1. FC Heidenheim 1-2 VfB Stuttgart: Brekalo stunner just enough for leaders
Photo: Bundesliga

VfB Stuttgart won an incredible game at 1. FC Heidenheim, with three superb goals and countless other close chances for both sides.

Christian Gentner’s opener was cancelled out by a typically excellent Marc Schnatterer strike. However VfL Wolfsburg youngster Josip Brekalo, on loan at Stuttgart, managed to outdo it with his first goal in German football.

The win extends Stuttgart’s lead at the top of the 2. Bundesliga to six points, with second-placed Hannover 96 not playing until Sunday.

Stuttgart looking to avenge September defeat

The was just the second-ever meeting between the two sides with the first, last September, ending in a 2-1 win for Heidenheim, a result which ended Jos Luhukay’s brief time in charge of Stuttgart.

With Stuttgart firing now though, this was still a tough test for the hosts, despite still being in the promotion picture themselves. They were fifth following their 2-0 win at Würzburger Kickers last weekend. The only change from that game saw Denis Thomalla replacing the suspended Timo Beermann as they reverted back to 4-4-2.

After losing their final two games of 2016, Stuttgart have won all three since the winter break, including the 2-1 victory five days earlier against SV Sandhausen, which left them three points clear at the top. Unsurprisingly, they named an unchanged side.

Stuttgart and Mané fail to capitalise on early goal

Schnatterer has the first shot of game, which was saved by Mitch Langerak, but it was mostly Stuttgart making the early running. Julian Green teed up Gentner whose shot was saved by Kevin Müller, and a tremendous strike on the half volley from Anto Grgic was also kept out, impressively, by the Heidenheim goalkeeper.

Gentner put Stuttgart into the lead, from a corner he helped to win after his cross was intercepted by Hauke Wahl. His first strike from Grgic’s corner was headed back to him by Ronny Philp, and he made the most of the second opportunity, with Schnatterer unable to clear the shot off the line.

Heidenheim were struggling to make an impact, with Stuttgart constantly forcing them back when they tried to come forward, and the Reds would have felt it was only a matter of time before they had a second goal. Carlos Mané should have scored it from Emiliano Insúa cross, but conspired to strike wide rather than even just hit the target.

Instead they went in level at the break. Schnatterer brought Heidenheim level in almighty fashion, cutting in from the left and from someway out he launched a rocket which flew pass Langerak into the top corner. Stuttgart would have wondered how he was given so much space to shoot though.

Special strike from Brekalo

The goal boosted Heidenheim, who kept up the momentum early in the second half. Tim Kleindienst had a shot saved by Langerak whilst Schnatterer corners proved a constant menace, with both Mathias Wittek and Sebastian Griesbeck heading over from them. Schnatterer himself would later have another opportunity himself, only this time sending it just wide.

Stuttgart though came to life twenty minutes after the break. Gentner had another excellent strike tipped wide by Müller, who then had to be make a reactionary save as Simon Terodde dived low to get his head on the resulting corner.

Hannes Wolf had made two changes to try to turn the tide back in Stuttgart’s favour, and whilst Daniel Ginczek couldn’t make the most of an opportunity, the ball fell into the path of Brekalo. His goal was in many ways similar to Schnatterer’s, yet somehow he managed to make it even more spectacular. Müller was absolutely helpless.

More chances came their way afterwards, with Grgic sending a free-kick towards the top corner, but not past Müller, before a Terodde header was cleared off the line by Schnatterer.

But the real drama in the latter stages came in the Stuttgart box. In the space of around two minutes, Tim Skarke had a shot blocked by Terodde on the line, John Verhoek also had a header obstructed, with further chances from the rebound, before Langerak saved a header from Wittek and even then the ball still clattered into both the bar and the post. Stuttgart clung on though, just.