BERLIN: Kosovo international Milot Rashica inspired Werder Bremen to a crucial 3-1 victory over relegation rivals Cologne on Tuesday.
The 21-year-old Rashica impressed on only his second start for Bremen, scoring in the second half to help them move five points clear of the bottom three, with Cologne left rooted to the foot of the table.
“We are still down there in the relegation fight,” Bremen’s Florian Kainz told Eurosport.
“We can’t let up at this point. Today was a step in the right direction, but nothing more.”
As in previous weeks, supporters protested the introduction of Monday night games, with fan groups on both sides taking part in a stadium boycott.
Bremen looked the more threatening side in the first half, as Rashica in particular caused trouble for Cologne.
When he forced a corner just after the half-hour mark, Bremen struck. Zlatko Junuzovic’s looping ball found Milos Veljkovic at the far post, and the defender side-footed in the opener.
Cologne came out fighting after the interval, and grabbed a deserved equaliser through Yuya Osako in the 53rd minute.
Former Bremen star Claudio Pizarro set up the Japanese, who fired the ball into the top corner.
Rashica restored Bremen’s lead just five minutes later, though, latching onto a fine through ball from Kainz and prodding the ball past goalkeeper Timo Horn.
The 39-year-old Pizarro missed a golden opportunity to equalise 15 minutes from time, heading the ball inches wide.
Still a fan favourite in Bremen, the home fans sang the Peruvian’s name in the dying minutes of the game.
“It is always special for me to play here,” Pizarro told Eurosport. “I love the Bremen fans and they love me.”
In the 90th minute, Maximilian Eggestein broke away on the left to fire in Bremen’s third and secure victory.
Defeat moves Cologne another step closer to relegation, as they remain eight points adrift of safety.