Leverkusen - The run of the game strongly suggested that Bayer 04 Leverkusen were going to break through VfB Stuttgart's defensive bulwark at some point, but overturning a one-goal deficit in the final eight minutes to emerge as 2-1 winners on Saturday evening perhaps exceeded even the home side's expectations.
What was no surprise however was the pivotal part played by Stefan Kießling in the late turnaround. Bayer's top scorer first cancelled out Vedad Ibisevic's penalty with a spot kick of his own, before teeing up Lars Bender's match-winning effort in the 86th minute. The 29-year-old striker has now scored in his last eight encounters with Stuttgart, racking up twelve goals in the process. More important than maintaining that personal streak, though, was achieving a result that takes Leverkusen further clear of fourth place in the all-important battle for Champions League berths.
Question: Stefan Kießling always manages to score against VfB Stuttgart. Why is that?
Stefan Kießling: I don't know the answer to that (laughs). It's just one of those stories that football writes, but of course I hope it continues this way.
Question: You levelled the score frm the spot this evening. You often shoot straight down the middle. How confident were you that Sven Ulreich would opt to dive for one or the other corner?
Kießling: If he doesn't move, I'm obviously the one who looks foolish. I missed my last penalty by trying to find the bottom left-hand corner, so today I decided to go back down the middle again. But now I've got to come up with something different for next time...
Question: What's your overall assessment of the match?
Kießling: It was one-way traffic from start to finish. Personally, I didn't once have to track back to help defend a set piece. We gave practically nothing away. We made just one mistake early on, which ultimately led to the penalty. In the second half they only threatened on the break once. If you look at the match as a whole, the victory was certainly deserved. The only downside is the way our mistakes are leading to us conceding, but that's how it is in football.
Question: How difficult was it playing against Stuttgart's deep-lying tactics?
Kießling: We made life difficult for ourselves in the first half. Not a lot went our way, which meant we also had to try and exploit our chances out wide at times to try and work ourselves into crossing situations. We did that a lot better in the second half. Then we needed a little bit of luck, like with the penalty. But we'd earned that. It demonstrates the incredible morale within the squad that we once again managed to recover from going behind and reward ourselves with a win.
Question: Did you start to despair at any point, due to Stuttgart's defensive set-up?
Kießling: We always believed we'd get our chances at some point. After the penalty I was confident we'd be able to turn the game around. Fortunately it worked out straight away with our second goal. At the end of the day Stuttgart didn't have a single corner, or threatening free-kick, because we defended well and gave them virtually no opportunities in front of goal.
Question: Leverkusen now have a seven-point lead over Eintracht Frankfurt in fourth. Is that a good enough cushion?
Kießling: After Frankfurt lost we really wanted to make the most of the opportunity to forge ahead. Now we've got a good cushion to work with nearing the business end of the season. Our aim is to hold onto third place.
Question: Does second place factor into your plans at all?
Kießling: For us it's important to qualify for the UEFA Champions League. Third place is enough to achieve that. Obviously we wouldn't mind at all if we could overhaul Dortmund. But for now we're focused on staying well clear of the team in fourth place.
Question: Your last home game ended 2-1 against Augsburg and now you've secured a 2-1 win over Stuttgart. How important are these types of narrow, hard-fought victories?
Kießling: We're certainly very happy with those wins and the fact that we kept the three points in Leverkusen. In between, though, we also had the game at Fürth, which wasn't so good (0-0, ed.), but now we're determined to pick up a victory on the road at Mainz next weekend.
Interview by Markus Hoffmann