(Reuters) - Werder Bremen midfielder Leonardo Bittencourt scored a brilliant first-half winner to seal 1-0 victory at Freiburg on Saturday that reignited their hopes of staying in the Bundesliga.
The victory, at an empty Schwarzwald stadium on the second weekend of Bundesliga action since the league resumed after the COVID-19 stoppage, helped 10-man Bremen reach 21 points from 26 games, boosting their bid to avoid being relegated for the first time in 40 years.
They went ahead against the run of play in the 19th minute when Bittencourt ran on to a superb cross from fellow midfielder Davy Klaassen and finished into the bottom corner from distance for his third league goal of the season.
After Bremen midfielder Philipp Bargfrede was sent off in the 88th minute for a second yellow card, Freiburg had defender Manuel Gulde’s late equaliser disallowed by the video assistant referee (VAR) as Nils Petersen was deemed to be offside.
“We had to win... and we gave it everything. After we took the lead we didn’t play as well as we’d have liked, but we’re delighted to have won here today,” Bittencourt said.
The opener came shortly after Freiburg forward Roland Sallai missed a clear chance in the 17th minute, dragging his shot wide after Petersen chested the ball into the Hungarian’s path.
Winger Vincenzo Grifo’s free kick was acrobatically kept out early in the contest by Jiri Pavlenka and the Bremen goalkeeper was called into action again after the hour-mark, as he made a fine diving save to deny Nicolas Hoefler.
The hosts grew frustrated as the match wore on, with Bremen defending deep and in numbers to ensure their fifth win of the season and first since January.
Freiburg, who had a stoppage-time goal ruled out by VAR for offside in the 1-1 draw against RB Leipzig last time out, were left to rue their bad luck again.
They remained on 37 points from 27 games.
Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru, editing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar