Hertha Berlin again back in the Bundesliga relegation zone

BERLIN (AP) — Despite some promising performances, Hertha Berlin is back where it finished last season — in the Bundesliga’s relegation playoff spot.

Hertha’s last-gasp 2-1 setback at Stuttgart on Tuesday was the team’s third straight loss and meant it has lost half its league games so far.

Hertha hosts Cologne on Saturday in a duel between fellow strugglers. Cologne has lost its last two, including the Rhine derby at home against Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday.

“My greatest wish is that we deliver a top performance on Saturday and leave with three points,” Hertha coach Sandro Schwarz said Thursday.

It won’t be easy.

Hertha has been paying for careless play, naivety and a lack of concentration at key moments in games.

Konstantinos Mavropanos scored Stuttgart’s winner in the eighth minute of injury time, causing Hertha goalkeeper Oliver Christensen to strike the goalpost in frustration.

“If it’s 1-1 near the end, we have to be smarter and more focused,” Christensen said. “We let too much go. In these decisive moments and phases we have to be better as a team, otherwise we lose points.”

It wasn’t the first time this season that Hertha conceded late. There were also costly goals against Werder Bremen, Freiburg, Bayer Leverkusen and Mainz.

“A game lasts to the final whistle,” Hertha midfielder Jean-Paul Boetius said Tuesday. “We’re really, really annoyed.”

The team has also been too dependent on Dodi Lukebakio’s seven goals so far. Forwards Marco Richter, Wilfried Kanga, Chidera Ejuke, Davie Selke have four goals between them. Stevan Jovetic, who has been hampered by injuries, has another.

Schwarz called on his team to “avoid simple ball losses."

"This is the first step. That’s often what needs improvement,” Schwarz said, adding the players need to “create more goal opportunities and improve the presence in the box.”

Schwarz said a win over Cologne is vital “to go into the winter break in a positive mood.”

This weekend is the Bundesliga’s final round of games before a two-month break to accommodate the World Cup, which starts on Nov. 20.

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Ciarán Fahey, The Associated Press