Deflected shots from Borussia Mönchengladbach wingers Fabian Johnson and Patrick Herrmann gifted die Fohlen a valuable three points against relegation-threatened Paderborn in a hard-fought match at Borussia Park on Sunday afternoon.
It was Gladbach’s first win following a European game this season, coming in their tenth (and final) attempt. The last time Borussia managed a win after a midweek game in Europe was againts FSV Mainz 05 back in December 2012, also a 2-0 win thanks to goals from Mike Hanke and Juan Arango. Where that game will perhaps be remembered for featuring one of Arango’s most memorable efforts in Gladbach white, Sunday’s match with Paderborn was a much grittier affair.
Lucien Favre named five changes from the eleven which lost to Sevilla in midweek, with Julian Korb, Ibrahima Traore, Havard Nordtveit, eventual goalscorer Johnson, and Branimir Hrgota all rotating into the team. Meanwhile, Paderborn coach Andre Breitenreiter made three changes from his side’s ‘experience’ against Bayern last weekend, with Daniel Brückner, Moritz Stoppelkamp, and Srdjan Lakic all returning to the fray. Breitenreiter’s changes initially paid off, as the guests started the game well; Patrick Ziegler headed over with the first chance of the game, before Korb had to clear a goalward-bound header off the line. It was a positive start by Paderborn – the sort of swashbuckling play fans of the Bundesliga may have come to expect from them in recent months, and at the very least, certainly nothing along the lines of the complete surrender seen against Bayern.
However, Borussia too were growing into the game, particularly when Traore finding Johnson with a probing pass. The American international cut inside and rifled a low shot towards Lukas Kruse, providing the Paderborn shot-stopper with his first action of the game. It was a relatively straightforward save, but also a sign of things to come.
Moments later, Granit Xhaka fed Traore with a delectable chipped ball out wide, but the Guinean winger could only force Kruse into his first excellent save of the afternoon. Johnson went close again, cutting in from the left only to have a relatively tame shot saved, but the pair’s next involvement was to prove crucial in the story of the game.
Traore received the ball on the left flank and took on two men, reaching the by-line and spraying a cross towards nobody in particular. The ball was headed out as far as Korb, who sent the ball into the middle towards Johnson, who himself also beat two Paderborn defenders before shooting at goal. The shot was moving somewhere slightly left of centre, but an unfortunate deflection off of Paderborn’s Ziegler wrong-footed Kruse, who despairingly looked on as Johnson’s shot made its way into the back of the net for an early lead. It was Johnson’s first goal of the season, his first for the club, indeed, and his first Bundesliga goal since a consolation goal for Hoffenheim against Leverkusen way back in November 2012. The afternoon was young, but already becoming somewhat of a throwback to a few years ago.
Sensing blood, Borussia pushed on, gaining a corner just moments after opening the scoring. Traore whipped the ball towards Granit Xhaka from the set piece, the Swiss midfielder met the ball with a slightly wayward header which, instead of hitting the target, made headway towards Brückner’s arm instead. Play carried on – probably a mixture of it being an unintentional action by Brückner and the fact that Gladbach never receive penalties due to calls for handball – but Paderborn seemed to be rocking.
A free kick from Alban Meha caused a slight respite, forcing Yann Sommer to worry for a moment before the ball fizzed passed his post. However, this came amid a sea of Borussia pressure, as Traore and Johnson continued to take the game to Paderborn, to great effect. Both had further chances throughout the half, and also combined well, which will perhaps give Favre a tough decision regards selection in the coming week, with crucial games against Offenbach and Mainz in the next six days. Raffael and Hrgota also combined to effect just before half time, with the Swede forcing Kruse into a smart save, but it was clear to see which attacking duo had put die Fohlen in such a commanding position at the break.
Raffael was crucial early on in the second half, too, finding himself free in the area but only being able to head into Kruse’s grateful gloves. The Brazilian also had a free kick deflected narrowly over for a corner. Not long later, Traore fired a shot from distance wildly over. In the meantime, Paderborn had posed a threat on the break, most notably through Meha and Stoppelkamp, who had both troubled Sommer since the break; nervy moments would continue throughout the match unless Borussia were to add a sweetener to the scoresheet; while Paderborn hadn’t been particularly expansive, or even particularly dangerous for most of the game, they still posed a threat on the break. That, it seems, was a lesson learned from Thursday for die Fohlen, as Favre’s men continued to push for the all-important second goal.
Eventually, it came. On as a substitute just minutes before, Herrmann proved the difference. This time, Johnson was the architect, skipping past one challenge before crossing deftly towards the centre. His cross was a little too close to Kruse, who pawed the ball away at full stretch, but the ball found itself at the feet of Herrmann, who paused, before shooting towards goal. Kruse was unsighted by Meha and Brückner standing between him and Herrmann, but the ball’s path was also diverted wildly by Meha’s standing leg, moving it into the far corner. Kruse, again, was left all ends up, unable to do anything about the goal-bound shot, and Borussia’s grip on a hard-fought game became, in that moment, a whole lot stronger. The goal was Herrmann’s sixth of the season, equalling his final tallies for each of the past three seasons, remarkable considering that there are still eleven games to go in the league.
This was the cherry on top of a positive afternoon. Borussia had to scrap for the victory, admittedly, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t play well; the victory itself was formed of both savvy football and the flair of Traore and Johnson, and moved die Fohlen four points clear of fourth-placed Bayer Leverkusen. Breaking poor runs, like the post-European game hoodoo of the current season, could prove vital in maintaining that difference – or even expanding it – and securing another crack at Europe next season. And victories like the one over Paderborn on Sunday will be central to that push.
Borussia Mönchengladbach 2:0 (1:0) SC Paderborn 07
Johnson 18., Herrmann 81.
Mönchengladbach: Sommer; Korb, Stranzl, Jantschke, Wendt; Traore (Herrmann, 73.), Nordtveit, Xhaka, Johnson; Raffael (Kramer, 84.); Hrgota (M. Kruse, 68.). (4-4-1-1)
Paderborn: L. Kruse; Heinloth (Ducksch, 79.), Ziegler, Hünemeier, Brückner; Meha, Bakalorz (Vrancic, 59.), Rupp, Stoppelkamp (Koc, 66.); Kachunga, Lakic. (4-4-2)
Rupp 54., Vrancic 62.