After a breath-taking, highly entertaining 60 minutes, MT Melsungen prevailing in its duel against EHF Cup winner Frisch-Auf! Göppingen 31-27 (16-16). The 3,609 spectators at Kassel's Rothenbach Hall were treated to a fantastic handball match between two evenly matched competitors. Up until the final minute neither team could pull ahead by more than two goals, and the lead switched hands frequently. Despite eight goals by top scorer Michael Allendorf, the Man of the Match for the hosts was keeper Johan Sjöstrand (Käsler photo), who parried ten tough balls in the second half alone. Daniel Fontaine notched six successful strikes for Göppingen.
Fans of the MT certainly can't complain that it's been a boring week. First came the future signing of Finn Lemke for next season, then the announcement that Dener Jaanimaa had been signed on the fly from the THW Kiel to cover for injured Gabor Langhans and provide relief for captain Michael Müller in the right backcourt. That was plenty to digest and discuss before the actual match was whistled live. The encounter against Göppingen was no less thrilling and spectacular.
Frisch Auf! arrived without its central players Tim Kneule, Jona Schoch and Zarko Sesum — and in fact only ten active court players on its roster — so it was clear that it would be a night of improvisation. Daniel Fontaine assumed the role of playmaker, assisted in the backcourt by Lars Kaufmann and ex-Melsungen player Jens Schöngarth, who countered goals by Michael Allendorf and Nenad Vuckovic with their own scores to first tie and then put the guests in the lead (2-3, 4th minute).
The match remained close and variable. Michael Allendorf pulled off an artistic goal to bring things to 7:7 (12th minute), after Marcel Schiller, with his team in a man-down situation and with an extra court player called on, hit the crossbar. The MT left wing grabbed the ball and throw it along the entire length of the court, where it struck the left inner post, bounced against the right inner post and then returned back onto the court of play. FA! keeper Bastian Rutschmann flashed some talent immediately after being re-inserted: a Momir Rnic shot went wide, and the FA! keeper recovered the ball quick and sent it into the unguarded Melsungen net (10-10, 18th minute).
The first lead of two points came thanks to the hot shooting of Michael Allendorf, who converted his seven metre throws for 13-11 and 14-12 and even beat the keeper on a counter-attack (15-13, 26th minute). Shortly before half-time a brace of goals by Adrian Pfahl knotted things back up, with Michael Müller and Marco Rentschler each scoring once more in the waning seconds to send the teams to the dressing rooms all tied up.
The initial moments of the second half belonged to the MT. Having been switched out after a timid start but now re-inserted, keeper Johan Sjöstrand found his form immediately against Daniel Fontaine, parrying the ball so that freshly inserted Patrik Fahlgren could regain the lead with an outstanding individual play. Counterstrikes that put the team in green-and-white ahead once again soon came in the form of goals by Lars Kaufmann and Marco Rentschler, but Michael Müller slotted home twice to set the match at 19-18 on 36 minutes. This was an intense affair.
Just three minutes later every spectator in the house was on their feet. First Dener Jaanimaa saw his debut rotation to earsplitting applause; Michael Allendorf then was thwarted for the first time on a seven metre through by Rutschmann; Sjöstrand saved fantastically; Johannes Sellin converted the breakaway attack, even with a man disadvantage, to make it 20-19; followed by Michael Müller for the team's 21st goal. Both teams were delivering their absolute best on the floor, and the spectators honoured their efforts with raucous applause.
After Melsungen finally managed to eke out a two goal load again (24-22, 46th minute), Frisch Auf! coach Magnus Andersson opted to for a new tactical wrinkle, namely sending on a seventh court player. Successfully, as Anton Halen cut the deficit to one and then Manuel Späth equalised. The next round of applause went to Sjöstrand, who successfully robbed Marcel Schiller in a seven metre duel. Sellin suffered a similar fate as the FA! shooter on the other side, slamming the post on his penalty throw and allowing Fontaine to once again bring the teams level (25-25, 53rd minute).
