Hertha Berlin was left tottering on the verge of Bundesliga relegation on Thursday after a 1-0 defeat to Hamburger SV in the first leg of their playoff.
Ludovit Reis’ second-half goal in Berlin’s Olympiastadion gave the visitors the edge ahead of the teams’ return leg in Hamburg on Monday.
Reis’ attempted cross dipped over Danish goalkeeper Oliver Christensen and went in off the far post in the 57th minute to give Hamburg its fifth consecutive win.
Christensen was making his Hertha debut in place of the injured Marcel Lotka, who suffered a broken nose and concussion in last weekend’s defeat at Borussia Dortmund.
The playoff pits the team that finishes third from last in the Bundesliga, Hertha this season, against the third-place finisher in the second tier to see which plays in the top division next season.
Hertha has been in this position before, losing the playoff to Fortuna Düsseldorf and dropping to the second division in 2012, while Hamburg successfully staved off relegation through the playoff against Greuther Fürth in 2014 and Karlsruher SC in 2015.
Hamburg, which was the only remaining club to have played every season in the top division since the Bundesliga was formed in 1963, was finally relegated when it finished second from the bottom in 2018.
Hamburg supporters set off pyrotechnics before kickoff, sending plumes of smoke around the stadium, and they celebrated wildly with more after the final whistle.
Hertha coach Felix Magath is a Hamburg club hero after a playing career that lasted a decade and the winning goal in the 1983 European Cup final against Juventus. The 68-year-old was appointed Hertha coach in March to steer it away from relegation.