On a weekend when all of their relegation rivals lost, VfB took advantage thanks to a brace from Martin Harnik and a landmark goal from the evergreen Cacau, with Adam Szalai grabbing a consolation for Schalke.
With Hamburger SV, 1. FC Nürnberg and Eintracht Braunschweig all losing this weekend, Stuttgart knew that a positive result would be a huge fillip in the relegation battle, and after Schalke controlled proceedings in the game’s opening quarter, VfB began to sense that a win was there for the taking.
They had, in truth, hardly threatened Ralf Fährmann in the visiting goal, but the Mercedes-Benz Arena erupted into life when Daniel Didavi's delicious free-kick was met by a brave header from Harnik to put VfB into the lead. It was the Austrian’s fifth goal in eight games and fourth in his last four home league appearances, and it could well have been added to before the half was up.
Cacau makes amends
Didavi, on fire since returning to the team after more than a year out with an ankle injury, was dictating the pace of the game with his tireless running and intelligent use of the ball, and he should have had his second assist of the game when his low cross was met by the arriving Cacau, but the veteran former Germany striker blazed over.
The Royal Blues had offered very little in the way of an attacking threat, save for a Leon Goretzka cross-cum-shot that flew wide on the stroke of half-time. Stuttgart, meanwhile, and Cacau in particular, set about making sure that missed opportunity in the first half wouldn’t come back to bite them, and nine minutes after the restart, the 33-year-old rose gracefully to head in a drifted cross.
Massive three points
It was his first goal of the season and first since September 2012. It also took him above Jürgen Klinsmann in Stuttgart’s all-time Bundesliga scoring chart, and when Harnik tapped in a Gotoku Sakai cross to make it 3-0, the home support could sense survival. Schalke threatened to spoil the party atmosphere when substitute Adam Szalai rifled in to make it 3-1, and VfB were hugely grateful to the linesman, whose raised flag prevented another Szalai strike bringing the Royal Blues back to within one goal.
Stuttgart, despite remaining the better side, did show some nerves in the final stages as only a second win in 15 matches beckoned, with Sven Ulreich saving well from the impressive 18-year-old Leroy Sane and Szalai, but Huub Stevens' men showed remarkable resolve to see out the result. The victory takes them four points ahead of Hamburg in the relegation play-off spot, with just three rounds of games to go.
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