Gelsenkirchen - FC Schalke 04 picked up a crucial win in the race for UEFA Europa League qualification after Kevin-Prince Boateng’s late goal ensured a 3-2 victory over VfB Stuttgart.
To and fro
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar ended his barren spell in the opening stages to give the hosts the lead, but Martin Harnik and Filip Kostic struck either side of the break as Stuttgart hit back. The introduction of Boateng in the second period inspired the hosts, however, with the Ghanaian creating an equaliser for Huntelaar and volleying home a brilliant winner late on.
Hunting a first win in six games, Schalke began well, monopolising possession and playing the opening stages entirely in Stuttgart’s half. The returning Leon Goretzka was the first to carve the visitors open, although his low cross evaded an arriving Huntelaar at the back post. The Dutchman atoned three minutes later, however, latching onto Georg Niedermeier’s mistake to convert from close range for his first Bundesliga goal since November.
The opener lifted a weight off the Schalke players’ shoulders, who began to attack with vim and vigour. Sven Ulreich was forced into an excellent save from Leroy Sane on the quarter-hour mark, while Jefferson Farfan’s movement was causing Huub Stevens’ side all manner of problems. It was, therefore, entirely against the run of play when Stuttgart equalised in the 22nd minute, as Harnik’s calm, dinked finish rounded off a fine counter.
Indeed, the visitors had a chance to take the lead a minute later when Kostic’s powerful half-volley was well blocked on the line by Benedikt Höwedes, before Huntelaar’s low shot on the turn struck the post at the other end in response. For the remainder of the half, however, goalmouth action was scarcer, with both sides battling for possession in midfield. One Huntelaar overhead kick aside, neither side really managed to threaten again before the half-time whistle.
A ferocious opening to the second period from Stuttgart shook the game from its stupor. Both Harnik and Kostic drew excellent saves from Ralf Fährmann within 60 seconds of the restart, before the Serbian completed the turnaround in the 52nd minute, making no mistake with his low finish. In response, Schalke coach Roberto Di Matteo turned to Julian Draxler, although it was Stuttgart who enjoyed the next opportunity, with Kostic firing inches wide after another lightning break.
Substitutes to the fore
The introduction of Draxler did, however, prove a shot in the arm for the passive home side. The youngster’s creativity improved the hosts’ link-up play in the final third, and Di Matteo’s troops duly began to carve out their first promising openings of the half. Boateng fired wide from distance in the 67th minute, while both Huntelaar and Draxler tested Ulreich as the hosts ramped up the pressure.
Schalke’s renewed aggression was rewarded in the 78th minute when Huntelaar, darting into space at the near post, applied a clever finish to Boateng’s low cross. After Max Meyer and Dennis Aogo both spurned chances in the closing stages, it was Boateng who secured three points, powering an acrobatic volley past a helpless Ulreich to end his side's winless run.
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