A change is as good as a rest, and after some of the latter over the Winterpause, St. Pauli finally look to be getting the former. The Hamburg side have spent the vast majority of their time battling against their own heightened expectations, following last season’s 4th place finish, as well as a frankly absurd number of injuries and illnesses. That battle was already looking like a losing one with a worrying gap of 6 points having developed between them and even 17th place.
However, just a few weeks into the season’s second half and things are already looking much brighter at the Millerntor. While the defeat to Stuttgart in the first game back had many of the Kiezkicker faithful rolling their eyes and bedding down for another miserable few months, the subsequent two rounds have seen a near-miraculous turnaround in fortunes. Despite continuing to be plagued with afflictions to so many key players, a makeshift Pauli XI managed to take all three points at promotion hopefuls Braunschweig last week. However, they still headed into this Sunday’s visit from Dresden with much trepidation, mainly thanks to an abysmal home record which had seen them pick up just one victory in front of their own fans in 2016/17, against fellow cellar-dwellers Arminia.
In contrast to over half of the other bottom-half sides, the Pauli board had decided to keep faith with popular manager Lienen, instead pointing the finger of blame at sporting director Thomas Meggle for inadequate summer recruitment. How unfortunate Meggle must feel now watching the side he was also once a player for, as they begin to dig themselves out of the bottom of the table position they have occupied since October. For a while new sporting director Andreas Rettig made some interesting acquisitions during January, it has undeniably been Cenk Sahin, signed during his predecessors time at the club, who has spearheaded the St Pauli revival.
The Turkish winger burst into life prior to Christmas, scoring a goal-of-the-season contender against Furth, and added another in the massive win last weekend against Eintracht. Had the loanee from Istanbul found this level a little sooner, Meggle may have kept his place at the club.
But found it Sahin certainly has. Now brimming with confidence, on Sunday he was once again able to display what is becoming trademark impudent dribbling and masterful control in tight space, despite the unforgivably bad pitch, and he added his 4th goal of the season to put Pauli two goals to the good. Each of those four goals have come in one of his side’s only four wins this season – he has been absolutely essential.
Lienen’s men have now climbed off the bottom of the table on goal-difference, a small improvement, but surely a psychologically important moment for the rest of their season. With the new recruits that Lienen and Retting have made, particularly Johnannes Flum and Mats Møller Dæhli, already looking like contributing, and the injuries and flu-epidemic easing, St Pauli are more than capable of consolidating their place in the league over the rest of the season. –Tom Nuttall-Jones.
Bochum’s bad luck against Hannover sums up their season
“This game describes our entire season so far. We fight, give everything to take something and it just does not work,” said VfL Bochum’s midfield enforcer Anthony Losilla, after the final whistle signalled the end of another disappointing result for the team. This was not the only painful whistle for those players to hear though, as twice during the 2-1 defeat away at Hannover 96 the match referee Tobias Stieler blew for penalties for the home side – including one for a foul against Losilla. Worse still, both were decisions tinged with controversy and have been debated fiercely since. Bochum just can’t believe their bad luck.
Nothing seems to be going right for Gertjan Verbeek’s side this season. Last year saw a push for promotion that briefly saw Bochum top the 2. Bundesliga table, before fading in the second half of the season and finishing 5th. The club was forced to rebuild over the summer after the attacking midfield trio of Janik Haberer, Onur Bulut and Marco Terrazzino left for top-flight clubs, while the league’s top-scorer Simon Terodde is again leading the 2. Liga scoring charts, but at VfB Stuttgart instead. The quartet – in particular the goal machine that is Terodde – were always going to be impossible to replace but surely nobody expected them to be closer to relegation than promotion this season.
Currently Bochum are on a run of just one win in their last nine games that has seen them fall to 13th – just six points off the bottom of the table. To add insult to injury, they were also dumped out in the first round of the DFB Pokal by Regionalliga side Astoria Waldorf – losing 4-3 in extra time. What makes their poor season even more astounding is that they actually are actually the only team in the league who are still yet to beaten on home turf. Even then though the Vonovia Ruhrstadion has seen more draws than victories this season, which finally seems to be pushing some fans over the edge.
Bochum rescued a point against Karlsruher last weekend thanks to a late goal from Johannes Wurtz – one of the few bright sparks of their season – but not before the home crowd whistled their own side during another flat performance. The keeper Manuel Riemann did not help matters by criticising the reaction, stating bluntly: “There will be no promotion this year. Those who cannot handle it better stay at home.” This wasn’t the ideal way to mark his appointment as the club’s new vice-captain, with the role being taken away from fans-favourite Felix Bastians, without explanation. It was not long ago that Bastians inherited the role from Losilla and this ‘pass-the-parcel’ style of leadership perhaps speaks volumes about Verbeek temperament and stubbornness.
Riemann’s warning for unhappy fans to stay at home perhaps comes a little late as attendances at home games have fallen since last season, while one must feel sorry for their away following – who have seen just one win and an average of almost two goals a game conceded on the road this year. All of this makes the events of Monday night’s defeat harder to swallow for Bochum because for once, it seems, they actually played well. The HDI Arena has been one of the toughest places for teams to go this season but the visitors actually took the lead through another clinical Wurtz goal – he was played in by a superb pass from Selim Gündüz. A minute before that went in Marco Stiepermann curled a shot against the bar after a nifty bit of play from Jan Gyamerah.
