Di Matteo's Schalke on course in the Champions League
Gelsenkirchen - There's something about the UEFA Champions League that appears to bring the very best out of new FC Schalke 04 head coach Roberto Di Matteo.
The former Chelsea FC tactician oversaw FC Bayern München's Finale dahoam demise in 2012, and it was in similarly dramatic circumstances that the Royal Blues nicked a last-gasp 4-3 win over Sporting Clube de Portugal on Tuesday night.
'Lost our way'
"It was an eventful game," admitted Di Matteo from the bowels of the Veltins Arena. "We played some great football in parts and were in control of the game. When you're leading 3-1 and have a man advantage, you have to control the game until the end. After they made it 3-2, we lost our way. We didn't defend well for the equaliser, but in the end we won." As the Italian alluded to, once captain Benedikt Höwedes followed up goals from Chinedu Obasi and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar to make it 3-1 with an hour gone, the result never looked in doubt. Yet the defensive frailties that plagued Jens Keller's ill-fated start to 2014/15 soon returned as ten-man Lisbon came within seconds of wresting the advantage from the Royal Blues in the group. Only a stoppage-time penalty from Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting made sure the plucky Portuguese outfit left Gelsenkirchen empty-handed and maintained Di Matteo's 100 per cent start to his reign.
Bedding-in time required
"We're really lucky it went our way," Di Matteo continued. "We were fortunate to get the penalty in injury time, but that's how football is sometimes. Wins are always good for the confidence and morale, but we know all too well that that we need to be seeing games out a lot easier at home in the future. I said after the win over Hertha Berlin we'd need a bit of time." Die Knappen now have 14 days to iron out the cracks, with upcoming games against Bayer 04 Leverkusen and FC Augsburg in the league before their next European assignment at Sporting's Estadio Jose Alvalade. Three points in that one, coupled with a win for Group G leaders Chelsea, would leave Schalke needing just a point from their remaining two fixtures to progress to the knockout rounds.
'In our hands'
"This is the position we wanted to be in before the game," concluded 19-year-old defender Kaan Ayhan. "We wanted to take all three points here in Gelsenkirchen and we've made a big step towards the last 16 in doing so. It's in our hands, but we haven't exactly done things the easy way so far this season. We need to watch our step."