here – with Romanian right-winger-cum-right-back Maximilian Nicu. Arnesen followed suit in the final sub department minutes later – after witnessing the tiring duo of Makiadi and Cissé conspire to miss yet more chances or stop making dangerous runs – by replacing striker Son with midfielder Marcell Jansen, and changing from a 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1. And, his side held on for a priceless three points, despite Schuster curling a free-kick inches wide with one of the last kicks of the game.