It’s back on! In the space of seven crazy second-half minutes on Sunday, Cologne overturned a 1-0 deficit at UEFA Champions League-chasing RB Leipzig to seal a shock 2-1 win and rekindle their bid for Bundesliga survival.
“We could've been 3-0 or 4-0 down in the first half,” said Leonardo Bittencourt, the match-winner at the Red Bull Arena. “I take my hat off to the team for what we showed in the second half as the team in 18th place in the table. The fact we came from behind and were able to turn the game around was very important.”
The Billy Goats remain bottom of the league and seven points behind Mainz in the relegation play-off spot, but Stefan Ruthenbeck’s side are now level on points with Hamburg, who host Mainz next weekend. Put into further context, Cologne are now level on points with a fellow side for the first time since Matchday 2 at the back end of August. The psychological boost of that could be huge.
Fifth in the form table in 2018, there is now a world of difference between the Cologne side that ended 2017 on six points – nine adrift of 17th place – and the one that has claimed three wins and two draws so far this year.
“We’re now level in the table with Hamburg and that makes for nice reading,” said Ruthenbeck after the win at Leipzig. “I’m very proud of my team. To put in that second-half performance and win here 2-1 after being 1-0 down – the team deserve great credit. But we’ve achieved nothing yet. From right now, our focus has to be on the next game.”
Next up is Stuttgart at home, a game that will look all the more winnable now and presents a great opportunity considering Mainz and Hamburg will take points off one another. The Billy Goats dare not look further than the next match, however, according to defender Frederik Sörensen.
"We have hope, but if we don't win against Stuttgart then we're still seven points away,” said the Dane. “So we have to take every game as a final and see how far we can come. We'll do that against Stuttgart on Sunday. We know it's a must-win and we'll try to do it again."
So devoid of confidence throughout the first half of the season, Cologne are now playing with the shackles off, and after some tweaks in personnel they look a side reinvigorated.
Simon Terodde, signed from Stuttgart in the winter break, has scored five times and was outstanding against Leipzig. Vincent Koziello, another winter arrival from Nice, scored a wonderful first Bundesliga goal on Sunday and has added bite and craft to the midfield, while Bittencourt marked his return from injury with the winner. With experienced players such as Marcel Risse and Jonas Hector also back to fitness, Cologne’s first team suddenly looks formidable once again.
Watch: Koziello reflects on scoring his maiden Bundesliga goal
To be sure, seven points is still some distance to make up, but with Mainz having won just twice in their previous 12 games, they will be nervously looking over their shoulders, and Hamburg have amassed just two points from their last nine games.
Cologne are still bottom, but they may as well be atop the league table in terms of confidence. The cathedral city club are daring to dream and certainly won’t give their top-flight status up without a fight.