The fourth matchday of the DKB Handball Bundesliga will bring MT Melsungen its second home match — and the second straight tough nut to crack. On the heels of its encounter with title holders Rhein-Neckar Löwen, next up is former champion VfL Gummersbach, ready to travel to Kassel with a perfect 6:0 on the points table. Throw-off is Saturday at Rothenbach Hall at 7 pm. Tickets are still available for presale and at the hall's box office, which opens from 5:30 pm.
No question, the MT's performance on Wednesday against defending German champion Rhein-Neckar Löwen was a ray of light after the desolate showings against newly promoted Coburg and Erlangen. Even if the boys in red-and-white ended up losing to the team in the yellow kit 30-26, they showed strategy and spirit. The small details were ultimately what prevented them from landing a coup against the massive favourites. Perhaps the most clear symbol of this were the shots that clanged off the woodwork right into the hands of the opponent — to the tune of at least five goals. Even if luck was smiling on the opponent, the strategy and spirit were there. As was the atmosphere, with over 4,000 spectators cheering on their team for 60 minutes despite tropical temperatures.
Rnic: Continue our step in the right direction!
"This match was a step in the right direction", declared backcourt maestro Momir Rnic moments after the final whistle. With seven goals, Rnic was top scorer for the MT, and his appearance on the court as a substitute offers a fine example of the team's hunger to turn the season around. Even in the seemingly hopeless latter parts of the match, he pursued his goals ruthlessly, keeping the MT in the match. "In Gummersbach, we once again are facing a very strong opponent. If we continue the path we showed on Saturday and take the court with that same fighting spirit, we'll win the match", the 28 year old believes. The Serbian native also knows that his team must make fewer mistakes. Especially on the attack, where they left numerous opportunities on the court against the Löwen.
Roth and Geerken praise positive trends and see better times ahead
Michael Roth pointed out another important factor: "We're unfortunately missing the push from the far back right now. This is where we're feeling the absence of Johan Sjöstrand. But with that said, we'll continue to put our trust in René Villadsen and Svetislav Verkic". Hopes for an imminent return of the recuperating number one keeper are high right now, and for pivot Marino Maric as well. The latter is well on the way to recovering from his foot injury. One positive: Michael Allendorf was back on the court, the first of the injury-stricken to return. "It's important to push back against the bully. We did that. Our team gave a number of signals that it's ready to pull the switch", the MT coach said hopefully.
"But unfortunately", MT President Axel Geerken noted, "we're currently on 0:6 points in the table, all the way at the bottom. We need to accept that. It's going to take a lot of hard work to dig out of that hole. But if we continue to show like we did today, then our chances are strong at ending the night against Gummersbach with two points".
Win against Gummersbach would mitigate poor start somewhat
A win against the team from the Oberbergische district would certainly help mitigate the poor start somewhat. The question du jour: is the MT, whose 0:6 points in the table make it second from the bottom, likely to make its move against VfL Gummersbach, currently sitting pretty in third with 6:0 points. From a statistical standpoint, the North Hesse squad will go into this match as the clear underdogs, just as they did against the Löwen. Yet the portion of self-confidence that the MT team can draw from a relatively close defeat on Saturday may help in this match against the former champion. That may make more of a difference than it did against the current holders.
Danger at almost every position
When playing the VfL, it's crucial to try and contain their top players. From an MT standpoint, almost every one of the opponent's positions are goal threats: European champions Julius Kühn and Andreas Schröder are in the backcourt; Florian von Gruchalla is on the right wing, Kevin Schmidt on the left; Evgeni Pevnov is on the pivot, and Kévynn Nyokas plays right back. But don't underestimate the other players on coach Emit Kurtagic's team. The class extends throughout. Simon Ernst, yet another European champ, is in the centre pulling the strings, while Christoph Schindler and Mark Bult — two veteran Bundesliga pros — prowl the backcourt. Carsten Lichtlein, the third European champ on the team, mans the goal. No question, this will be a hard nut for the MT to crack on Saturday.
Referees in Kassel:
Matthias Brauer (Hamburg) / Kay Holm (Hagen, Schleswig-Holstein); DHB Observer: Jutta Ehrmann-Wolf.
Previous Bundesliga encounters:
22 matches, 7 wins for the MT, 15 wins for the VfL;
last two matches:
18/12/2015: VfL - MT Melsungen 26-27
19/9/2015: MT - VfL Gummersbach 23-27