In a thrilling yet high-quality handball match, the MT Melsungen earned its first two points of the year against previously undefeated VfL Gummersbach with a 32-28 (16-10) win before 3,124 fans. Well deserved, as Roth's squad started out strong and focused, with a stalwart defensive effort that dictated the tone. An almost flawless first half was followed by an outstanding and hard-fought second one against a strong, determined opponent. Towards the end, a flood of suspensions seemed to draw on the match forever. But the MT's strong nerves and an in-form Svetislav Verkic in the Melsungen goal ultimately made the difference. Michael Allendorf (Hartung photo) was top scorer for the MT with ten goals, half of them from the seven metre spot. Florian von Gruchalla (7/4) led the scoring for the Oberbergische troupe.
Ahead of the match, the MT's wounded finally began to re-emerge. Michael Allendorf had already made his début against the Rhein-Neckar Löwen, and now pivot Marino Maric became the second man to return to availability. Coming off the bench initially, however. There were two MT lineup changes from the match against the defending holders: after a fantastic second half on Wednesday, Momir Rnic was granted a spot in the starting seven, as was Svetislav Verkic in goal.
The veteran from Serbia paid off that trust with an immediate block against Julius Kühn. The turnover didn't immediately pay dividends, however, as Johannes Sellin couldn't beat Carsten Lichtlein from the outside. Goals in the early going came primarily from the seven metre line. Florian von Gruchalla converted two, Michael Allendorf one to move the match to 2-2 (6th minute). This reflected two stalwart, tight-marking defences that closed off every hole fast.
Eventually, however, the offences began to put together attractive combinations. Momir Rnic put two goals to his name and made coach Roth's substitution in the starting lineup look even better. Sellin put the MT in front by two with a speedy breakaway after a fine block by Felix Danner (6-4, 14th minute). The same situation would repeat itself twice in the minutes that followed. First Philipp Müller managed a block and fed Sellin immediately for a breakaway (8-6), then youngster Johannes Golla fed the European champion for his third strike home - 10-7, with the red-and-white playing well with their upbeat strategy (20th minute).
But there was more. The team also finally took advantage of man-advantage situations. When Evgeni Pevnov was directed to the bench, Sellin and Allendorf each played themselves open on the outside and threw home. With the momentum fully on their sides, the team spread the ball around well, with Patrik Fahlgren feeding Allendorf as the latter approached the circle and slotted home past Matthias Puhle, who had replaced Lichtlein (15-9, 29th minute). It's not just that everything was working right in this strong first half by the Melsungen side; Gummersbach wasn't playing poorly, but they had no chance against the delightful play of Fahlgren and co.
The start of the second half was made all the easier for the hosts by another suspension on Simen Ernst. Fahlgren hit first and then Allendorf from seven metres, extending the lead further (18-11, 33rd minute). Yet it was clear the guests didn't intend to roll over. The players of the VfL were tireless in their running, trying everything they could to beat Verkic. Without success, as the Melsungen defence led by Felix Danner (with support from the now-returned Marino Maric) played outstandingly. The transition to tempo offence was almost perfect, allowing the speedy wingers Allendorf and Sellin to continue racking up scores (23-15, 41st minute).
After three-quarters an hour of running, the MT began to flag somewhat. The more offensive configuration of the VfL coverage began to have an effect, and the lead dwindled. Three straight goals from Alexander Becker, Julius Kühn and Fabian von Gruchalla cut the deficit to 26-22 (47th minute), followed by a successful penalty throw by von Gruchalla for 27-24 (49th). The MT righted the ship through a saved seven metre by Svetislav Verkic against von Gruchalla and another block of the VfL right wing, who had broken toward him completely uncovered (30-25, 57th minute).
The rash of suspensions in the final minutes were out of character for a match that had been played physically but not unfairly. Five MT players were sent off in the last five minute, which led to two-man-advantage situations for the guests that gave them hope of salvaging a point. By Verkic continued his outstanding form by saving against Christoph Schindler with things at 31-28 (59th minute), sealing the victory and his team's first two points of the season.
What they said
Michael Roth: I'm very happy about these two points, they aren't exactly nothing. You already saw on Wednesday against the Löwen that the body language was better than in the previous matches. That continued today. The foundation was laid in the first half through good defence. After the half we had the chance to dictate things even more clearly. The suspensions however made the finish a bit wobbly. Ultimately the final score is what matters, though, and we need to keep building on this. Marino Maric played a brilliant match from the first whistle. It shows you what kind of player he is. Our path from the bottom of the table is still a steep one, but we want to keep playing like we did today.
Emir Kurtagic: Congratulations to Michael and the MT. I think they earned the win. It's difficult to say anything about the match. You can be philosophical about it and say we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Out on the court, we just couldn't get the defence set up well enough to claim points on the road. 32 goals allowed are simply too many. Clearly that caused uncertainty in our own play. Ultimately it wasn't enough for us because we made too many simple errors. We now need to work through the defeat and have a week to prep for Magdeburg. We intend to play better there at home.
MT Melsungen: Verkic (12 Saves / 24 Goals Allowd), Villadsen (1 Saves / 4 GA); Maric 3, Sellin 7, Golla, Fahlgren 2, Danner 1, P. Müller, Boomhouwer, Rnic 4, Schneider 3, Allendorf 10/5, Vuckovic, M. Müller 2, Haenen.
VfL Gummersbach: Lichtlein (2 S / 14 GA), Puhle (5 S / 18 GA); Schröter, Ernst 6, Schindler 4, Kühn 4, Jäger, Schöneseiffen, Nyokas, Pevnov 1, Bult, Timm, Schmidt 5/1, von Gruchalla 7/4, Becker 1, Schröder.
Referees: Matthias Brauer (Hamburg) / Kay Holm (Hagen, S-H)
Suspensions: 14 – 12 minutes (Golla 20:13, Danner 37:36, P. Müller 54:18, Schneider 55:45 58:04, Maric 56:07, Allendorf 57:30 - Kühn 4:37, Pevnov 24:11, Ernst 30:25 56:07, Schindler 53:39, Becker 55:00)
Seven Metre Throws: 5/5 – 6/5 (von Gruchalla blocked by Verkic 53:07)
Attendance: 3,124 at Rothenbach Hall, Kassel
We., 21/9/2016, 7 pm, SG Flensburg/Handewitt – MT Melsungen, Flens-Arena Flensburg (live on TV)
Sa., 1/10/2016, 7 pm: MT Melsungen – Frisch-Auf! Göppingen, Rothenbach Hall Kassel