Johan Sjöstrand remained the man of the hour, thwarting Lars Kaufmann's attempt to put Göppingen back in the lead. Johannes Sellin and Michael Allendorf laid out an outstanding fast break, converting for 27-26. Manuel Späth proved unstoppable from the edge of the zone, however. With four minutes left in regulation time, things were once again tied: 27-27. Sjöstrand would go on to preserve the win with a save against Daniel Fontaine after Marino Maric had set his team on a course for victory. After Patrik Fahlgren's strike for 29-27 the Swedish keeper proved effective against Schöngarth as well, and even successfully defused the final desperate throw from Lars Kaufmann. Fahlgren and Sellin put the icing on the cake with goals to make it 31-27, but all eyes looked gratefully to the outstanding play of Sjöstrand. The victory was a well earned one, albeit one with too many goals conceded.
What they said
Michael Roth: I said ahead of the match that these are two evenly matched sides. It was clear that we'd need a good performance to best Göppingen. Over the course of 60 minutes we found good solutions on offence. In the first half Nenad Vuckovic and then Patrik Fahlgren in the second half directed the match well. Prior to half-time the Göppinger backcourt hit almost all their shots. That drove us to push further forward on offence and get aggressive. It worked well, and when Frisch Auf! came with that extra court player we switched to a 5:1 formation. The benefit of strong teamwork together with a strong keeper was clear for all to see. The path from the bottom of the table is a tough one and has put pressure on us, but the team bore up well. Now we want to continue working our way forward piece by piece for a fine October.
Magnus Andersson: Congratulations to the MT for the win. They earned it, but it was close. Nevertheless for us it was a step in the right direction. We played nice offensive handball in the first half and tried to stay aggressive. But unfortunately our keepers just couldn't provide enough support. In the second half Rutschmann had more saves, but the cleverness was lacking. There were a couple of dumb errors and we wrapped up one man-advantage situation 0-2. Today it just wasn't enough, but now we've got a few days free to practice. Perhaps we'll get some of our injured back and things will look brighter.
Axel Geerken: When you're in the situation that we're in, there's always pressure. But that's what made today such an important match. You also saw that we needed the first half before we could liberate ourselves in our play. But a word for our spectators: I found it phenomenal that 3,600 people came to the arena tonight, despite a rough start to the season. That shows as powerfully as anything that the team has arrived regionally and is being embraced.
Gerd Hofele: We haven't had a good start this season, but today we took a step in the right direction. It's never easy pickings in Melsungen, we knew that going in. Melsungen's deeper bench with better talent made the difference. Of course we're not satisfied with a loss, but we are pleased that our team played well.
MT Melsungen: Sjöstrand (11 saves / 18 goals allowed), Verkic (5 S/ 9 GA); Maric 2, Sellin 4, Golla, Fahlgren 4, Danner 1, P. Müller 3, Boomhouwer, Rnic 3/1, Schneider, Allendorf 8/5, Vuckovic 1, Jaanimaa, M. Müller 5, Haenen.
Frisch Auf! Göppingen Prost (2 S / 11 GA), Rutschmann (1 goal, 7 S / 20 GA.); Späth 2, Barud 3, Fontaine 6, Kaufmann 4, Berg, Schiller 2/1, Pfahl 2, Rentschler 3, Halen 2/1, Schöngarth 2.
Referees: Fabian Baumgart (Offenburg) / Sascha Wild (Offenburg)
Suspensions: 10 – 12 minutes (Maric 13:47 16:54, Schneider 22:21, M. Müller 35:43, Vuckovic 41:47 - Kaufmann 9:28 20:49, Schöngarth 23:27, Späth 38:23 51:36, Barud 53:02)
Penalty throws: 8/6 – 3/2 (Allendorf blocked by Rutschmann 36:25, Schiller blocked by Sjöstrand 50:29, Sellin strikes post 51:40)
Attendance: 3,609 in Rothenbach Hall, Kassel
Sa., 8/10/2016, 7 pm: SC DHfK Leipzig – MT Melsungen, ARENA Leipzig
Su., 16/10/2016, 5:15 pm: MT Melsungen – TVB 1898 Stuttgart, Rothenbach Hall Kassel