Soccer-VfL Wolfsburg face fan protest against Bayern
BERLIN, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Disgruntled VfL Wolfsburg fans are planning to boycott the opening stages of their Bundesliga match at home to leaders Bayern Munich on Saturday as a protest against their team's poor performances.
Wolfsburg, who only ensured their Bundesliga survival last season by winning a relegation playoff against second tier Eintracht Braunschweig, have fallen dangerously close to the danger zone again after winning one of their last eight league games.
Now only four points clear of Mainz 05 in the relegation playoff spot, they have also been knocked out of the German Cup after a 1-0 defeat to Schalke 04 earlier this month.
Bayern's visit could not have come at a worse time for Wolfsburg given that the Bavarians are 18 points clear at the top and have won 14 of 15 league games since Jupp Heynckes returned for his fourth stint as coach.
Wolfsburg were founded in 1945 and German media said that the North Curve of their stadium, which houses the hardcore fans, will remain empty until 19 minutes and 45 seconds of Saturday's game.
The fans then plan to continue their protest by turning their backs to the pitch, adding to the pressure on coach Martin Schmidt and sporting director Olaf Rebbe.
"We are aware of the difficult sporting situation and can understand the displeasure of the fans absolutely," said Wolfsburg chairman Tim Schumacher.
"We put our trust in the sporting leadership and now need peace and unity," he added. "VfL deliberately took a new direction before the season."
"It's a great challenge, but the team has the potential to win the points they need for a reasonable end to the season. We are all committed to the task but we need the full support of our fans."
Kicker magazine reported that Rebbe, who has already fired two coaches since he was appointed in January last year, was fighting alongside Schmidt to keep his job.
Schmidt was appointed in September to replace Andries Jonker and immediately made his mark by making his players brush their teeth after matches, saying that the acid reaction it caused when they were tired helped their "regeneration".
The 50-year-old Swiss's first seven league games all produced draws and when they beat Freiburg 3-1 in their eighth game, Wolfsburg appeared to have turned the corner.
But they have managed only two more wins since then, coupled with four defeats and another four draws. In all, they have drawn 12 of their 22 Bundesliga games.
Bayern won 6-0 on their visit to Wolfsburg last season and if, as expected, the Bavarians win again on Saturday, Wolfsburg's visit to Mainz the following weekend will turn into a relegation dogfight.
Schmidt recognised the seriousness of the situation after Sunday's 3-1 defeat to Werder Bremen. "It's not the 11th hour," he said. "It's a bit later than that."
(Writing by Brian Homewood in Bern; Editing by Toby Davis)