Greither Fürth’s win over Mainz on Matchday 20 has given them cause for optimism in the relegation battle. - © Sportfoto Zink / Wolfgang Zink via images/Zink
Greither Fürth’s win over Mainz on Matchday 20 has given them cause for optimism in the relegation battle. - © Sportfoto Zink / Wolfgang Zink via images/Zink

Great relegation escapes offering hope to Greuther Fürth


They couldn't, could they? Having recently picked up their second Bundesliga win of the season as part of a four-game unbeaten run, Bundesliga basement boys Greuther Fürth are beginning to scratch at the possibility of pulling off a miraculous relegation escape.

A look through the history books may provide the Clover Leaves with all the inspiration they need to beat the drop.

Having come close to winning at Arminia Bielefeld on Matchday 19, Fürth went on to bag all three points against Mainz thanks to a 2-0 win last time out.

Stefan Leitl's men are currently enjoying their longest sequence of games without a loss in their Bundesliga history, so much so that only seven teams have earned more than Fürth’s nine points from the last six games (two wins, three draws, one defeat).

Watch: Highlights of Fürth's win over Mainz

They will be optimistic at the possibility of building on that run on Matchday 21 with a visit to struggling Wolfsburg next up on 6 February. The Kleeblätter dropped to the bottom of the table following a 2-0 defeat against the Wolves on Matchday 4 and have remained stuck there ever since.

Yet times, and fortunes, have changed for Fürth's next opponents who have dropped to 15th place, are winless in 11 games in all competitions and without a Bundesliga goal for four consecutive games in what is an unwelcome first for the 2008/09 German champions.

A maiden win against Florian Kohfeldt's side and the Bavarians may begin to believe in the impossible a little more. Inspired by Fürth's recent efforts, has delved into the archives to rediscover some memorable survivors who managed some remarkable back-from-the-dead moments of their own.

There are plenty of recent examples. Last season Mainz climbed from 17th on Matchday 20 to finish 12th after taking 26 points from their final 14 outings; Julian Nagelsmann only needed 14 games in his debut season as head coach in 2015/16 to lift Hoffenheim from 17th to 15th with a haul of 23 points; and Augsburg took 19 points from their last 14 matches in 2012/13 to leap from 17th to 15th.

Yet as impressive as those feats are in offering hope to Fürth this season, none of those teams had such a big points deficit to make up as the Clover Leaves currently do: nine points away from the relegation play-off spot, and 11 from outright safety.

Still, even coming back from that is not completely unheard of. In the 1980/81 campaign, Arminia Bielefeld’s prospects appeared equally bleak. With just two wins from their first 20 games they were six points adrift of a non-relegation spot; converted into today’s currency with the three-point rule, that is nine points from safety.

However, their all-or-nothing approach in their final 14 matches saw them win eight and lose six. Bielefeld still had to endure nerve-jangling drama on the last day of the season, though: they suffered a narrow 1-0 loss to fourth-placed Kaiserslautern, but as 1860 Munich slipped to a 7-2 reverse in Karlsruhe, Bielefeld survived.

Gerd-Volker Schock (c.) finished as Arminia Bielefeld’s top scorer with 16 goals in 1980/81 to help them avoid the drop. - imago sportfotodienst/imago/Sportfoto Rudel

Fürth, then, still have plenty of time and points (42) available to turn their season around. But even if things do not go their way initially, all is not lost.

In 1998/99, Eintracht Frankfurt were in 17th place on Matchday 30, six points from outright safety and with just four games to play. The looming threat of relegation sparked the Eagles into gear and they took maximum points from those last four games.

It went down to the wire for Frankfurt too. Goal difference was a factor on Matchday 34, so Eintracht needed a big win to be sure of survival. They were 2-1 up against fifth-placed Kaiserslautern in the 79th minute – a scoreline that was good but not good enough. However, they struck three times in the last 10 minute – including a decisive 89th minute goal from Jan Age Fjortoft – to seal a 5-1 triumph that kept them in the top flight.

Jan Age Fjortoft scored Eintracht Frankfurt’s fifth goal in their Matchday 34 win over Kaiserslautern in 1999. - imago sportfotodienst/imago sportfotodienst

Freiburg arguably have an even more stressful tale to tell. In 1993/94, the Black Forest club were dangling six points from safety (converted to the modern three-points rule) after Matchday 31, having lost each of their last five Bundesliga matches, while they were winless in 11.

Nevertheless, head coach Volker Finke found the right words to steer his side to three wins in their last three games, even if they likewise only escaped on Matchday 34.

Going into the final day, Freiburg were two points (three points in today’s metrics) behind Nuremberg but with an inferior goal difference.

Freiburg fans celebrate on the pitch after their side secured their top-flight status on Matchday 34 of the 1993/94 campaign. - imago sportfotodienst/imago/WEREK

Freiburg picked up a 2-0 win in Duisburg though, while Nuremberg lost 4-1 in Dortmund: that five-goal swing was enough to give Finke’s side the better goal difference and allow them to escape relegation at the last.

All of which leads to a clear lesson for Fürth: anything can happen in the relegation jumble – even survival against all odds!