Hamburg withstood yet another enthralling relegation battle to preserve their place in the Bundesliga, with a dramatic comeback win against Wolfsburg.
The visitors took the lead on 23 minute via the head of defender Robert Knoche, but were instantaneously pegged back by Kostic on the half-hour mark.
Hamburg goalkeeper Christian Mathenia played a heroic role in preventing a continuous stream of early opportunities from rippling his net. Die Rothosen’s goal was bombarded by the likes of Mario Gomez and Jakub Blaszczykowski but their second-choice goalkeeper was level to their intractable efforts.
Andries Jonker and Markus Gisdol made attacking changes during the second half, to enhance their teams prospects of snatching an equaliser. As it proved, it was quite fittingly a substitution who provided the winning goal on 88 minutes for Hamburg.
21-year-old forward Luca Waldschmidt replaced former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Lewis Holtby in the 86th minute. Two minutes later, Hamburg had secured safety and the German under-18 international had scored Der Dino’s most crucial goal of the 2016/17 campaign.
The Volksparkstadion, Hamburg’s home of 54 years, erupted into scenes of disbelief and celebration. Emotionally and impassioned supporters spilled onto the pitch to joyously and relentlessly bombard the players to experience their sense of intoxicated happiness.
Wolfsburg, on the other hand, were left heartbroken and dejected, following Hamburg’s late decisive header. The hosts’ rebellious and diehard attitude on the final match day had earned them a well deserved three points and more importantly their place in the top flight of German football.
The Downfall of Wolfsburg
At the end of the 2014/15 season, Wolfsburg finished second place in the Bundesliga and clinched the DFB-Pokal Cup with victory over Borussia Dortmund. Dieter Hecking had guided them into the UEFA Champions League and was building an empire at the Volkswagen Arena.
Key players such as Kevin De Bruyne and Ivan Perisic departed to Manchester City and Inter Milan respectively in the summer transfer window. Hecking intelligently signed Julian Draxler from FC Schalke as a like-for-like swap for Kevin De Bruyne. However, Wolfsburg had lost the core of their attacking philosophy and Dutch striker Bas Dost ultimately suffered a poor run of form.
In the 2014/15 campaign, De Bruyne was the catalyst and Dost was the talisman. Unfortunately, Dost was starved of offensive opportunities and scored only 8 league goals in the following season.
Wolfsburg’s performance also suffered as a consequence and they failed to qualify for both the Champions League and Europa League by finishing in 8th place. Speculation continued to grow regarding the future of Hecking and he came under mass scrutiny due to his team’s incapableness to qualify for Europe.
This was the beginning of the end and the wolves salvaged just one win from their opening 9 games this season. The romance between Hecking and Wolfsburg was dead and the beginning of a dark chapter began to unfold.
Wolfsburg appointed an internal replacement with Valerian Ismael receiving a promotion to brace the dugout at the Volkswagen Arena. His permanent spell began in November and his spell was ended very swiftly, following four defeats in five.
In February, former Arsenal academy coach Andries Jonker replaced Ismael for the remainder of the season. The Dutchman previously had experience as assistant manager of Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga.
The 54-year-old enjoyed a 4-match unbeaten run, which included victories against RB Leipzig and Darmstadt. The promising signs were soon diminished due to heavy defeats against FC Schalke and Bayern Munich.
They were ferociously hurled back into the intensifying battle for relegation with Jonker’s job hanging on an extremely thin thread. Yesterday’s defeat to Hamburg has not decided the fate of both the club and their manager but if they fail to secure their top flight status, things are set look dark for both parties.
A two-legged tie against either Hannover 96 (2nd) or Eintracht Braunschweig (3rd) is prominent at the end of May. If Wolfsburg win, they remain in the Bundesliga, if their opponent shock the nation, they’ll earn promotion to the top flight.
Hamburg – Yet Another Successful Survival Plot
The days of the 1980s when Hamburg won the European Cup and boasted the talent of Horst Hrubesch, Wolfgang Rolff, Ditmar Jakobs, Manfred Kaltz and Felix Magath. Regardless of their 7th place finish in the 2012/13 season, Hamburg are a team consistently fighting relegation season-by-season in reality.
In the past six seasons, Hamburg have finished in the top half once (as stated in the paragraph above). They’ve also been victorious in two out of two relegation play-offs in the 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons.
At the end of the 2011/12 season, Die Rothosen narrowly survived relegation to send Hertha Berlin down to Bundesliga 2. Five points separated Hamburg and The Old Lady, and it was a signal for things to come.
Fortunately, an uncharacteristic rise up the table rankings occurred during the 2012/13 season. It was a rarity for Hamburg and they only marginally missed out on the prospect of playing Europa League football.
The following two seasons ended in another relegation battle and concluded in competing in the Bundesliga relegation play-offs. They scraped past Greuther Furth on away goals in 2014 and required extra time to defeat Karlsruher SC in 2015.
Hamburg have lacked a clinical edge in front of goal this season and only bottom place Darmstadt have scored less times than them. It’s a general concern, considering their top goal scorer is American striker Bobby Wood on 9 goals.
Investment in the summer is key if they have ambitions of breaking free of the danger zone and progressing into a brighter future. The Bundesliga relegation battle has been a rollercoaster this season, as has the entire season! It’s been crazy, shocking, magical and dramatic to say the least, and we’ll of course be hoping for more of the same next season.