Hanover - Mirko Slomka’s 100th game on the Hannover bench ended in glory thanks to two penalties from Szabolcs Huszti and a Mame Diouf header as the Reds downed Bayer 04 Leverkusen 3-2 at the AWD-Arena.
Gonzalo Castro had given Leverkusen an ideal start with a goal in the second minute, but Huszti swept in the first of two penalties to level. Diouf then put the Reds into the lead, but only briefly, with Stefan Kießling levelling immediately. It was Huszti who would have the last laugh, though, grabbing the points for the home side with his second spot-kick in the 69th minute.
Bayer had a changed starting eleven for the first time in five games with the injured Ömer Toprak replaced by Manuel Friedrich, making only his third start of the season. The change did not upset their recent rhythm, though, as they raced into an early lead, Castro rushing in to meet Lars Bender’s lay off and beat Ron-Robert Zieler with a low shot from 13 yards out.
Hannover’s response came in the form of a Sergio Da Silva Pinto free-kick that Bernd Leno did well to punch away, but it was the closes the hosts came in a rather tame opening from their point of view, with Bayer continuing to dictate the pace of the game. However, the momentum then swung midway through the first half. Friedrich showed some of his rustiness at being out of the team for so long when he fouled Huszti inside the penalty area and the Hungarian, who had missed his last two penalties, kept his nerve to bring the Reds back on kevel terms.
Leverkusen appeared rather shocked to have conceded after having controlled the proceedings until then, and Hannover still looked rather lacking in ambition in the game. Slomka’s men seemed happy just to be back in the game, although, in truth, the appalling playing surface was hardly conducive to a fluent game. Still it was the away side that looked the more dangerous, in the 44th minute, and Andre Schürrle thought he had re-established Leverkusen's lead in the 44th minute, only to be flagged offside.
After netting early in the first half, Castro then almost repeated the feat after the restart, but his header was narrowly off-target. Castro’s cross was then plucked out of the air by Zieler in the 56th minute, with Leverkusen seeming to have found a second wind. Yet they were soon left reeling from a Hannover sucker-punch a minute later as Diouf nodded in Jan Schlaudraff’s cross after a trademark breakaway move from the Reds.
There was no time for Hannover to gather their breath after taking the lead, though, and this time it was Leverkusen's turn to hit back, Kießling scoring his tenth of the season to restore parity once again, leaping highest to out-muscle Mario Eggimann and head in another well-timed Bender cross. Neither side appeared to be showing any signs of fatigue from their Europa League exertions on Thursday night, and it made for a gripping last quarter to the game.
Leverkusen head coach Sami Hyypiä threw on Sidney Sam in an effort to find a third goal, but shortly after their tactical tinkering, they sloppily conceded another penalty. This time it Stefan Reinartz who was the culprit, upending Huszti from behind, and the winger dusted himself down to coolly beat Leno for the second time. Rather than just sitting on their lead, Hannover then showed a willingness to add to it with the enterprising Schlaudraff creating further danger. It was a tactic that ate up precious minutes for the Reds and allowed them to set the seal on a memorably week for the club, after European success and Mirko Slomka's agreeing a new contract.
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