Hanover - Mirko Slomka capped his 100th Bundesliga game in charge of Hannover 96 with an enthralling 3-2 victory over Bayer 04 Leverkusen on Sunday and, if that performance is anything to go by, the 45-year-old is more than likely to be there for another 100 games after extending his contract until 2016 on Saturday.
A match made in heaven
Putting pen to paper on the new deal was about more than showing his commitment to the club he has led to their most successful two years in history. It was about showing his players that he still believes in them wholeheartedly.
Negotiations had been progressing for a good year, yet the timing of the actual agreement could hardly have been any better. The Reds had just slumped to their lowest league position in 18 months and some suggested the uncertainty over Slomka’s future may have influenced that dip in form. No sooner had the ink dried on the new contract, were Hannover back to winning ways in true, dramatic Hanoverian fashion.
"It was an important decision for the future of Hannover 96," said Slomka. "It’s extraordinarily good that the club and the bosses have placed their faith in me for another three years after our recent success. It was a harmonious agreement and everything was right for both parties - we're made for each other."
Continuity the key
Club captain Steven Cherundolo can vouch for that. The USA international welcomed Slomka’s commitment to the club he led from the brink of relegation three years ago into a side rubbing shoulders with the likes of Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Europa League. "We now have the chance [to establish some] continuity," said the USA international and veteran of 294 Bundesliga appearances for the Lower Saxony side. "It was an important step for the club to take, and now we just have to deliver."
The 96ers had no trouble doing just that as Leverkusen found out to their cost on Sunday. Szabolcs Huszti rediscovered his irresistible early-season form, bagging a brace for the first time since matchday three and showing he can keep a cool head when it matters as both goals came from the penalty spot. Mame Diouf also showed his efficiency in front of goal with an unstoppable header to put his side in front at 2-1.
Indeed, it was as if the shackles had been removed. Hannover were once again playing with the confidence that has characterised their last few years under Slomka. Even in the face of adversity, such as Gonzalo Castro’s early opener or Stefan Kießling’s potentially morale-damaging equaliser, the Reds found a way back to not only haul themselves level but also sneak a winner on a sodden pitch.
More must now follow to satisfy Slomka’s ambitions. "We want to establish ourselves as a top-ten Bundesliga club," he said once the initial euphoria had settled after the game. "It’s a bonus to be able to play European football and that makes us hungry for more of the same next season, be it on a Thursday night, or better still on a Tuesday or Wednesday night."
On the European map
The Reds went so close to a place in the UEFA Champions League two seasons ago, missing out narrowly to Bayern Munich. Sunday’s win has taken them back into the hunt again, just four points behind fourth-place Eintracht Frankfurt with a trip to Fortuna Düsseldorf still to come before the winter break comes into effect.
Having European football at the AWD-Arena again next season would be a huge success for one of the league’s most stable clubs. Yet with Slomka at the helm and a team full of talent such as Diouf, Huszti and Cherundolo, fans may be forgiven for expecting, rather than hoping for another top-seven finish.