Struggling Hamburg face Stuttgart test

November 6, 2006

BERLIN, Nov 6 (Reuters) - After humiliation in Europe, Hamburg SV face the threat of slipping back into the relegation zone when they make the long trip south to play in-form VfB Stuttgart on Tuesday.

Hamburg's first win of the season, at Bayer Leverkusen on Oct. 22, was supposed to be the start of a revival for the great northern club, the only team to have played every season in the Bundesliga since its formation in 1963.

Instead, they have continued to struggle in domestic as well as European competition.

Since that victory, they have drawn 0-0 at home to Hanover 96 and lost 1-0 at VfL Wolfsburg, two teams also struggling in the lower reaches of the table, and with 10 games played they are in 15th place, two points off the bottom.

Between those two fixtures their exit from the Champions League was confirmed by a 3-1 defeat at home to Porto that left them still without a point from four matches.

Coach Thomas Doll remains convinced his players have the talent and temperament to fight their way out of trouble. A win away to Stuttgart would be a good way of proving it.

Stuttgart began the season with two home defeats in their first three games but since winning 3-2 at Werder Bremen they have put together an excellent run.

The 21-year-old Mario Gomez scored his sixth goal of the season in Saturday's 4-2 victory away to Alemannia Aachen and the form of other youngsters like the 19-year-olds Sami Khedira and Serdar Tasci has also been notable.

They now stand in second place, just two points behind Werder Bremen, and Hamburg will have to play better than they have all season to avoid defeat.

'We lost against Wolfsburg but the main thing is that my team showed commitment and passion and fought all the way to the end,' Doll told reporters after the latest defeat.

'I also intend to fight, to try and get through this difficult phase. We'll get out of this together.'

Werder retained a clear lead at the top of the table despite being held to a 1-1 draw at home to Energie Cottbus on Saturday.

Thomas Schaaf's side are back in action at Nuremberg on Tuesday and the coach expects normal service to be resumed.

'I wasn't at all disappointed with the way we played against Cottbus,' Schaaf said after his team's four-match winning run had come to an end. 'We still created a lot of chances.'

Champions Bayern Munich remain three points behind Werder after failing to capitalise on that surprise result.

Bayern had to come from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Schalke 04 on Sunday and coach Felix Magath will demand greater concentration at home to bottom club Hanover 96 on Wednesday.