In an incredible ending, Fabian Schleusener spared 1. FC Nürnberg from relegation to the 3. Liga thanks to the away goals rule after a 3-1 defeat to FC Ingolstadt 04 on the day.
After a quiet first half, Ingolstadt stunned Nürnberg with three second half goals, all coming from set pieces, from Stefan Kutschke, Tobias Schröck and Robin Krauße.
Ingolstadt thought they were up but then Schleusener struck beyond the five added minutes, in the most dramatic of play-off finishes.
Der Club saved in the very last moment
Having won the first leg 2-0, Nürnberg had the tie in control at half time in this second leg, with the score at 0-0 and Ingolstadt looking harmless. Yet three Marcel Gaus free-kicks later, die Schanzer had turned the tie completely around and looked set to seal a return to the 2. Bundesliga.
Time ticked by. 90 minutes came and went. Five minutes of stoppage time came and went. Christian Dingert, the referee, played on, accounting for a late double Ingolstadt change. Christian Mathenia, who had moments earlier been up at the other end, booted the ball forward. He found no one at first. But Ingolstadt couldn’t clear. Patrick Erras got the ball back into the box, Schleusener connected and the ball trickled over the line.
It was the away goal Nürnberg had needed all evening. They had it at the last available opportunity. Schleusener could not have waited any longer to score his first Nürnberg goal. The drama wasn’t over though. Ingolstadt wanted the goal disallowed, Nico Antonitsch had slipped in the build-up, but VAR didn’t find a foul worthy of disallowing the goal for.
After a spectacular second half collapse, somehow Nürnberg had survived. Ingolstadt were heartbroken, and angry. Kutschke, whose goal had started things less than an hour earlier, was raging and had to be kept apart from the Nürnberg players. But there was little else they could do.
There’s a lot to be said for all three major German play-offs being settled on away goals, despite there being no fans. An extra 30 minutes wouldn’t have been unwelcome to any neutral or Ingolstadt fan. The drama was undeniable though.
Ingolstadt better but to no avail
At the start of the evening, Nürnberg made one enforced change from the first leg, with Lukas Mühl replacing Arsenal loanee Konstantinos Mavropanos, who was not fit enough to start but was named on the bench. Ingolstadt coach Tomas Oral on the other hands shook things up. Michael Heinloth, Filip Bilbija and the fit-again Kutschke came in as he switched his team to a 4-1-4-1 formation.
The more defensive set-up gave Ingolstadt the control they had so badly lacked in the first leg. Nurnberg, in fairness, did not have the impetus to attack here, but were limited to chances from set pieces in the early stages. One was cleared only to Robin Hack, whose deflected ball was headed over by Mikael Ishak. Henno Behrens headed wide from other.
Defensively solid, die Schanzer still needed to score two goals. Chances were limited at that end as well but it was still an improvement from in the week, the presence of Kutschke appearing to help. Robin Krauße had a couple of chances, the best from a free-kick, which he struck wide after initially playing it to Gaus. Caniggia Elva and Bilbija also had half chances to score, but otherwise there was little to concern Nürnberg.
An away goal would have put the tie beyond Ingolstadt’s reach but Michael Wiesinger’s side didn’t have any more chances than their opponents. Hack struck over, going alone when he had other options, whilst Ishak forced a rare save out of Marco Knaller late in the half. In the grand scheme of things though, it was so far, so good for Der Club.
Free-kicks completely undo Nürnberg
Nürnberg initially started the second half with more intent, with their best chance up to this point coming thanks to a ball over the top from Erras. He found Ishak, who crossed in but Adam Zreľák missed the connection. Tim Handwerker also saw an effort saved. In between, Nürnberg wanted a penalty for a handball from Schröck – but there was little he could have done about it and it was rightly disregarded.
Still less than ten minutes into the second half, the complexion of the tie changed. Gaus put a free-kick into the box with Mathenia punched unconvincingly clear before colliding with a couple of players in his follow-through. Without their keeper, the ball came off both Erras and Asger Sörensen in slapstick style, with Kutschke at the line to put the home.
Behind closed doors this game may have been, but there were still enough people in to change the atmosphere completely. Ingolstadt had their tails up and suddenly Nürnberg looked very nervy. Another Gaus free-kick provided the equaliser. Schröck timed his run perfectly, moving ahead of the nearest defenders, and connected with his head to bring the tie level.
Free-kicks were their undoing. Another from Gaus then led to the third goal, which put Ingolstadt ahead in the tie. Gaus again, from a wider angle, wiped it in and this time found Krauße, in front of everyone else in the box. He connected, heading the ball in, sparking crazy celebrations.
Nürnberg were shell shocked. Wiesinger rang the changes and one of them almost made an immediate impact. Nikola Dovedan headed a Handwerker cross on target but Antonitsch cleared on the line. Another, Michael Frey, then came inches wide from what would have been the vital away goal. With no more strikers left on the bench, Wiesinger threw Georg Margreitter up front, knowing one goal was enough. Then it came, and Nürnberg avoided the ignominy of a double relegation.
Ingolstadt: Knaller; Heinloth, Antonitsch, Schröck, Gaus; Paulsen; Bilbija, Thalhammer (Kotzke 75‘), Krauße (Keller 79‘), Elva (Kurzweg 90+3‘); Kutschke (Kaya 75‘ (Eckert 90+3‘)).
Nürnberg: Mathenia; Valentini (Sorg 70‘), Sörensen, Mühl, Handwerker; Hack, Behrens (Dovedan 79‘), Erras, Nürnberger; Ishak (Frey 79‘), Zreľák (Schleusener 70‘).
Goals: Kutschke (53‘), Schröck (62‘), Krauße (66‘); Schleusener (90+6′).
Referee: Christian Dingert.