Hertha BSC's dream season is on the verge of derailing following their late defeat to Hoffenheim which saw them fall out of the automatic Champions League spots for the first time since February. Having looked on course for an automatic place, three games without a win and games against Bayern and Leverkusen on the horizon means their 2-1 defeat could prove especially costly.
Dreams turning to nightmares
Not so long ago, four wins from five had the capital side well on course for their first appearance in Europe's premier club competition this century. However, following their pummeling at the hands of Gladbach and a frustrating draw with bottom side Hannover, Hertha find themselves in their worst run since October which has allowed a rejuvinated Leverkusen to sneak ahead in the race for the elite.
With the much needed return of John Anthony Brooks from injury and Vladimir Darida to the starting lineup, Pal Dardai's men looked to stop the slump with a win over relegation threatened Hoffenheim; whom they defeated in the reverse fixture back in November. Hertah ended that day in fourth place, and ninety minutes later history would repeat itself.
For the most part, this was a marginally better performance from Die Blau Weißen with Darida at the heart of most of their goodwork in the final third and the defence a far better proposition with Brooks partnering Niklas Stark to keep Andrej Kramaric quiet.
In an open game from start to finish, it would be the Berliners who struck first when the aforementioned Stark got his head to a brilliant delivery from Marvin Plattenhardt, who claimed his second assist in two games. It was arguably just rewards from Hertha, who had looked the better team up until that point, with Dardai's changes paying off.
However, things quickly turned sour when Hoffenheim equalised shortly after the goal, a defensive mix up allowing Fabian Schar to capitalise and drag the hosts level to the delight of the near 28,000 strong crowd. Hertha will rightly feel aggrieved that Schar was offside when the ball was played into him. But the goal proved a crucial blow for the visitors. They were still able to create the best chance of the remaining half, when Soloman Kalou struck the post on the verge of half time.
The second half played out in much the same fashion, but it was Hoffenheim who looked the most likely to score, with Rune Jarstein producing several good saves to keep the scores level. Having seen enough, Dardai sacrificed Vedad Ibisevic for Julian Schieber, without a goal since February last year due to injury, and Darida for Johannes van den Bergh. His side looked to up the intensity as the hosts toiled in front of goal.
However it would be Hoffenheim who were cheering at the end when some more poor defending allowed Mark Uth to get the crucial final touch on a long ball and send it past Jarstein with less than five minutes remaining.
Hertha gave it their all, throwing Alexander Baumjohann on for the again invisible Genki Haraguchi with questions now raised as to his continued involvement in the side over Valentin Stocker, but Hoffenheim held firm for the crucial three points which steered them ever so closer to safety.
Could they end the season empty handed?
For Hertha, they sit dangerously close to the Europa League spots and if they do not arrest their slump soon with Bayern and rivals Leverkusen to come, they could very well find themselves tumbling out of Europe altogether. Of course, survival was the goal at the start of the season and that was secured long ago. But the fact that a season which promised so much could end with so little must surely worry Dardai as they gear up for the Pokal semi final on Wednesday against Borussia Dortmund.