Hannover were temporarily on the ropes. Martin Harnik spurned a couple of good opportunities but towards the end of the first half they shifted up a gear. The youngster with the longest name in the league, Noah-Joel Sarenren-Bazee, showed the raw talent and potential that has got Germany’s biggest teams looking at him. He went close with a header from a corner that deflected narrowly over the bar, and then he scooted down the left flank before cutting a ball back to Harnik to finally convert. Crucially, the equaliser came just before half-time but it was the two controversial penalties given in the space of ten minutes that changed the game.
The first came just a matter of seconds after Alexander Merkel came on for Gyamerah, meaning that Gündüz was strangely shifted from right-wing to right-back and he immediately showed his defensive weaknesses as Sarenren-Bazee turned him with ease and glided into the penalty area. The attack seemed to fizzle out but then Merkel clumsily mistimed a tackle on Edgar Prib, although with the minimum of contact. A foul was given but it was certainly a soft penalty conceded by a player who had not had time to acclimatise the tempo of the game. Harnik converted it to make it 2-1 but failed to put the game to bed with the second penalty as he fizzed it wide. This came after more good work by whizzkid winger Sarenren-Bazee, who was fouled by Losilla, but again it was debatable whether the foul took place inside or outside of the box.
Bochum pushed for an equaliser in a frantic, exhilarating finale to the game, but were themselves denied two penalty shouts for handballs against Salif Sané and Waldemar Anton. Neither handballs were intentional but it’s still a source of frustration for the visitors who had soft penalties ruled against them at the other end. Bad luck has been a theme for them this season but usually it has occurred off the pitch – specifically in regards to injury. The Hannover match saw Bochum players reach the milestone of 150 games missed through injury or illness this season already – an staggering average of 7.5 outfield players missing every game. In total, 21 different outfield players have missed at least one game due to injury already this season, including all ten of their defenders at different points. Stiepermann and Wurtz are the only outfield members of the squad who have managed to stay fit throughout.
On a weekly basis this season Verbeek has complained with exasperation about this unprecedented injury crisis. It’s possible to question the training methods and intensity, or perhaps the scouting when it comes to injury-prone players, but it still seems like Bochum have had more than their fair share of bad luck when it comes to injury. These kinds of personnel crises usually force coaches to rethink their original plans but Verbeek’s stubbornness to shift from his philosophy and rigid 4-2-3-1 system means that more often than not he has resorted to using players out of position to fit his tactics, instead of adjusting the formation to suit the players he has available. This tactical inflexibility means that Bochum have become very predictable, while it’s a regular occurrence to see defensive midfielders play at centre-back or anyone but a winger playing wide, much to the growing frustration of the fans. Verbeek has made his mistakes this season but if his Bochum side continue to perform as well as they did against Hannover then surely their luck is bound to change soon. – Anthony Wood.
- What on earth has happened to the pitch at the Millerntor?! Not that St. Pauli are complaining, as they comfortably beat Dynamo Dresden 2-0 at the weekend. But seriously though, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pitch behave as strangely as this one. It was known in advance that the pitch was in a bad state – Dresden coach Uwe Neuhaus himself even described it as “anything but playable” in his press conference – but the reality was even worse. In addition to the brown patches and clumps of mud up and down the field, there were contrasts everywhere that made it unpredictable. In some places the pitch was heavy and the ball would slow, but in others the ground was so firm that passes would inexplicably speed up and roll out of play. Nevertheless, one side adapted to the conditions and the other most certainly did not. Neuhaus wisely suggested he would play long-ball football with two strikers, before bizarrely sticking to his 4-3-3 and trying to implement neat build-up play. Unsurprisingly it failed spectacularly, especially with the fatal insistence on attempting to keep possession at the back. This is an admirable tactic most of the time but was suicidal on a pitch like this and it’s no coincidence that both of the host’s goals came from Dynamo misplacing passes in the defence. – AW
- Is the promotion race becoming Stuttgart plus one? The giants of this season’s Bundes.2 iteration are beginning to look formidable, and have started 2017 with three wins out of three. Unsurprisingly, the goals of Simon Terodde have been central to their recent grab of top spot. When they signed the forward from Bochum in the summer, it was as close as possible to a “sure thing” in terms of goals at this level, and with his three strikes since Christmas, he has already drawn level with Guido Burgstaller at the top of the scoring charts. With the Austrian departed for the top flight, VfB’s number 9 looks almost unstoppable now in going on to claim a second consecutive golden boot. His opening penalty was extremely calm but completely outdone by his second, which won the game for Stuttgart, a fantastic piece of improvisation that left the Sandhausen defenders looking bewildered. – TNJ
Team of the Week
Muller (Heidenheim); Trimmel (Union), Ba (1860), Sobiech (St. Pauli), Wittek (1860); Krpps (Union), Amilton (1860), Sahin (St. Pauli), Sarenren-Bazee (Hannover); Harnik (Hannover), Terodde (Stuttgart)
Goal of the Week
Simon Terodde, Stuttgart (2nd goal vs Sandhausen)