Strikes in each half from Brazilian attacker Raffael appeared to have secured another win for Gladbach as they look to seal an automatic UEFA Champions League spot next season, but a Johannes Geis free-kick and a late Shinji Okazaki header denied them in a gripping closing period.
Raffael on target
Going into the match third in the standings and buoyed by their three-game unbeaten run, Gladbach enjoyed the better start and bossed the battle in a congested midfield. Mainz were seemingly happy to let their visitors have more of the ball - the Foals had up to 70 per cent of the possession at times - but the compact and well-organised home defence wasn’t troubled in the opening 25 minutes or so.
Ibrahima Traore was Gladbach’s main attacking outlet, with his dazzling footwork and speed on the right wing causing Mainz several problems. However, the Guinea international’s final ball let him down too often and as a result the visitors struggled to gain momentum. Nevertheless, it was Traore who made Gladbach’s opener from nothing, whipping a superb right-wing cross into the penalty area, where Raffael connected with a glancing header to guide the ball past Loris Karius from eight yards out.
Mainz almost replied instantly when Okazaki headed Geis’ fizzing free-kick onto the bar, before Max Kruse went close at the other end after Fabian Johnson found him on the break, only for the striker to drag his effort wide of the post. Mainz’s best hope of scoring looked to be from a set-piece, with dead-ball expert Geis’ deliveries proving tricky to deal with, although Gladbach held on to their lead comfortably enough until the break.
Being in front allowed Gladbach to employ the game plan that suits them best: to sit back and pick off their opponents on the counterattack. Wayward passing in the final third prevented them from testing Karius again, though, and it was Mainz who had the first opportunity of the second half when Geis’ perfectly weighted chip over the Gladbach defence found substitute Jonas Hofmann, but he failed to make contact with a first-time effort and the chance went begging.
Gladbach made them pay shortly afterwards by extending their lead. After some neat interplay around the hosts’ box, Johnson made it to the by-line on the left-hand side of the penalty area and drilled a low cross into the middle. Kruse’s dummy threw the Mainz defence out of kilter, leaving Raffael unmarked to sweep the ball into the net. That seemed to have killed the game off, but the hosts got a second wind once Geis reduced the deficit with a 30-yard free-kick soon afterwards.
It instigated a frenetic finale, and just moments later Kruse seemed certain to make it 3-1 when he was put through on goal following a counter-attack, but his shot struck the base of the post and rebounded to safety. His miss had dramatic consequences for the Foals, as Okazaki grabbed an unlikely equaliser by heading in at the back post. Mainz looked most likely to snatch a winner in the closing stages, with Okazaki forcing Yann Sommer into a spectacular save, but neither side could further trouble the scores as a superb game ended all square.
Line-ups and statistics
Take a closer look at Johannes Geis' stunning free-kick against Gladbach on the Bundesliga's official YouTube channel: