Image: Wikimedia Commons / Werderfan10b
Image: Wikimedia Commons / Werderfan10b

Werder Bremen held by Heidenheim in relegation playoff

Werder Bremen captain Niklas Moisander was sent-off in his side’s goalless draw against FC Heidenheim in the first leg of the Bundesliga relegation play-off. Bremen will travel to Voith Arena on 6 July with their league status on the line.

After spending a season in the doldrums, it took a final day salvo from Florian Kohfeldt’s side for Bremen to escape the Bundesliga’s trapdoor. Unsurprisingly, Kohfeldt made only one change to the team that thrashed Köln 6-1 at the weekend. The suspended Kevin Vogt was replaced by Philipp Bagfrede at the base of the Bremen midfield.

Heidenheim, the beneficiaries of Hamburg’s coronavirus crumble, named an equally familiar line-up. Norman Theuerkauf, Timo Beermann, Patrick Manika and Marnon Busch were selected by Frank Schmidt to patrol Bremen’s offensive trio of Milot Rasica, Nicllas Fullkurg and Yuya Osaka.

With a place in the Bundesliga at stake, neither side was willing to take risks in the opening period. In a half of few chances, the hosts shaded the possession battle, but neither side looked dangerous in the final third. The interval provided respite from what had been a dismal spectacle before the break.

Bremen seemed content to rest on their laurels in the first leg

Bundesliga clubs have overcome their second-tier opponents in 15 of the 21 play-offs since 1982, and Bremen seemed content to rest on their laurels in the first leg of this relegation playoff. For a team that scored six at the weekend, Kohfeldt’s side were eye-wateringly uninspiring as a deluge of rain poured in Lower Saxony.

With the weight of history on the shoulders of Bremen’s players, the contest trickled towards the final whistle in a familiar pattern. Heidenheim, content to sit in a low block while in the defensive phase of play, built possession slowly while keeping Bremen at arm’s length.

Bremen – jaded from their season-long jostle with relegation – lacked energy in the final third. Rasica – who will likely depart Bremen regardless of the outcome of this playoff – was largely nullified by Heidenheim’s defensive block. Schmidt must be credited for his side’s regimentation: the visitors executed their game-plan to perfection.

Heidenheim, beaten comfortably by Amrinia Bielefeld at the weekend, were rarely troubled by Bremen. It took until the 82nd minute for Kevin Muller to be truly tested from a Bremen set piece. The German stopper ultimately saved comfortably, but the goalmouth action provided a welcome distraction from the triumphant blowhorn that punctuated the affair.

Heidenheim are a victory away from reaching the top-flight for the first time

Moisander was dismissed for a second reckless challenge in the final ten minutes of the match, facilitating a spell of sustained pressure from the visitors. Bremen can have no complaints: both of Moisander’s bookings were warranted.

Amid the rough and tumble of the final moments of the match, both teams had chances to win the tie, but each lacked the cutting-edge required. Frank Schmidt will be the happier of the two coaches, Heidenheim are a victory away from reaching the top-flight for the first time in their history.

Werder Bremen – seemingly overwhelmed by the occasion following their final day heroics – will be desperate for a fast start on Monday evening. A score-draw would see Bremen retain their Bundesliga status on away goals. On tonight’s showing, it seems far-fetched to suggest that both sides will score in the season finale – such was the inertia that took hold of the opening leg.

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