HNA editor Robin Lipke went back to look at the factors that led to the win against Göppingen. The re-watch showed that the match was a thrilling one, carried out by two equally matched team, a fine and passionate performance by the MT, patience on offence and last but not least a phenomenal crowd (voice-over captain Michael Müller).
And there it finally was, the enthusiasm that set apart handball Bundesliga squad MT Melsungen last season. During a gripping 31-27 (16-16) victory against Frisch Auf Göppinen, "our play was definitely trending toward improvement", coach Michael Roth noted with satisfaction. 3,609 spectators at Rothenbach Hall were on hand to celebrate the home team and their first step away from the bottom end of the table.
MT captain Michael Müller said after the nail-biter, which was tied up 27-27 just moments before the end, that it was "a hard piece of work". Indeed, the lead shifted hands many times over the 60 minutes. Neither the North Hesse nor the Swabian squad could shake the other off. It's rare that the formulation "teams playing at eye level" is so true as it was on that Saturday evening. It was only during the final sprint that the hosts secured the two points, thanks in no small part to keeper Johan Sjöstrand.
Which factors most contributed to the victory and give hope for the coming days?
Granted, the first half was a bit of an offensive free-for-all. "It was an attacking game", said MT playmaker Patrik Fahlgren. Both Melsungen and Göppingen's coverage was too passive, allowing numerous goals to be scored from distance backcourt shots. The interplay between keeper and defence wasn't smooth, Roth criticised: "That makes it hard to build up emotion".
In the second half "we helped our keeper much more", Fahlgreen said of the team's better play. The Melsungen defensive line played more aggressively, switched to the 5-1 configuration and kept the Göppinger attack more in check. One positive side effect: Thanks to the better defence, the MT was able to get its feared up-tempo game going and converted more counter-attack goals.
While we're talking about the offence — "We almost always found good solutions there", praised the Melsungen coach. Both Nenad Vuckovic in the first half and then Patrik Fahlgren in the second half directed the match well. The Swede in particular, who missed the last match against Flensburg due to injury, showed his rising form. Dynamism, creativity, a nose for the goal — "I felt really great out there. It's lovely when things come together", the 31 year old noted with satisfaction. What particularly pleased him was the fact that "we kept our cool and rarely finished up overly hasty". The Swede's brace of goals for 29-27 and 30-27 in the final minutes secured the victory for his time.
Aesthetically pleasing it was not. But the team fought to the bitter end and showed fire, said MT captain Müller. What was missing was the singularity of focus compared to the previous season. In two or three situations the MT failed to extend its lead, which would have saved some tense moments at the end. With that said, and this is a positive, the Melsungen didn't get down after missing their chances. That's not a given in this type of pressure situation. Because Roth wasn't the only one aware that "we didn't have any more room for error".
Which is why the MT players celebrated all the more when it was done. Müller's final thoughts: "We built up self-confidence. We're on the right path. But we're nowhere near playing as well as we can". But the trend is a positive one — which might well make October a pleasant month for the MT.
After the disastrous start to the season, the Bundesliga team from North Hesse appears to have finally begin climbing. The feisty home win against Göppingen gives the players, team officials and fans reason to hope that better days are ahead.
Geerken: "Embraced by the region"
Axel Geerken, President of MT Melsungen, was also high pleased with the crowd. 3,609 spectators came to Kassel's Rothenbach Hall to cheer on their side against Göppingen - a remarkable number, given that the MT had not played particularly well in the first five matches. "The fans are coming anyway. That's tremendous. We're embraced by the region", Geerken says. MT captain Michael Müller appreciated the home crowd as well: "The way the fans support us is phenomenal. They've got a sense for when we need them in tough situations".
(HNA, 3/10 and 5/10/16; photo: Alibek Käsler)