Gelsenkirchen - He came, he saw, he scored again! After seven weeks on the sidelines, FC Schalke 04 striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar made the perfect return with a hat-trick and an assist as the Royal Blues came from behind to humble Hamburger SV 4-1.
The victory earned Jens Keller's side a three-point cushion in fourth place, the final UEFA Champions League berth, and with 'The Hunter' evidently back firing on all cylinders, the signs are decidedly positive for Schalke with just three games of the season to go.
"It feels great," Huntelaar beamed after the Sunday's match. "It's always nice to score three goals in a game - it's not something you do every week and I haven't done it at all this season. My last hat-trick was ages ago." Against 1. FC Köln at the start of last season, to be precise.
Initially it looked like Huntelaar's comeback might end in disappointment, as Marcell Jansen headed HSV into an early lead, but Schalke responded almost immediately, Michel Bastos levelling with the game's next attack.
"We actually started well but fell behind from a set-piece," said Huntelaar. "It was annoying to concede like that again because we've been training set-pieces a lot. However, we got back into the game superbly afterwards. We played as a team and really dominated. You could see the quality we've got and in the end I think we were deserved 4-1 winners."
After topping the goalscoring charts last term, Huntelaar has endured a frustrating campaign hampered by injuries and poor form, making his triumphant return all the more satisfying.
"Best game this year"
"I think it was my best game so far this year," said the 29-year-old, who had scored just seven goals prior to Matchday 31. "I was really up for the game and, after working so hard on my comeback, so to play again - and score - made it all worthwhile."
Still, the modest Dutchman wasn't about to take all the plaudits for the victory, emphasising the importance of the collective: "I didn't play on my own. We've got plenty of good players in our ranks but you need to have the commitment and the right mentality throughout the entire season to succeed."
"The win against Hamburg was only the first step," added Huntelaar, determined to press on in the same manner as Schalke aim to secure Champions League football for a second successive year. "We still need to win three more matches, starting with Gladbach next Friday."
Dietmar Nolte/Andy James