Holstein Kiel took a huge step towards potential promotion on Wednesday as Die Störche defeated Köln 1-0 at the RheinEnergieStadion in the first leg of the 2020/21 Bundesliga relegation play-off.
In a game of few highlights, it would be Kiel who managed to score the only goal of the contest when Simon Lorenz headed home near the hour mark. Köln had plenty of opportunities on the day, to be fair to them, but they just couldn’t find the back of the net.
Will their wastefulness in front of goal ultimately haunt them, or will Die Geißböcke be able to turn things around in the second leg? Only time will tell.
Story of the match
The first half was a very tight and tense one early on, which made sense considering the circumstances. Both sides created a few half-chances, but neither really came close to scoring.
Jonas Hector nearly grabbed the opener all on his own, as he won the ball high up the pitch before trying to cross it into the area. It took a deflection, but instead of going towards goal, the ball flew just over.
Köln would have a major opportunity right before the break. A poor clearance fell to Ondrej Duda in the box, but he couldn’t make the most of the break, hitting a shot wide.
Although the hosts were better to start the second half, it was Kiel who took the lead near the hour mark. A corner was headed back across the area, and substitute Simon Lorenz, who had just come on moments earlier, rose highest to head the second ball into the back of the net.
Köln should have equalized minutes later, as some clever play put Ellyes Skhiri into space in the area. He could not convert, though, instead slamming a strike directly at the goalkeeper, who was able to catch the attempt.
They continued to apply plenty of pressure going forward, and they came very close to scoring with about 10 minutes to go. A free-kick seemed destined for the bottom corner, but defender Phil Neumann was able to get back and block the attempt near the goalline. The rebound fell to a Die Geißböcke player, but his effort was also denied by Neumann.
That would prove to be the last major moment of the contest, as Kiel held on to secure the advantage going into Saturday’s second leg.
Kiel are in the driver’s seat
This result is clearly a massive one for Kiel.
Coming into this contest as the underdogs for a few reasons, Die Störche would have been happy to not be beaten badly. On the road against a Bundesliga outfit that are in form, a one-goal loss would have given them a good chance of getting the job done in the second leg.
However, they managed to pull off a dream scoreline. Kiel grabbed a vital away goal near the hour mark, and then they managed to hold onto the lead for the rest of the game, securing a vital clean sheet in the process.
They now have almost everything in their hands. Going back home for the second leg, they know that Köln will have to score if they want any chance of maintaining their top-flight status. That means sending plenty of bodies forward on the attack, which will leave them vulnerable on the counter.
Then there’s the fact that Die Störche had the best defensive record in the 2. Bundesliga this season, conceding only 35 goals in 34 games. If they can manage to keep just one more clean sheet, then they’ll be the ones who will feature in the Bundesliga next year.
Man of the match - Simon Lorenz
No one in particular was really that great on the day, but Simon Lorenz was able to do enough to give his side a big advantage going into the second leg.
Coming on as a substitute in the 59th minute, Lorenz managed to score the only goal of the game just moments later. Timing his jump to perfection, he was able to rise highest in the area to win a header. He made no mistake with the finish, redirecting the ball into the back of the net past a helpless Timo Horn.
The defender then did the job he was sent on to do, staying back and helping his side keep a potentially crucial clean sheet. The Kiel backline did bend on some occasions, but they never broke, and Lorenz was one of the reasons why.
There’s still a lot of work left to be done, but Lorenz’s heroics in this contest could be what sends Die Störche to the Bundesliga for the first time in club history.