With three matchdays come and gone, MT Melsungen continues to wait for its first success in this still-young season. Playing before 4,158 spectators, just short of a sellout, the team from North Hesse fell 26-30 (12-14) to the reigning title holders, the Rhein-Neckar Löwen. The squad has little reason to hang their heads; they gave a lion-hearted performance and looked significantly better than in the two prior losses to newly promoted Coburg and Erlangen. Even so, their prospects for victory were almost non-existent. The Löwen remained concentrated and focused on the task at hand, not on the upcoming battle royale against Flensburg. With seven goals, all after intermission, Momir Rnic proved top scorer for the MT. For the Löwen, Andy Schmid spun the scoreboard eight times, including one penalty throw.
Even with left wing Michael Allendorf back in the roster, the MT felt the continued absence of Johan Sjöstrand, Marino Maric and Gabor Langhans in this duel against the champs. The RNL roster was fully stocked and only underscored its position as favourites. The Löwen started the match with confidence. After Johannes Sellin's shot went wide, Kim Ekdahl Du Rietz showed him how it's done, wrong-footing starting keeper René Villadsen for the first lead of the night for the guests (3rd minute). Villadsen had been tapped to start over Svetislav Verkic.
The Löwen quickly ran the lead to 3-1, but then learned that the North Hesse side wouldn't go away quietly. On Timm Schneider's strike to knot things at 3-3 (8th minute) the "Bartenwetzer", as the MT is known, flashed a bit of their big asset from the immensely successful last year: the tempo game. After Villadsen blocked a throw from Andy Schmid brilliantly, Johannes Sellin initiated the counterattack immediately and Schneider converted before the Löwen could get their defence into anything even resembling a formation. While only one brief flash, it does represent a sign of life for Roth's men, who have otherwise looked so out of form this season.
Over time, however, the guests continued to dictate play. While Andy Schmid wasn't able to take on his accustomed role as executioner, his backcourt colleagues Kim Ekdahl Du Rietz and Alexander Petersson did a fine job of gaining control. The pair were responsible for five goals between them for their team's 9-6 lead on 17 minutes. After a Sellin goal for 7-9, the match went through a hectic and chaotic spell. After crossing the ball in front of the defence, Petersson fell to the court — and to the surprise of all Philipp Müller was shown a direct red card. It was the start of a number of highly questionable decisions by the referees – on both sides. Following a suspension against the Melsungen bench and then on Löwen Hendrik Pekeler and Patrik Groetzki, at one point the teams were down to four on four (21 minutes).
It took a while for the choppiness to settle down. The MT handled the unusual situation well, and goals by Sellin and Patrik Fahlgren even trimmed the deficit to 9-10 (24th minute). Soon thereafter the guests made there move. An excellent save from Mikael Appelgren showed off his top form against his former team and ensured his team of title contenders would head into the half with a lead.
The early part of the second half was well balanced. The teams traded goals until Harald Reinkind notched one home for 15-18 (36th minutes), followed by strikes from Schmid and Grötzki to extend the lead for the first time to five. Momir Rnic managed a brace of goals to cut the lead somewhat, but the Löwen relied on the deadly accuracy of Reinkind: with roughly a quarter-hour before the end, the favourites closed the door on a comeback and moved toward an smooth victory (17-21, 44th minute).
From a competitive standpoint, the North Hesse side was certainly eye to eye with the guests. But the finer points were what decided the match. A man-up situation that was whistled dead, causing frustration and robbing concentration; a missed seven metre throw just as the deficit was starting to melt. The Löwen needed to do little more than concentrate on finishing their attacks, although the outstanding individual play of Andy Schmid stood out. His unexpected strikes from the centre block repeatedly found their way into the back of the net. The match was all but over when Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson scored a breakaway goal for 22-28 (54th minute).
Hendrik Pekeler's disqualification for a hard foul on Momir Rnic didn't change much. The defending champs played down the clock calmly, like old pros, not least because no MT player beyond Momir Rnic, who scored all his goals in the second half, was able to threaten the goal effectively. The sole exception was perhaps youngster Johannes Golla, who hit for his third goal of the evening on an assist from Michael Müller — and justified his extensive playing time.
What they said
Michael Roth: Congratulations to the Rhein-Neckar Löwen. The defeat was deserved because all match long we were unable to take the lead. The chances were there in the first half, but we left three or four opportunities on the court. We had to work very hard to scratch together our goals. We gave everything that we could muster competitively, and didn't play poorly. To that degree, I saw what I needed to see from the team. Naturally I'm not satisfied with the results, but am happy about the showing the team made. We were also missing some of the push we need from the rear. But it doesn't matter, we need to trust in René Villadsen and Svetislav Verkic until Johan Sjöstrand can play again.
Nikolaj Jakobsen: You're always happy to come out of Melsungen with a win. It was, as always when these two teams meet, a match with a lot of battle and passion. We won the encounter because we were able to maintain much more tempo in the second half than in the first. That was also the way in which we were able to pull away with a six goal lead. Melsungen's Momir Rnic was the only one to give us problem after the half, because we couldn't get our defence quite as compact as we'd have liked.
MT Melsungen: Verkic (3 Saves / 15 Goals Allowed), Villadsen (4 S / 15 GA); Sellin 4/3, Golla 3, Fahlgren 3, Danner, P. Müller, Boomhouwer, Rnic 7, Schneider 2, Allendorf 1, Vuckovic, M. Müller 6, Haenen.
Rhein-Neckar Löwen: Appelgren (11 S / 17 GA), Palicka (2 S / 9 GA); Schmid 8/1, Sigurdsson 5/2, Manaskov, Baena Gonzales, Steinhauser, Larsen 2, Pekeler 2, Groetzki 3, Abt, Reinkind 3, Guardiola, Petersson 3, Du Rietz 4.
Referees: Christoph Immel (Tönnisvorst) / Ronald Klein (Ratingen)
Suspensions: 6 – 8 minutes (Sellin 2:56, M. Müller 8:50, Bank 20:03 – Larsen 15:53 43:37, Pekeler 19:31, Groetzki 20:23)
Disqualifications: P. Müller (MT, 18:29), Pekeler (RNL, 53:37)
Penalty throws: 4/3 – 4/3 (Schmid missed off the crossbar 10:37, Sellin blocked by Palicka 49:17)
Attendance: 4,158 in Rothenbach Hall, Kassel
Sa., 17/9/16, 7 pm, MT Melsungen - VfL Gummersbach, Rothenbach Hall Kassel