Cologne - Whether it was all the sweeter for the wait is debatable, but VfB Stuttgart's 3-1 home victory over Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 26 was certainly as overdue as it was urgently required.
Hosts overcome pressure
Their first success since a 1-0 win at fellow strugglers Hamburger SV last December was not in itself enough to lift the South West's biggest club off the foot of the standings, but it did move them significantly closer to the rest of the pack in what is developing into a wide-open relegation dogfight involving up to eight clubs.
Amidst the understandable expressions of jubilation and sheer relief, Huub Stevens remained true to his reputation as the 'Kerkrade grumbler,' laconically noting, “It's three points, nothing less and nothing more, either.” The veteran Dutch coach has seen it all before. Indeed, he hauled Stuttgart clear of a similarly precarious situation only last season and far from regarding the team's second home win of the entire campaign as an instant panacea, he asserted that his charges still have a serious psychological block to contend with as well.
For the first hour against Frankfurt, it was all too evident. The hosts' hesitant and insipid performance received its due when Haris Seferovic put Eintracht in front early in the second half, leaving Stevens to reflect on “the effect pressure has on people, how nervous and hectic it makes them.” This time, however, the players rose to the challenge with aplomb, with a rapid-fire brace from Daniel Ginczek turning the contest on its head before Alexandru Maxim made the points safe with ten minutes to go. A strong finish after coming from behind - in the end, the game panned out as a microcosm of the club's ideal end-of-season scenario.
'Just one small step'
It also added traction to the recent executive-level avowal of support for Stevens, following weeks of mounting speculation as to his prospects of seeing out the campaign - something about which the coach himself had not hesitated to voice his irritation. “We're happy, we were all desperate to win again,” sporting director Robin Dutt admitted. Two-goal hero Ginczek acknowledged the result was “a huge weight off my chest,” but concurred with Stevens' down-to-earth analysis that, “it's only one small step.”
Dutt, at any rate, was relieved not to be answering questions about the coach for the first time in weeks, beyond confirming he was “utterly convinced” Stevens is the right man for the job. More generally, he stressed that the club had maintained “the right strategy: calm, collected and objective,” throughout a particularly trying spell. It is, of course, far from over yet. VfB president Bernd Wahler conceded that “we obviously need to have the necessary paperwork in place to apply for a Bundesliga 2 licence,” a potential scenario which they would “survive, but it would certainly mark the start of something new.”
That remains a worse-case prognosis for the time being, with Stevens unequivocally entrusted with the task of extricating Stuttgart from their downward spiral for the second year running. The win against Frankfurt was a vital morale-booster for the team heading into the international break.
Coming out the other side of it, they face a tough schedule with a trip to second-place VfL Wolfsburg followed by games against UEFA Europa League aspirants Werder Bremen and FC Augsburg. A handy haul of points from those three encounters might leave even Stevens relatively content for the interim.