A brace from the impressive Roberto Firmino put the hosts in control in the first half, but Lautern pulled one back when Mohamadou Idrissou rolled in after the break. Sven Schipplock then came off the bench to restore the Sinsheimers' two-goal advantage ahead at the half-way point of the tie.
That Hoffenheim were even contesting the relegation play-off was almost a miracle after their sensational victory over Borussia Dortmund in the final game of the season, but the hosts seemed to still be riding the ensuing wave of euphoria and made a fantastic start to the game. Tobias Sippel held a Firmino shot from distance well, but was powerless to stop the Brazilian touching in Sejad Salihovic’s free kick moments later.
Lautern attempted to respond and in terms of territory, they were able to put Hoffenheim under some concerted pressure. Worryingly, however, they made little of the five corners they had in the opening 25 minutes, and it proved costly as they fell two behind moments later. Again it was Firmino doing the damage, as he started and finished a classy move with a simple back-post finish from Andreas Beck’s centre.
Hoffenheim had shown in two separate instances the difference in quality between the two sides, and just before the half-time whistle, the home side demonstrated it themselves by spurning a clear chance to reduce the arrears. The isolated Idrissou was able to flick on Florian Dick’s header, but Erwin Hoffer couldn’t adjust his feet in time and skied his volley way over the bar.
The half-time interval came at the perfect time for the Red Devils, and in the early moments of the second half, they almost looked like a different team. Hoffer flashed a cross just in front of Idrissou, while Mitchell Weiser fired over the bar and Alexander Baumjohann shot straight at Casteels. Finally, their attacking efforts paid off, as Idrissou latched on to Baumjohann pass to round the keeper and slide in a vital away goal.
Lautern were back in the game and deservedly so, but then a moment of madness in defence put them back to square one. Instead of playing an easy pass forward, Marc Torrejon was caught in possession in front of his own box, allowing Firmino to play in Schipplock, who netted just 35 seconds after his introduction from the bench. Lautern were living dangerously and Fabian Johnson should have made it 4-1 a minute later, but headed inexplicably over with the goal at his mercy.
Thereafter, Hoffenheim had their opponents where they wanted them and the top-flight side used their experience to take the sting out of the game, seeing out an ultimately comfortable victory. The away goal may sew a seed of doubt in their minds ahead of next Monday’s return fixture, but Markus Gisdol’s men will be confident of defending a two-goal lead to ensure a sixth season in the Bundesliga.
Hoffenheim:Casteels - Beck, Abraham, Vestergaard, Thesker - Polanski, Rudy (Schipplock, 65’) Salihovic (Süle, 87‘), Johnson - Roberto Firmino - Volland
Kaiserslautern: Sippel - Dick, Torrejon, Heintz, Löwe - Borysiuk , Orban, Weiser (Bunjaku, 76‘), Baumjohann - Hoffer (Riedel, 68‘), Idrissou (Zellner, 90’)
Goals: 1-0 Firmino (11’), 2-0 Firmino (29’), 2-1 Idrissou (58’), 3-1 Schipplock (67’)