Hanover - Hannover 96 could be forgiven for getting used to the good life after two successive UEFA Europa League campaigns and fomidable recent record at home in the AWD Arena. Yet all isn't so rosy with the Lower Saxon outfit, as their result on Matchday 26 revealed.
Sunday’s 1-0 defeat at Borussia Mönchengladbach was already their 10th away loss of the season - more than any other club in the Bundesliga - and their seven points away from home all season is a league-worst.
Such travel sickness is already casting a shadow over the club’s hopes of making it a hat-trick of qualifications for Europe. They are four points adrift of seventh place, but their away form needs to be rectified immediately, starting with the trip to struggling FC Augsburg on Matchday 27. “Unless we make some drastic changes, we’ll have missed the boat,” admitted defender Christian Schulz. “We needed to win [against Gladbach] to remain in the hunt for Europe, but we failed.”
Long faces used to be the exception in Hannover, but they are recently becoming the rule. Goals also used to be common, now they are rare. Historic European nights where teams such as Sevilla FC, FC Club Bruges and R. Standard Liège were beaten seem like distant memories, even if the protagonists largely remain the same. A loss of form among the strikers may be one contributing factor, but they put five past Hamburger SV only a month ago.
“Everybody can see we’re not showing enough desire up front,” said Schulz. “We put a lot of balls into the box but we need to be braver if we want to score goals. I have no idea how many crosses we put in there.” The answer is 14, compared to Gladbach’s eight. Hannover also had the same number of attempts on goal, two more than their hosts.
What may help the club rescue what is becoming an extremely trying season is the fact that the league is still so tight. Just five points separate fourth and twelfth positions in the table, and midfielder Jan Schlaudraff expects there will be twists and turns to come. “It’s so close that you can’t write us off yet”, believes the former FC Bayern Munich man. “But if we don’t start picking up points away then it will be difficult to keep in touch with that pack.”
With a forward line that boasts Diouf, Didier Ya Konan, Mohammed Abdellaoue and Artur Sobiech, it seems strange that the team is currently so luckless in front of goal. The biggest problem, it seems, is the supply line and the loss of one man in particular: winger Szabolcs Huszti.
The 29-year-old, who has seven goals and eleven assists to his name this season, has been sorely missed since suffering a thigh injury three weeks ago, and the team is likely to be without him for the better part of the season. A major improvement from the team is required if they are to deliver a third season of European football to the AWD-Arena.