Hannover - “We have the quality to match them all the way. When push comes to shove, we can make it hard for Braunschweig to beat us. We are the better team.” Hannover 96 coach Tayfun Korkut was in a bullish mood ahead of Matchday 29’s Lower Saxony derby, despite a poor recent run of form that had seen the Reds lose six of their previous eight league encounters.

Given Eintracht Braunschweig’s unenviable station at the foot of the table, few will have disagreed with Korkut’s pre-match assessment of his team’s chances at the Eintracht-Stadion. Come the final whistle , however, the Lions’ fans were in dreamland, while Hannover’s season seemed on the verge of turning into a nightmare.

Derby-day disaster


Korkut’s team were comprehensively outplayed by a Braunschweig side that played with a swagger and style that belied their current league position. The hosts raced into a 2-0 lead inside the opening 25 minutes, courtesy of Domi Kumbela’s ninth goal of the season and a fine strike by Norwegian striker Havard Nielsen. Jan Hochscheidt compounded the visitors’ misery a minute from time, but Hannover’s day was perhaps best summed up by Andre Hoffmann’s needless dismissal for kicking out at Mirko Boland just after the hour-mark.

“We’re very disappointed,” said a deflated Korkut after the match. “The atmosphere in the changing room was very quiet. The team went into the game with high expectations. This wasn’t just about getting three points, it was also an important derby for our fans. We just weren’t able to turn the game in our favour.”

Struggling for form


The reverse at the home of their bitter rivals was the latest in a series of defeats that have sucked Hannover ever closer to the dreaded drop zone in recent weeks. A smash-and-grab 3-0 victory at Hertha Berlin was followed with a defeat by the same scoreline against Borussia Dortmund, before losses at 1899 Hoffenheim and at home to northern rivals SV Werder Bremen.

With just five matches of the 2013/14 season remaining, Hannover are now just four points off Torsten Lieberknecht’s Lions, who appear to have hit form at exactly the right time. Korkut’s team, by contrast, seem to be dropping like a stone, and the former Turkey international now has to try and rally his side for the visit of Hamburger SV, led by none other than former 96 coach Mirko Slomka.

Relegation six-pointer


Given the fact that Slomka has lost his last twelve away league encounters stretching back to his time as head coach at the HDI Arena, Hannover will be confident of bringing their own unwanted run to an end against the Red Shorts on Saturday. Korkut, however, is under no illusions as to the magnitude of the task at hand.

“The success of Hannover 96 has to be everyone’s top priority,” said the 40-year-old, whose team have travelled to Harsewinkel-Marienfeld in East Westphalia for a three-day training camp in preparation for Matchday 30’s all important clash. “We’re not happy with our current situation. We have to focus on improving the team’s morale and preparing for our next game.” If their form fails to improve, Saturday’s game could be one of Hannover’s last in Germany’s top flight for quite some time.

Matthew Howarth