Saturday afternoon saw two of the 2. Bundesliga's top sides clash at the Esprit-Arena. Michael Rensing made key saves at important times, as Charliston Benschop bagged a brace to keep up the hosts' slim chances of a top three place. Darmstadt could have easily taken a draw from the game, had it not been for a combination of poor finishing and great goalkeeping.
Taskin Aksoy's reign in charge of Fortuna enjoyed a rocky beginning; the interim boss had failed to do much better than Olli Reck and rumours were rife that Sami Hyypiä could take over at the end of the season. He made three changes from their defeat to RB Leipzig last weekend to try and spark them into life, as Bruno Soares, Christian Weber and Michael Liendl dropped out for Adam Bodzek, Lukas Schmitz and Ilhas Bebou.
After the five-nil demolition of Union Berlin last weekend, confidence was high in the Darmstadt camp and they had every right to be. Now just three points from first and picking up such an impressive win without Jerome Gondorf and Dominik Stroh-Engel was no small feat. As expected, the pair returned to the starting line-up ahead of Ronny Köning and Marco Sailer in Dirk Schuster's only changes.
Fortuna were making all the run in the early stages, which surprised a few given the Lilies' recent run. Adam Bodzek's deflected free-kick was well-held by a wrong-footed Christian Mathenia, though Darmstadt broke up the pitch immediately and Marcel Heller's attempted chip was superbly dealt with by Michael Rensing.
The visitors were beginning to gain more of a foothold and Leon Balogun, called up by Nigeria in midweek, was causing plenty of problems on the wings and he helped to create the best chance of the game. Balogun found Gondorf, who beat his man and drove into the box, he then cut the ball back to Stroh-Engel and the striker inexplicably put the ball wide from four yards out. The goal was gapping, but the over 1000 minute goal drought continued for their star forward.
Both sides were desperate to find that elusive opening strike, only for some fine defending to prevent them from doing so. That was until a heavy Balogun touch meant he lost the ball and hacked down Axel Bellinghausen in the process. Robert Kempter pointed to the spot, Charliston Benschop stayed cool to send Mathenia the wrong way and his side into the half-time break with the lead.
Stroh-Engel's lack of form was wholly evident, as a fantastic ball from Hanno Behrens found him clear on goal but his heavy touch took the chance away from him. Darmstadt had begun the half well and Marco Sailer and Rony König's arrivals, the latter for Stroh-Engel, were an attempt to build upon that.
Rensing was called into another fine one-on-one stop, once again it was Heller's point-blank half-volley that was parried away. That proved to be crucial and Fortuna made the most of their keeper's heroics.
A delightful chipped through ball from Bellinghausen sent Benschop through on goal and he kept his composure to crash the ball into the bottom corner. The goal put daylight between the sides and was also his thirteenth of the season, taking him level with Rubin Okotie and Simon Terodde at the top of the goalscoring standings.
The win meant that there was just six points between Fortuna and Darmstadt, which kept the promotion chase alive for themselves and other sides hopeful of a top three side slipping up. Aksoy's side will look to cut that further next Monday when they face St. Pauli, while the Lilies welcome VfL Bochum on Sunday.