Suleiman Abdullahi and Martin Kobylanski should have been key players for Eintracht Braunschweig this season. One had been an important cog in the latter Torsten Lieberknecht days, coming back on loan from Union Berlin to provide some much needed quality. The other had been the inspirational figure that had led their charge to promotion.
It hasn’t worked out like that. Kobylanski has struggled to match the form that produced 18 goals and nine assists in the 3. Liga last season – the hat-trick against Hertha in that DFB-Pokal thriller aside – and until Sunday’s thumping 4-0 win against VfL Osnabrück hadn’t even started since January.
The same is true of Abdullahi, who after a goal of his own against Hertha has been even more of a disappointment with no goals or assists to his name in the league, niggling injuries holding him back. The Nigerian was put on an intense training regime last month to restore his fitness, missing two games as a result.
What might have been though became abundantly clear though in the Niedersachsen-Duell on Sunday. Restored to the line-up on the left and right wings respectively, the pair tore into the fragile confidence Osnabrück had had after the win against Karlsruhe last weekend in Braunschweig’s finest performance of the season.
The two combined for the first goal early in the game, with Kobylanski picking out Abdullahi with a lovely lob. The real damage would come in the second half though. First, the skipper converted a penalty, the second coming just six minutes after half time.
Abdullahi put the sword into the Osnabrück defence with a strike from the edge of the box to make it 3-0, before one of the flukiest goals of the campaign. Having taken a short corner, Kobylanski got the ball back and try to whip it into the box. The ball sharply turned, and Philipp Kühn was made to look very ordinary as it passed through his flapping hands.
Daniel Meyer, himself back for the game after COVID, had telegraphed the return of the pair to the starting line-up ahead of the match. He suggested that Kobylanski had, like Abduallahi, had had to work on his fitness before starting again, but confirmed the process for both was “now somewhat complete.”
And the difference the pair made was huge. Die Löwen have lacked creativity all season, yet here they brushed aside their hosts. Osnabrück may have made a lot of teams look more than average in recent times, but Meyer must have been very happy about how much better his team had performed.
They are now three points clear of the bottom three – albeit having played a game more than Osnabrück and quarantined Sandhausen – and they are in the best form of the sides in the bottom four having lost just once now in seven games – in fact only St. Pauli and Heidenheim have won more points in the entire league in that time (see above).
They look well placed to stay up after a tough season then but one has to wonder how much easier it could have been with Abdullahi and Kobylanski in full flow all season.