Breathing space for Köln after Hoffenheim win

Cologne - 1. FC Köln gave their chances of Bundesliga survival a huge boost with a priceless 3-2 victory at home to TSG 1899 Hoffenheim on Sunday afternoon.

Frenetic opening

Matthias Lehmann opened the scoring by confidently stroking in a penalty midway through the first half, before Anthony Ujah added an emphatic second after the break. Eugen Polanski pulled one back for the visitors after Pawel Olkowski was sent off, but Jonas Hector sealed the win for the ten-man hosts with a sensational solo goal in the closing stages, rendering Anthony Modeste's late header inconsequential.

Given that Köln had edged a seven-goal thriller when the sides met on Matchday 11 back in November, it was perhaps unsurprising that the match began furiously at the RheinEnergieStadion. The guests had two glorious chances to take the lead within the first two minutes, as first Roberto Firmino’s deflected close-range shot crashed off the post before Sven Schipplock narrowly failed to connect with Firmino’s teasing cross from the left.

The hosts replied almost immediately with an incisive attack of their own, with Yuya Osako squeezing between two defenders on the edge of the box, only to drag his shot just wide. The Japanese attacker was involved again when the Billy Goats took the lead midway through the half, darting into the area from the right only to be bundled over by Ermin Bicakcic. Köln captain Lehmann made no mistake from the ensuing spot-kick, striking it straight down the middle to put the home team in front.

Ujah to the fore

Hoffenheim had chances to equalise but Köln keeper Timo Horn did well to keep out a cleanly-struck Firmino volley and decent header from Bicakcic. Ujah could have doubled the home team’s lead shortly before the interval after Marcel Risse’s driving run into the box, but the Nigerian striker could only hit the foot of the post from inside the six-yard box, despite having the goal at his mercy. Both sides continued to attack right up until half-time, albeit without seriously threatening to add to the scoreline.

That soon changed after the break, however, as Ujah made amends for his earlier miss by rifling an effort past visiting custodian Oliver Baumann following neat build-up play from Osako and Kazuki Nagasawa. Hoffenheim coach Markus Gisdol reacted by sending on two strikers in Adam Szalai and Modeste to bolster his side’s attacking efforts, and it was not long before the tactical change bore fruit.

Hector stunner

Modeste wriggled his way into the box and was brought down from behind by Olkowski just as he was about to shoot, resulting in a straight red card for the Köln defender and a penalty for the visitors. Polanski confidently stepped up to drill the spot-kick high into the net, sparking hopes of a comeback that had seemed unlikely just a few minutes before. Köln coach Peter Stöger responded by withdrawing Ujah and Nagasawa, two of his liveliest creative outlets, and replacing them with more defensive-minded players in Adam Matuschyk and Miso Brekco.

Just when it appeared Köln were preparing to dig in for a late Hoffenheim siege, Hector produced a moment of sublime individual skill to all-but secure the points. Collecting the ball on the left wing, the 24-year-old cut inside and dribbled past four defenders before making his way into the box, where his deflected shot spun past Baumann and into the net. There was more drama to come, however, as Modeste set up a nail-biting finale by heading in from a corner. It was one-way traffic towards the Köln goal as the final whistle approached, but the Billy Goats held on for only their third home win of the season.

Line-ups and statistics

Jonathan Stockitt