- Associated Press - Thursday, May 4, 2017

BERLIN (AP) - Despite starting so well, Andries Jonker has only three games left to ensure 2009 Bundesliga champion Wolfsburg survives.

Just goal difference separates Wolfsburg from the relegation zone ahead of its visit to Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday, its home match against Borussia Moenchengladbach and former coach Dieter Hecking the following weekend, and a high stakes clash at Hamburger SV on the last day of the season.

Currently in the relegation playoff place, Hamburg is bidding for another escape after flirting with the drop repeatedly in recent seasons. Also in contention is Mainz, level with Hamburg and Wolfsburg with 33 points, Augsburg with 35 and even Bayer Leverkusen, stuck on 36 after four games without a win.

The 54-year-old Jonker was appointed in February to save the Volkswagen-backed club, a Champions League quarterfinalist last year, from the drop. Jonker took over from Valerien Ismael, who was fired after replacing Hecking in October.

Jonker started with a four-game unbeaten streak, with two wins, helped in part by Mario Gomez’s remarkable goal-scoring run.

Gomez, who was also coached by Jonker as interim coach at Bayern Munich in 2011, maintained his record of scoring in every game under the Dutch coach, 15 goals in nine games, until his luck ran out in a 1-0 home loss to Freiburg.

That was the first of four defeats in Wolfsburg’s last five games, including the humiliating 6-0 rout at home against Bayern last weekend.

It was one of many low points in Wolfsburg’s worst ever Bundesliga season, epitomized by Luiz Gustavo’s furious reaction to being sent off. The Brazilian had to be restrained from the referee. Gustavo was fined 15,000 euros ($16,000) but was fortunate to escape further sanction from the German soccer federation. He will serve a one-match ban against Frankfurt.

Wolfsburg’s problems began long before Gustavo’s sending off. Results began to change around the time the Volkswagen emissions scandal broke, suggesting that the furor around the club’s main backer had an effect on the players. Certainly the off-field distractions can’t have helped then-coach Hecking’s side.

Hecking led Wolfsburg to the German Cup title and second place in the Bundesliga in May 2015, but the Volkswagen scandal broke the following September.

General manager Klaus Allofs, who had overseen steady improvement at Wolfsburg since his appointment in November 2012, was asked to leave after a 5-0 loss at Bayern Munich last December.

Then, like now, only goal difference was separating Wolfsburg from Hamburg in the relegation playoff place.

Jonker was scathing of his side after the latest collapse against Bayern.

“You can lose in sport, everyone loses sometimes. For me it’s always about the way and manner,” Jonker said. “You can’t lose your mettle. We have to fight. We have to come off the pitch on our knees.”

Winter signing Yunus Malli is a doubt for Frankfurt, Ricardo Rodriguez left training Tuesday with an ankle injury, and of course Gustavo is suspended.

“We shouldn’t panic now,” Jonker said. “Now we have to keep going and to get points again. Then we’ll get away from the bottom.”

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